The Benefits of Children’s Yoga
We tend to think of yoga as a practice for adults, yet according to a recent survey by the national Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, the number of children practicing yoga in the United States is rapidly growing.
Studies show that kids aged 6 to 12 reap tremendous physical and cognitive benefits from regular yoga practice, from improved academic performance to better classroom behavior.
Based on that evidence, schools across the country are incorporating yoga into their curricula, and yoga studios are adding classes specifically geared to school-age children.
Yoga builds strength and flexibility, creating long, lean muscles to support a growing skeletal system. That helps not only with children’s physical activities, but also with their internal body functions—and they are getting an anatomy lesson each time they step on their mats.
“Body awareness is key to learning how to effect change in our own bodies and connect with what’s going on around us,” DeMoss says. “An added bonus is that when they are holding a challenging pose, they are focusing their energy and learning to integrate multiple things at once.”
It’s important to note that yoga also offers children with physical disabilities an avenue to relaxation, flexibility and confidence in their bodies. Lindsay Snead, the parent of McKinzie Snead, one of DeMoss’s young students, says she’s ecstatic about the change she’s seen in her daughter. “McKinzie suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, and the practice of yoga has helped her to be more relaxed; gently stretches the muscles, ligaments and tendons; and more importantly has given her an additional way to bond with me,” she says.
Mentally, the benefits are even greater. Practitioners of yoga have long understood that when we take time to be aware of our breath, we are connecting with our minds and bodies and reducing the stressors around us. This helps build concentration and focus, and it promotes stillness in an otherwise loud world. Breath work and meditation practices, combined with the physical practices of yoga, create a perfect balance of mind-body wellness, which is just as important for children as it is for adults.
Children learn through multiple avenues, DeMoss notes, and children’s yoga classes can vary greatly depending on the goal at hand. Parents and educators should merely be guides, letting the kids create their own path toward the goal for the day. “Be flexible and patient, and remember that the journey is just as important as the destination,” she says. “I’ve found that having a theme is better than having a concrete plan, because you can feed off the kids’ energy without getting frustrated.”
She suggests letting younger children make the corresponding animal noises when they get into poses like downward dog, cat and cobra, and encouraging them to have fun getting into each pose, while letting older children get involved in creating the yoga practice. “Offering them more balance poses will help them grow into more advanced poses. You can also turn the practice into an anatomy lesson, focusing on certain muscle groups or explaining how our body supports us in a specific pose.”
Sunshine Yoga owner Kim Mosby advises that classes be simple, fun and in a format that gives kids a chance to move, play and sing while they embrace the lifelong practice of yoga. “It’s important to incorporate games and stories with positive themes like compassion, gratitude, resilience and a sense of humor, as well as a healthy respect for our planet,” she says. “Students easily transfer their yogic skills off the mat and into the world.”
Regardless of age, the experts say, keep it lighthearted. The whole point is to help kids create their own space and be comfortable in it, so have fun with it and watch them grow.