What’s So Cool about Yoga for Kids?

Once our children pass the stage of toddlerhood, we somehow automatically gain a new title, one many of us wear with pride: ‘Soccer Mom’! A typical day can involve working full-time, in between taking our child to school, picking them up, taking them to soccer or baseball, then to piano, to martial arts and lately, even Chinese language lessons! Sometimes it feels like we are our child’s personal chauffeur, yet it’s just another joy of motherhood! As our children develop their own interests, we try to provide them with as much extra-curricular stimulation as time permits and to ensure their kids are engaging in a healthy balance of sporty and arty/cultural pursuits. One thing, however, is missing from most children’s’ schedules: mindfulness, the practice of being in the here and now, free of anxiety, restlessness and confusion. Mindfulness is an important component of yoga, which of late has been growing in popularity for children as well as adults. In this post we discuss some of the benefits our children can obtain from yoga, including freedom from stress and the ability to exercise greater compassion.
Yoga and stress: Various studies carried out over the past decade have conclusively proven that yoga’s ability to soothe the nerves is more than a myth. Yoga has been found to lower levels of stress hormone, cortisol, in everyone from war veterans suffering from PTSD, to women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. Children, too, can benefit from disconnecting from the pressures or school/sporting life and celebrate just being, as they perform various poses (asanas) and practice controlled breathing. These techniques are best learned early and they will stand your child in good stead when stress truly becomes a challenge—e.g. when they are seniors sitting for difficult exams, or when they are perched atop the dizzy heights of the corporate ladder. Remembering to breathe, to enjoy the moment and to live neither in the past nor present, is a valuable skill human beings of all ages can learn through yoga.
Yoga and compassion: As children come to love and perfect their ability at yoga, they become more immersed in the ‘yoga lifestyle’. The latter not only involves attending yoga classes; it also involves important values such as respect for the whole human being (body, mind and spirit). In everyday life, this many mean paying heed to the food we eat (i.e. consuming a more nutritional diet), living life peacefully and making time for mindful meditation and/or unwinding from stress. The yoga lifestyle also comprises kindness towards all sentient beings, and compassion for others as well as for oneself. As children grow older, they become subject to sometimes intense pressure to shine at school or in the sporting arena—in other words, society places great importance on self-improvement. Yoga balances this out, by focusing on self-compassion instead. Often, there is such great pressure to achieve success and to do the right thing by others, that we need to ensure we are also doing the right thing by ourselves.
Yoga and a love for Nature: When kids do yoga, they have great fun, as they perform different asanas such as The Tree, The Cobra or the Dog; great yoga teachers often ask their students to imagine that they really are a wild snake with no limbs, a giant tree with deep roots growing from the bottom of their feet, or a wild cat meowing. Through these activities, children are encouraged to develop a relationship with the natural world which surrounds them. Nature author, Richard Louv, makes an interesting point: these days, many parents and teachers scare children away from Nature by focusing on negative issues such as global warming and climate change. Of course these issues are important and children should be aware of them. However, a true love of Nature does not being with a warning; it begins by encouraging kids to really enjoy Nature by planting autochthonous plants and trees (to encourage lost ecosystems to return to our suburbs), playing sport in the Great Outdoors or performing a mindful activity such as Tai-Chi or yoga. Studies have shown that outdoor exercise is far more fulfilling and stress relieving than indoor exercise, opt for outdoor kids’ yoga if you can.
Let’s get physical with yoga: Finally, we should not forget the many physiological benefits yoga can bestow on our kids. Yoga increasing their strength, flexibility and coordination. It also helps them be more in tune with their bodies, so they can listen to its subtle cues for hunger, tiredness, stress, etc. This can stand them in good stead when they enter adolescence; it can help stave off everything from obesity to eating disorders, since yoga fosters a love for physical activity as a whole but also an understanding and respect for the body which leaves no room for self-destructive practices.

Yoga with kids

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