February 6, 2014

Yoga for Children, Why Bother?

author's photo: yoli ramazzina

In today’s world, children are constantly bombarded with television, video games, 3D films, iPads and smart phones.

They are over-stimulated on a daily basis! (Just like us adults for that matter.)

So, what can we offer to combat the constant over-stimulation that our children are faced with every day? Yoga.

Can children actually benefit from yoga? Absolutely. We know the many benefits yoga offers to us “grown-ups.” Stress relief, increased flexibility and balance, as well as improved general health. So, why wouldn’t the same benefits apply to children? They are, after all, just smaller people.

Yoga gives children the tools to slow down their world and take a breath. It gives them a way to go inside themselves and quiet their minds. Children learn to calm themselves, to self-soothe, to channel their emotions constructively and to feel comfortable in their bodies. In addition, yoga for children builds confidence and self-esteem and develops imagination.

Imagination—something children access less frequently in our world of constant stimulation and many devices.

Additionally, yoga provides a safe space for children to be themselves and explore their potential, without fearing ridicule. Practicing yoga introduces children to a healthy lifestyle, and in different way than playing sports because it gets them moving in a safe space without competition. Yoga is not about winning or being the best. It’s about improving ourselves and striving for our personal best. Yoga gives us the courage to accept ourselves for who we are. This is a great concept to instill into the minds of children.

Practicing asana (yoga postures) builds strength, stamina, patience, and flexibility. Not just physical flexibility, but emotionally as well. However, yoga is more than just the postures. Yoga is about kindness and acceptance and not doing harm to anyone, including ourselves. It plants a seed in children to grow up to be kind and compassionate human beings.

author's photo: yoli ramazzina

When I teach yoga to children, I typically try to stick to just one rule: respect. The awesome thing about this is respect can be interpreted so many different ways. It means respecting each other—being kind to the other children in class. It also means listening to the teacher and taking care of the room we are practicing in. It’s open-ended, and another means to get children thinking and using their heads.

So, when should parents start thinking about introducing yoga to their little ones? I say, the sooner the better.

Is it ever too early to start doing something healthy for both body and mind?

More and more options for children are becoming accessible! There are “Mommy-and-Me” classes for parents with infants. (Despite the name, dads are also typically welcome.) Sure, a baby isn’t going to just pop into downward-facing dog, but they still benefit from the special bonding time spent with mommy or daddy.

What about the toddlers and pre-schoolers? They can sure be a squirrely bunch! Yep, even children this young can begin to practice yoga. A class with 2-5 years olds will look different than a class for 6-9 year olds, but yoga is about being flexible, remember? That is, being able to adapt.

Younger children will have more songs and games in their practice. The trick is to keep the children interested and engaged! Sing songs, play games and get just their little bodies moving. Begin to introduce principles of kindness. A class with older children will still have songs and games, but focus can begin to shift to simply practicing postures. Light (child-friendly) breath work can be introduced as a means of soothing or calming oneself. Start talking about gratitude—ask children what they are thankful for today. Just listening to children goes a long way. When we listen to a child speak what’s on their mind, we help them build self-confidence. It affirms that what they say has value.

Yoga offers so many benefits, and the sooner the practice is introduced, the sooner the child can begin to reap those benefits.

The super cool thing is that yoga can be practiced anywhere. It can be shared at home with parents and siblings, or it can be in a class or group setting. If we get children moving, and begin to introduce principles of thinking mindfully, they will surely benefit from it.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: author’s own

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