WELLBEING: Grow with Yoga

30 March 2015

Yoga is an ever-increasing popular activity choice for adults to help reduce stress levels. But what about our children? They also feel the pressures of our fast-paced world and increasing expectation of what they need to achieve. Children can be subjected to complex social hierarchies and cyber bullying, NAPLAN tests, transitions into new schools, diets filled with additives or diets that make them feel ‘different’. Many children are also affected by the heartbreak of divorce. No wonder we are facing an epidemic of childhood obesity and a generation of highly strung kids. 

So, does yoga help reduce stress levels in kids too? Yes!

Yoga for children offers the same benefits as it does for adults, and it is considered a holistic form of exercise because it offers benefits in the development of the whole child: physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual.

Physical benefits:

  • Provides fun cardiovascular exercise in a way that doesn’t deplete their energy
  • Strengthens growing joints that are susceptible to injury in high-impact sports
  • Improves respiratory capacity and function through the practice of diaphragmatic breathing (especially good for children with asthma or anxiety, as well as swimmers, athletes, wind musicians and singers)
  • Builds bone density 
  • Tones muscles and develops core strength
  • Teaches good posture
  • Encourages spatial awareness (knowing where the body is in space)
  • Develops coordination and balance 
  • Lowers blood pressure and stress hormones
  • Improves sleep quality and the ability to relax

Mental benefits:

  • Stimulates both sides of the brain which balances the cognitive and creative 
  • Improves concentration, discipline and focus
  • Increases attention span, alertness, memory and retention of information
  • Builds upon current language skills and encourages creative language through imaginative stories
  • Teaches how to ‘switch off’ and relax the mind

Emotional benefits:

  • Provides tools to help self-regulate emotions and stress 
  • Builds self-confidence
  • Teaches self-acceptance
  • Encourages patience
  • Instils resilience
  • Accepts all emotions and teaches ways to channel powerful emotions into positive responses

Social benefits:

  • Provides opportunities for teamwork
  • Develops confidence to interact with new people
  • Teaches tolerance and acceptance of differences 
  • Offers opportunities to try new skills in a safe and supportive environment

Spiritual benefits:

  • Yoga is a spiritual practice, but not a religion. Whilst the ancient heritage of yoga is steeped in Hindu beliefs, a children’s yoga class will focus on instilling good morals about being kind to ourselves, others and our world.

It is easy to get excited about the incredible benefits yoga offers for the development of the whole child, but before you ask your child to turn into a pretzel shape or expect them to be ‘Zen’ when you sit in a cafe with a friend, there are some important things to consider.

Set an intention

Think about what you want your child to get out of their yoga practice. Different yoga teachers will focus on different aspects of the practice. Some classes are super fun and engaging, filled with storytelling, games and imaginative play, while others spend more time in stillness and quiet. Check with the teacher first to know whether their class will suit your child to give them maximum benefit.

Yoga practice at home

Young children are natural yogis. They live in the present moment and their bodies are flexible and move easily into most yoga poses. 

Growing bodies need some slight adaptations to the practice, so it’s not safe for parents who practise yoga to simply teach their child what they do in their adult yoga class. Older children need more specific alignment cues to keep their joints safe. They will be at an age where they want to explore more adventurous poses like headstand and arm balances. It is important that these more risky poses are taught to them by a certified children’s yoga teacher. 

Facilitate a space at home for their natural yoga practice to develop. Roll out a yoga mat, put on some calm music, do some sun salutes and meditation next to them and let them follow you. Young children also love to follow DVDs and copy the pictures on flash cards.

The most important part of yoga that you can share with your child at home is the yoga breath.

Fun ways to teach your child the yoga breath

 

  • Blow onto a feather. Do 5 fast and strong breaths to release anger, followed by 10 slow and calm breaths. Blowing onto a feather is a great strategy for children as young as 18 months.
  • Blow bubbles into a cup of water using a straw. Ensure that you specify that this game is only played at designated times, or with the special straw or cup that you give them, so this activity isn’t practiced at the dinner table! 
  • Blow bubbles using a bubble wand.
  • Imagine each finger is a candle then blow them out.
  • Blow onto pinwheels. 
  • Blow pom poms along the table using a straw.
  • Blow onto dandelion flowers.

Classes with a qualified children’s yoga teacher

Having your child join a yoga class taught by a qualified children’s yoga teacher means that they will learn the correct techniques for the yoga breath – the secret to what makes yoga a calming practice.

A lot of children ‘reverse breathe’ where their belly recedes on the inhale. A yoga teacher will be able to help correct this breathing style and teach children to calm down using their breath. 

A qualified children’s yoga teacher will safely guide the poses that are appropriate for your child’s age and development. They will have a wealth of creative ideas and resources to draw upon so your child will stay engaged while they learn.

When children are in a yoga class they tend to listen more and respond better to the guidance of a teacher than they do to their parent. A class environment will provide the opportunity for them to interact with other students and to learn how to create a space of respect, patience and tolerance of other people’s differences. 

Children will usually spend longer in the relaxation phase of yoga when under the guidance of a teacher, especially if they are given an eye pillow and a head massage! Children often say that the still and quiet time is their favourite part of the class. 

In whatever way you choose to share yoga with your child, ensure that this is a time for them to play, explore their body and find the balance of movement and stillness. The tools that yoga can teach them will translate into tools they can use to cope with the stresses of everyday life, and that is an invaluable gift to offer your child.

What is the yoga breath?

The science behind the yoga breath relates to the two different modes of the autonomic nervous system: sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is triggered by threats to our survival. Known commonly as the fight or flight mode, the body’s response includes increased heart rate, shallow breathing, activated muscles, high adrenaline levels and heightened emotions. When the nervous system is in parasympathetic mode, the body is in a state of calm and information can be processed.

When we breathe deeply, the lungs expand and press onto the diaphragm, a muscle that runs horizontally through the torso separating the lungs from the digestive organs. When the diaphragm is pressed, the vagus nerve in the front of the torso is stimulated, and it switches the nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode which sends a message to the brain to calm down.

 

Written by

Stacey Nelson

Stacey Nelson, has over 20 years experience working with children in various contexts including the school classroom; early childhood; fitness; dance; sports teams; yoga and TV. She has taught Children’s Yoga for 10 years; facilitates Kids Yoga Teacher Training; is a Yoga Therapist at the Nambour Hospital Children’s Ward and has co-produced the Kids Yoga DVD, “Light up Little Lights”. www.yogapalette.com.au

Please login to comment
  • No comments found

You may also like