6 am: wake up to the sound of an insistent alarm, get an early morning head-start, grab a quick lunch after a busy morning, then head to a game of tennis before spending a couple of hours on project research.
Sound like a crazy routine? What’s probably crazier is that it’s the routine of most average school-age children today! With growing schoolwork demands, extracurricular activities, competition, and peer pressure, not to mention the fast-paced digital lifestyle kids are exposed to very early on today, there is an increasing role for something that provides balance and tranquility in our children’s lives. For many children, that something is yoga!
With a focus on integrating the body and the mind and developing an awareness of breath which enables children to stay centered in the present moment, yoga has many impressive benefits for children right from toddlers to teenagers. Here is a look at some of the proven ways yoga can help your child:
1. Enhances Physical Strength And Flexibility
Physical activity usually comes naturally to children and is also vital for their healthy development. However, in today’s increasingly sedentary and device-driven lifestyles, physical activity is the first to fall by the wayside. Introducing children to yoga is not just a great way to get them moving, it also has the twin advantages of improving their strength and flexibility.1 Most children are usually either strong or flexible, but not both.2 The various poses practiced in yoga use and challenge different muscle groups which build both muscle strength and flexibility over time.
2. Improves Posture, Balance, And Coordination
Through its progressive practice of working and stretching different muscle groups all over the body, yoga promotes better posture, balance, and overall body coordination.3 Developing both physical and mental balance is one of the key benefits of yoga.
Consider the vriksasana (tree pose) which requires balancing your body weight while standing on one leg. If a child has difficulty standing on one leg, they are encouraged to stay calm, focus mentally and visually on a single point, and keep trying until the posture is perfected. This aids not just physical and mental balance, but overall body coordination since the child is also learning to transition through the pose as she moves.4
A research-based review of the therapeutic effects of yoga on children shows that regular yoga practice aids the development of motor skills.5 Yoga can be especially beneficial for preschool children who are still developing their motor skills. Apart from early childhood education centers which are increasingly introducing children to the benefits of yoga, several occupational therapists also use specialized yoga techniques to improve fine and gross motor skills among kids.
3. Develops Focus And Concentration
With the rise of technology usage and mobile devices, children today have increasingly shorter attention spans. Practicing yoga postures helps children clear their minds and improve concentration. The focus is on perfecting their posture while being aware of their breath.6
Breath awareness is, in fact, one of the key tenets of yoga and is closely integrated with all postures. Being aware of your breathing and focusing on it helps develop mindfulness over a period of time. For younger children, the practice of pranayama or deep breathing can be a fun way to calm down and improve concentration. It teaches them to focus their attention on every breath as it goes in and out. Older children and teenagers could try postures like the surya namaskar (sun salutation) or the sarvangasana (shoulder stand). Both of these increase the flow of blood to the brain, improving focus and alertness. The art of meditation can be practiced by older children regularly to improve their concentration.7
4. Reduces Stress And Anxiety
The practice of yoga teaches children to calm their breathing, which in turn calms their minds. This decreases physiological arousal – reducing heart rate and blood pressure and easing respiration.8
Children are no longer immune to stress, what with increasingly busy schedules to accommodate growing schoolwork demands, extracurriculars, and grueling sports practice. Add in peer pressure and competition to the mix, and you have children demonstrating all the anxiety and angst that used to be earlier associated only with a mid-life crisis. Yoga can be a powerful tool to help children cope with the increasing pressures and challenges of day-to-day life.
By teaching kids how to focus on their breath and their bodies, yoga equips them with an important tool to combat stress: mindfulness. Study after study confirm how children can manage stress better with yoga.9 As one analysis of yoga interventions found, children and teenagers between the ages of 3–18 years showed a reduction in anxiety after regular sessions. The researchers also pointed out that a regular program may even help anxiety disorders in check.10
5. Improves Your Child’s Performance In School
Doing well at school is not just about managing time and staying organized. It’s also important to not let stress and anxiety get in the way of academic performance. Yoga works as a great coping mechanism here.
Research shows that children who regularly practice yoga perform better in academics. In a study conducted with 800 teenagers over a period of seven weeks, it was found that students who practiced yoga on a regular basis performed better in overall academics as well as separate subjects like Math, Science and Social Studies.11 These students were less distracted and able to focus for longer periods. They were also more adept at dealing with day-to-day anxiety as a result of their yoga practice.
6. Boosts Self-Esteem And Confidence
The regular practice of yoga over time helps children build their self-confidence.12 Practicing yoga makes children aware of and strengthens the mind-body connection. For example, children learn to dispel sad or fearful thoughts by focusing on their breath, which helps calm their bodies and in turn has a soothing effect on the mind. By learning this connection between their mind, bodies, and emotions, children develop a stronger sense of self-esteem and confidence over time, because they are better able to process their thoughts and emotions. Additionally, when children learn how to master different yoga poses, it further boosts their sense of accomplishment and confidence.
7. Sets A Healthy Foundation For The Future
Getting your children started on yoga at an early age has long-lasting benefits. Yoga can help regulate metabolism, manage weight, and prevent childhood obesity. The regular practice of yoga can also help keep chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease at bay.13 All the more reason you should invest in yoga as a healthy foundation for your children’s future!
Yoga teaches children to pay attention to their bodies and take care of them.14 While practicing their yoga postures, children learn how to balance their bodies, how to transition between poses, how to address any pain or difficulty they may experience by modifying their posture, and how to use their breathing. They also learn how to move their bodies freely, relax them and learn to challenge themselves on the basis of their individual capabilities. This, in turn, helps children to learn how to listen to their bodies and start taking care of them, even from a young age.
8. Boosts Immunity
Family yoga can be a great way to introduce your children to yoga. Not only does it enable you to spend time with your child, you can also learn from each other. Besides, it boosts the whole family’s immunity while also improving your bonding!15
If coughs, colds, and the flu season bother your kids year after year, yoga may be just the metaphorical shot in the arm your family needs. Apart from strengthening the body physically, benefitting mental well-being and reducing stress, yoga is also great at boosting children’s immunity.16
Several yoga postures can have a direct impact on the body’s immune system. For example, backward bend opens up the chest and allow the sinus gland to secrete more immunity-boosting cells. Twists help activate the spleen and lymph nodes. Forward bends drain out congestion in the sinuses. Stimulating the immune system helps better equip it to prevent and fight infections.17
9. Benefits Children With Special Needs
Yoga is beneficial for children of all ages and even those with special needs. A growing body of evidence suggests that yoga works well as complementary therapy for children with ADHD. In one comprehensive review of research on therapeutic yoga, it was found that yoga practice had definite benefits for children with ADHD. With regular practice, the children recorded a decrease in ADHD symptoms on the Conners Rating Scale which measures anxiety, hyperactivity, shyness, and social problems.18
Yoga also benefits children with autism according to a study published in the American Journal Of Occupational Therapy. The study found that practicing yoga reduced symptoms of aggression, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity among kids on the autism spectrum disorder. Researchers believe that yoga supports children with autism because it helps them deal with their heightened anxiety, poor motor skills, and weak self-regulation while simultaneously reducing stress. Done in a classroom setting, it also enables the kids to become calm, focused, and ready to learn.19
10. Helps Children With Medical Problems
For children suffering from asthma, yoga can come as a relief because of its emphasis on regulating the breath. Studies evaluating the impact of yoga among children with a history of childhood asthma and recurrent episodes of asthma in their teens found that their pulmonary function, exercise capacity, and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction showed improvements after a yoga intervention which included asanas, breathing techniques, and cleansing rituals. Follow-up data for up to two years continued to show improvements in asthma symptoms and decreased medication use.20 Another study of school-age children diagnosed with asthma found that yoga improved their cardiopulmonary fitness as well as flexibility and muscular strength.21
Yoga can also help children with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) which, like asthma, can be exacerbated or precipitated by stress and has a significant mind–body interaction. In a study, teenagers attended a one-hour instructional class followed by regular practice with a 14-minute yoga video specifically designed to target IBS symptoms. The study found that practicing yoga helped the teens cope better with their IBS. They also reported lower levels of functional disability, emotion-focused avoidance, and anxiety.22
Yoga also holds promise in combating diabetes among children. In a pilot study of a group of children aged 8–15 years at risk for the development of type 2 diabetes, the participants showed positive outcomes of weight loss, improved self-concept and improved anxiety symptoms after a 12-week yoga program.23
Clinical studies on the use of yoga among teenagers with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have shown that regular yoga practice can reduce preoccupation with food, improve body image perceptions, and lower anxiety and depression.24
11. Teaches Inclusivity
Teaching our children kindness and compassion is a growing challenge for parents today and what better way to teach these essential values than through the inclusive practice of yoga? Yoga does not focus on levels of ability, competition, or winning. Instead, it encourages children to focus on themselves and do their best. One of the key tenets of yoga is of achieving balance. It teaches children to find their own balance as well as balancing relationships with others and the environment.25
Getting Your Child Started With Yoga
Yoga comes naturally to most children and there is no one way to teach them yoga. Young children will enjoy learning yoga in a fun, non-serious way whereas older children may prefer a practice that is more focused. If you’re considering yoga for your child but do not have any experience with yoga yourself, seek out proper guidance and instruction first. Also, remember to inform your child’s teacher about any illness, injury or chronic condition your child may have before beginning a yoga class. Certain poses such as the shirshasana or headstand should not be practiced by very young children and even older children need proper guidance before attempting it.
Yoga is considered safe for children in general and has immense benefits, so go ahead and introduce your child to the wonderful practice of yoga today.26
|↑1, ↑3||Mary Stewart, Kathy Phillips. Yoga For Children. Simon And Schuster Inc. 1992.|
|↑2||Teresa Anne Power. The ABCs of Yoga for Kids. Stafford House. 2016|
|↑4||Marsha Wenig. YogaKids: Educating The Whole Child Through Yoga. Abrams. 2015|
|↑5||Galantino, Mary Lou, Robyn Galbavy, and Lauren Quinn. “Therapeutic effects of yoga for children: a systematic review of the literature.” Pediatric Physical Therapy 20, no. 1 (2008): 66-80.|
|↑6, ↑14||Hagen, Ingunn, and Usha Sidana Nayar. “Yoga for children and young people’s mental health and well-being: research review and reflections on the mental health potentials of yoga.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 5 (2014): 35.|
|↑7||8 tips for students to improve concentration with meditation. The Art Of Living.|
|↑8||Yoga For Anxiety And Depression. Harvard Health Publishing. Published: 2009, Updated: 2018.|
|↑9||Nanthakumar, Chandra. “The benefits of yoga in children.” Journal of integrative medicine (2017).|
|↑10||Weaver, Lindy L., and Amy R. Darragh. “Systematic review of yoga interventions for anxiety reduction among children and adolescents.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 69, no. 6 (2015): 6906180070p1-6906180070p9.|
|↑11||Kauts, Amit, and Neelam Sharma. “Effect of yoga on academic performance in relation to stress.” International journal of yoga 2, no. 1 (2009): 39.|
|↑12||Yael Calhoun, Matthew R. Calhoun. Create A Yoga Practice For Kids: Fun, Flexibility And Focus. Sunstone Press. 2006.|
|↑13||Teresa Anne Power. The ABCs of Yoga for Kids. Stafford House. 2016.|
|↑15||Sara Avant Stover. All In The Family. Yoga Journal. 2008|
|↑16||Yoga- The Natural Immunity Booster. The Art Of Living.|
|↑17||Erika Prafder. 7 Ways Kids Can Fend Off Flu With Yoga. Yoga Journal. 2016|
|↑18, ↑20||Kaley-Isley, Lisa C., John Peterson, Colleen Fischer, and Emily Peterson. “Yoga as a complementary therapy for children and adolescents: a guide for clinicians.” Psychiatry (Edgmont) 7, no. 8 (2010): 20.|
|↑19||Koenig, Kristie Patten, Anne Buckley-Reen, and Satvika Garg. “Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn yoga program among children with autism spectrum disorders: A pretest-posttest control group design.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 66, no. 5 (2012): 538-546.|
|↑21||Chen, T. L., H. C. Mao, C. H. Lai, C. Y. Li, and C. H. Kuo. “The effect of yoga exercise intervention on health related physical fitness in school-age asthmatic children.” Hu li za zhi the journal of nursing 56, no. 2 (2009): 42-52.|
|↑22||Kuttner, Leora, Christine T. Chambers, Janine Hardial, David M. Israel, Kevan Jacobson, and Kathy Evans. “A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome.” Pain Research and Management 11, no. 4 (2006): 217-224.|
|↑23||Benavides, Sandra, and Joshua Caballero. “Ashtanga yoga for children and adolescents for weight management and psychological well being: an uncontrolled open pilot study.” Complementary therapies in clinical practice 15, no. 2 (2009): 110-114.|
|↑24||Carei, T. Rain, Amber L. Fyfe-Johnson, Cora C. Breuner, and Margaret A. Brown. “Randomized controlled clinical trial of yoga in the treatment of eating disorders.” Journal of Adolescent Health 46, no. 4 (2010): 346-351.|
|↑25||Michael Stone. Yoga For A World Out Of Balance: Teachings On Ethics And Social Action. Shambhala Publications. 2009|
|↑26||Sunita Vohra, Susanne King-Jones. Mind-Body Therapies In Children And Youth. American Academy Of Pediatrics. 2016.|