If you thought yoga was only for adults, think again! There are some simple yoga techniques for breathing, meditation, and stretching that any child could benefit from. Some can even help improve their fine motor skills and attention span.
Yoga for preschoolers or babies might seem a bit extreme, but babies often do a lot of these poses without realizing they’re doing stretches and movements that are part of yoga! For instance, your child may already be doing their spin on the shavasana or corpse pose by lying on their back in the grass, relaxing. They might be sitting in balasana or the child’s pose while they play or read a book. But is this too young to start them on formal yoga? While you might have to wait a few more years before getting them into a proper yoga regimen, you can teach some yoga techniques to young children, pre-teens and teens to help them cope with the sometimes stressful school life or to stay fit in an increasingly sedentary world of gaming systems and handheld mobile devices.
Yoga For Kids: Enhances Concentration, Boosts Energy, Relieves Tiredness, Improves Health
Yoga also has special benefits for an autistic child or those with attention deficit disorders. Yogic breathing or pranayama can improve dexterity and fine motor skills, allowing a child to improve their ability to cut, glue, trace, or color. It can also help improve hand-eye coordination and gripping. Add to that its ability to help improve a child’s ability to focus and concentrate and it is invaluable as a tool for both occupational therapists and parents.1
Yoga has a host of benefits for kids, just as it does for adults. Here are some ways it can help:2:
- Improves lung capacity and breathing
- Boosts energy levels
- Builds muscle strength and flexibility
- Relieve fatigues, both physical and mental
- Improves attention span and reins in the wandering mind
- Eases anxiety and improves sleep
- Boosts fine motor functions[Singh, S., & Singh, J. P. (2014).Impact of Pranayama on Fine Motor Coordination Ability of Children with Intellectual Impairment, Creative Education, 5,273-278.
Safety Tips Before You Get Started With Yoga For Kids
One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to yoga for children. The types of asanas will depend on the general physical health of the child, whether or not they have any other medical conditions, and their age. The needs, as well as the capabilities of the child, are also factors to consider.
Adapt routine for the age of the child: According to one piece of research, here is how you could split up the typical yoga session for a child based on their age3
- For preschoolers (3–6 years old), as little as a 15–20 minutes session is adequate. Anything longer may be too taxing and make it hard for them to enjoy. Of this duration, half the time can be spent on actual asanas or poses and the balance divided equally (2 to 3 minutes each) between awareness building, breathing, and guided visualization. Poses should be held for no more than 3 breaths for this age group.
- For 7–12-year-olds, a 30– 45-minute session is fine, of which 15–25 minutes can be allocated to asanas. The balance can be divided equally (3–5 minutes each) between focusing on awareness building, breathing, and guided visualization.
- For adolescents aged 13–18 years, a session can be anywhere from 45–90 minutes long. But don’t overdo it. Start small if your child isn’t physically active, recovering from an injury, or generally weak. Spend 30–50 minutes on asanas, and about 5 to 10 minutes each on awareness building, breathing, and guided visualization.
Get an instructor or join a class: Just as important is to hire the services of a trained yoga practitioner to oversee the first few session or until the child (and you) has learned the right technique for each asana. Ideally, let the child attend a yoga class for children so they can meet other kids and it’s a more social experience. If not, have an instructor come home to guide your child. This will ensure they make the most of each asana, learn their breathing the right way, and avoid injury from doing something wrong.
And remember, the dos and don’ts for adults apply to children to:
- Do not push your child to do more than they are able to. It could cause long-term damage from injury or put them off going to further classes.
- Do not hold a pose too long or do too many repetitions.
- Do not expect pain as part of the experience. If it hurts something is being done wrong.
- Do start simple. Work up from easier asanas to more challenging ones as the child’s stamina and skill in yoga improve.
- Do be honest with the instructor and highlight any concerns, medical problems, or constraints.
- Do get the right clothing. Opt for comfortable clothing in a breathable fabric but nothing too loose and baggy that might catch or interfere with the movements. A simple pair of cotton tights and t-shirt work well.
Once you are set for the experience, don’t hold back on finding that yoga teacher or class for your child. We’ve put together a list of some of the easier asanas as well as those that your child could most benefit from.
1. Bridge Pose Or Setubandha Sarvangasana
The bridge pose is a good restorative asana for kids.4
Benefits for the child: It can help both energize the child and calm their mind. It stimulates the abdominal organs and helps digestion, stretches the neck, spine, and chest, and even alleviates mild depression and stress.5
To do this asana, simply follow these steps:6
- Lie on your back with knees bent so that your feet are firmly flat on the floor about hip-distance apart.
- Reach toward your heels with your fingers, lengthening your arms. Your palms must face down.
- Let your gaze drop down to your knees.
- Breathe in as you roll your body up through the spine beginning with your hips. Go as high as you can.
- Hold this pose for 3–5 breaths before exhaling and lowering your body slowly (feel one vertebra lower at a time).
2. Cat Pose Or Marjarasana
Try getting the child to meow while doing the pose. This will force them to breathe instead of inadvertently holding their breath while concentrating.7
The feline style movement is a lot of fun and great for your child’s health too!
Benefits for the child: The cat pose helps to provide a gentle massage to the internal organs as well as the spine of the child. It also stretches the neck and torso.8
Here’s how it is done:9
- Get down on all fours, keeping your back flat and level like a table. Ensure your arms are perpendicular to the ground and that your hands line up below your shoulders, flat on the ground. Keep your knees hip-distance apart.
- Look ahead.
- Breathe in, raising your chin and tilting your head back. Raise your tailbone and push the navel downwards, compressing the buttocks.
- Hold this position as you take a few long and deep breaths in and out.
- Drop your chin into your chest, arching the back as much as possible, relaxing the buttocks.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Return to the table position.
3. Upward Facing Dog Pose Or Urdhvamukha Svanasana
The upward facing dog is a familiar move to those who do the sun salutation or surya namaskar, since it is one of the movements in the salutation. In isolation, it can be a great asana for a child for some compelling benefits.
Benefits for the child: For children with asthma or symptoms of stress or even fatigue, the upward facing dog is invaluable. It eases symptoms of these conditions and also strengthens the spine.10
Here’s how this pose is done:11
- Lie face down on your yoga mat, so your legs are fully extended and the tops of your feet touch the floor. Place your palms in line with and below the shoulders, letting your elbows bend.
- Breathe in, pressing the palms of your hand into the floor, letting your arms extend, and raising your torso and thighs off the ground at the same time.
- Your hips should soften a bit downward even as you lift up through to your sternum.
- Your shoulders should be pulled gently back away from the ears. Ensure that your neck has a neutral alignment.
- Let your gaze drift up but don’t tilt your head or neck.
- Hold, inhaling and exhaling for a few breaths.
4. Happy Baby Pose Or Anand Balasana
The happy baby pose is great for easing anxiety and making anyone feel as carefree as a baby!
Benefits for kids: It encourages relaxation and can be great for special needs children and those with autism. It also works wonders for other children who just need to de-stress.12
Here’s how it is done:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent
- Spread the knees wide and grip your ankles with your hands.
- Ensure your head is still flat on the yoga mat. Now inhale.
- Exhale as you rock to the right, ankles still grasped.
- Inhale as you come back to the central position.
- Exhale as you rock to the left.
Repeat this sequence a few times. Ask your child to picture a baby rocking on its back from side to side, gripping its toes or feet in its hands. Happy and relaxed!
5. Bow Pose Or Dhanurasana
Ask the child to only hold this pose for as long as they can and not to overdo the duration of holding. He or she should be able to breathe in and out comfortably throughout and not feel strained.
Benefits for kids: This pose can help relieve anxiety and stress that is common in adolescents but may also be seen in younger children. In addition, it strengthens both the arms and legs as well as the back, improving flexibility.13
This is how you do this asana:14
- Lie down on your stomach so your knees are bent and prepare to pull your heels by reaching behind you with your arms. The aim is to bring the heels in toward your buttocks.
- Keep your abdomen and core engaged throughout.
- Reach back with your hands and arms so you can grip your ankles or your feet. If you can’t, then grip the furthest part of your leg that you can.
- Now raise your legs off the ground followed by your shoulders and then head. You should feel your calves and thigh muscles contracting as your feet push into your hands.
- Hold and then release by exhaling, allowing your chest and legs to come to the ground.
6. Warrior Pose Or Virabhadrasana
The name of this asana might help win over a child who wants something that sounds exciting! Let them channel their inner warrior as they perform the virabhadrasana using control in each movement.
Benefits for kids: The warrior pose tones up the arms and legs, boosts stamina, and improves balance.15
Here’s how it’s done:16
- Stand with your legs about 4 feet apart so your legs from an inverted V.
- Move your right foot out at a 90-degree angle and your left foot in by 15 degrees so your right foot heel is aligned with the center of your left foot.
- Raise both arms up to shoulder level, keeping them parallel to the ground, palms facing up.
- Exhale as you bend the right knee so that the right ankle and right knee are aligned – your knee must not jut out ahead of the ankle.
- Turn your head to the right and let your gaze rest on the tips of the fingers of that extended hand. Keep breathing.
- Deepen the pose by trying to push your pelvis further down gently, breathing comfortably as you do so.
- Inhale as you rise up. Exhale and bring your arms down to your sides.
Repeat to the other side.
7. Tree Pose or Vrikshasana
Simple though it may seem, the tree pose is actually a really good asana, helping both on the inside and out.
Benefits for kids: The tree pose helps a child build up their muscle tone in the arms and legs, making them capable of doing more physically. It also strengthens the back and helps improve posture. And just as it works well for the physical health of a child, it boosts mental health. This asana improves the powers of concentration and focus of a child, helping them better focus on activities like reading or their studies.17
Another sequence of poses known together as the surya namaskar or sun salutation is worth teaching a child. This is best learned under the guidance of an instructor due to the complexity of the movements and challenge involved.18
Here’s how it’s done:19
- Start with your feet together as you stand near the front of your mat, hands at the hips. Move your weight into your right foot and slowly pick your left heel off the floor, letting your left knee open to the left side of your mat. Your toes must stay planted in the ground.
- Bring your left sole slowly to rest on the inner right lower leg with toes pointing down.
- Steady yourself as you balance only on your right leg. Your pelvis should be centered over the right foot.
- Try and bring your palms in front of your chest, making them meet or alternatively stretch your arms overhead so your wrists align with the shoulders.
- Hold the pose for 3–5 breath cycles before bringing your left foot down to the mat. Repeat on the other side.
8. Corpse Pose Or Shavasana
Wind up each asana sequence in a yoga session with this relaxing pose.
Benefits for kids: Its ability to calm the mind and help improve concentration may seem obvious, given how it calls on little else but to focus on relaxing –no complicated movements involved here! Interestingly, it can also help stimulate blood circulation and energize the body, washing away any fatigue or stress. Children will especially benefit from the improved ability to focus and concentrate that will come with this asana.20 21
Here’s how it is done:22
At a very basic level, the savasana just requires you to lie on your back, eyes closed and clear your mind focussing it on one body part at a time before releasing and relaxing it mentally. The idea is to focus on the breath and calm the mind while also energizing you, as the brain declutters.
- Lie down on your back, flat on a mat or the ground, arms by your sides, eyes closed. Your legs must be a little apart so that you are completely comfortable and toes face a little outward. Allow your knees and feet to relax fully.
- Your arms should be by the sides and a little away from your torso. Your palms must face up and be open.
- Focus your attention on one part of the body at a time and use this to relax your body from head to toe. Start with your right foot, then the right knee, the other leg, then the torso until you reach your head.
- Inhale slowly, deeply and gently. Feel your breath relax you further and further. As you inhale, feel the breath energize you. As you exhale, feel yourself relax. Do this for 10–20 minutes until you are completely relaxed – but not asleep!
- To exit the pose, roll to your right side with your eyes still closed. Be this way for a minute. Then, using your right hand to push yourself up, move to a seated position. Let your eyes remain closed. Breathe in and out a few times in this pose before you open your eyes.
This asana may prove to be more challenging for the average child than you’d imagine. Try asking an active child to sit still for a few minutes and then up the ante by telling them they must lie down with their eyes closed and not move or say a word for a long period of time. Difficult? Even adults find it a challenging asana, so here are some tips to ease your way:
- Ensure the child is really comfortable
- Talk them through the process, helping them focus on the tension in one body part at a time, guiding them through releasing the tension.
- Speak in a calm and gentle reassuring voice – no commanding here.
- Use soft, soothing music in the background. It can help put the child at ease.
|↑1||Singh, S., & Singh, J. P. (2014).Impact of Pranayama on Fine Motor Coordination Ability of Children with Intellectual Impairment, Creative Education, 5,273-278.|
|↑2, ↑13, ↑15, ↑17, ↑18||Yoga for kids – Poses are better than doses. Art of Living.|
|↑3||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.|
|↑4, ↑7, ↑8, ↑10, ↑20||Yoga for Kids. Art of Living.|
|↑5||Bridge Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑6||10-minute Foundational Yoga Routine. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑9||Cat Stretch – Marjariasana. Art of Living.|
|↑11, ↑19||A Beginner’s Guide to Yoga: 5 Widely Practiced Poses. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑12||Hardy, Shawnee Thornton, and M. Ed Special Education. Asanas for Autism and Special Needs. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014.|
|↑14||Finney, Sumukhi. The Yoga Handbook. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009.|
|↑16||Veerabhadrasana / Virabhadrasana – Warrior Pose. The Art of Living.|
|↑21||Why Savasana Is the Hardest Yoga Pose. The Chopra Center.|
|↑22||Savasana – Corpse Pose. The Art of Living.|