Whenever my teen-age daughter joins me in a hatha yoga class, I am amazed at the number of people who tell me how wonderful it to see someone adding yoga to their life at such a young age, and how much they wished they had discovered this same transformative practice earlier in their own lives. Hearing this repeatedly really got me thinking! What if more and more children were learning the ancient science of hatha yoga from the beginning of their lives? How might that change their lives?
First, let’s look at the benefits that hatha yoga has to offer children of all ages in terms of growth and development.
Yoga asanas (postures) help to improve:
- Balance and coordination
- Strength and flexibility
- Focus and concentration
- General body awareness
Yoga pranayama (breathing) helps to improve:
- Stress management
- Relief of tension
- Calming of the nervous system
Particularly for children, yoga offers a non-competitive group environment in which to learn safe and healthy ways to move their bodies. As their balance and focus improves, and as they feel more aware and in control of their feelings and emotions, children will feel better on so many different levels. That is such a gift!
What makes yoga so great for children is that they can reap all these benefits while having fun! Yoga postures are a lot like pretending to be things in nature, such as trees, rocks, or mountains, as well as animals such as cats, dogs, cows, elephants, lions, butterflies, grasshoppers, sea birds, rocking beetles, and much more.
Yoga asanas allow children to enter a world of play, and have fun using their imagination, while learning healthy ways to move, stretch, and strengthen their bodies. Being engaged in an activity they enjoy will naturally encourage them to focus and improve. In time, their sense of balance and the ability to focus for longer periods of time will increase. Learning to focus on the breath helps to calm the mind and nervous system and allows children to tap into their inner stillness.
I have been teaching Children’s Yoga and Family Yoga for many years. At one of my first family yoga classes, a mother asked me whether my class would be suitable for her 5-year-old son who had been diagnosed with ADHD. Without any doubt or hesitation, I told her that yoga would be a great benefit for both her and her son.
Jason turned out to be one of my most enthusiastic students! Whenever he became too hyperactive, we would ask him to demonstrate to the class the breathing exercise called Blowout the Candle. Immediately he would stop in his tracks, sweep his arms skyward, with his palms together over his head, then draw his hands down to his heart while blowing on the tips of his fingers, as if blowing out a candle. Like magic, this exercise would shift him into a more receptive and calm state, which made it easier for him to take instruction and focus on the next yoga pose.
As much as Jason liked to move around during yoga class (sometimes dancing to the beat of his own drum) when the time came for final relaxation (savasana) he was equally eager to take advantage of snuggle time with mama. He liked to lie flat on her belly, with a blanket over the two of them, as I guided them through some relaxing breaths. This exercise is followed with a full body relaxation (yoga nidra), and a guided visualization. The grand finale would always be a few rounds of mantra meditation. This was the icing on the cake!
Jason and his mother ended up being two of my most dedicated students. She told me he always looked forward to class and would insist that they not miss even one. She told me that she could see how much he was benefiting from it, and that they also enjoyed practicing together at home some of the exercises they were learning in class.
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Studies have shown that yoga asanas are beneficial to children of all ages, and particularly for kids with special needs, such children with autism and ADHD. An NPR survey of teachers at a Bronx public school found that students who took a daily yoga program exhibited reduced aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity, compared with a control group of children who did not practice yoga. This is no surprise to me, as I have witnessed this firsthand for many years in the work I do. About one-half of the children in my family yoga class are special needs children whose parents had enrolled them after hearing of the benefits of yoga, or because they practiced yoga themselves.
Which brings me back to my original question: what if more children were introduced to the practice of yoga asanas? How would this effect their development? From the research and what I have seen as a teacher of family or kids yoga, the benefits are countless. Starting a yoga asana practice early in life can kick start a long life of healthy habits!
When we feel strong, have good balance and coordination, our quality of life improves. More importantly, if we are aware of our body and mind and our relationship to them and have acquired the tools to alleviate stress and calm the mind, we are more likely to take to the journey of self-discovery—the most important journey we can make in this life.
If more children would take to the practice of hatha yoga and make it a lifelong part of a healthy lifestyle, then it’s safe to assume that we would be living in a world of healthy and self-aware people who are able to focus longer on the tasks at hand, who are better equipped to deal with stress, who are more patient and kind. That sounds pretty darn good, don’t you think?!
If you have children of your own or simply have children in your life, share with them the gift of hatha yoga. It can be so fun to do together! Doing yoga with kids is a great way to get a work out and bond together. It has a host of benefits for everybody big and small!