Kids are busy. They go to school all day, have extra activities, homework, family time and where did that weekend go?
Practicing yoga is important for kids for many of the same reasons it is important for adults. This is no surprise to those of us who do yoga, there are many physical and mental benefits. Yoga is much more than being flexible and touching your toes or balancing gracefully on one leg. Here are some of them:
Mood improvement and reduced stress and anxiety
Practicing yoga is something we do for ourselves, as adults, to help us relax, relieve stress and anxiety, sleep better, improve emotional regulation, increase empathy, and improve mood. Why shouldn’t we do the same for our kids?
Like any physical exercise, yoga helps kids to release negative thoughts and feelings, bring about mental clarity and provide a general feeling of being better. Much of this is done through the release of endorphins creating feelings of calm, happiness, reduced stress and anxiety. Yoga movement and breath helps our body to literally release the built up negativity stored within our bodies. Yoga is also a fun activity in which kids can be silly, play games and be with their friends in a non-competitive environment while also learning so much about themselves!
Improved memory and cognitive function
Yoga helps to improve memory and cognitive function by creating focus within. Practicing yoga requires concentration of both the mind and the body to coordinate movement and breathing.
When kids practice yoga, they are essentially practicing their ability to focus on the task at hand. In their daily lives, this translates to better focus and cognitive functioning at school (research shows this leads to improved academic achievement).
Yoga is typically regarded as an individual non-competitive activity, however there is a social component. This is true for all ages, in particular children.
Yoga for kids differs from adult yoga as it can be high energy and typically includes a story or theme, songs, games and other fun activities that get kids moving and learning from one another. This creates a positive, engaging environment in which kids can have fun, talk and learn to trust others. Yoga also helps increase self-esteem, self-confidence and empathy within kids, which helps form positive relationships with others.
For adults and children, exercise throughout the day is an excellent way to improve sleep. When we are stressed or overwhelmed, our bodies are tense and our minds are full, reducing our ability to sleep well.
Many adults say that kids “have it easy” that they don’t feel stress, this isn’t true. Kids aren’t stressed about finances or work but they do experience stress from school, peer relationships and many other things.
Practicing yoga helps kids to relieve stress by using breath to calm the mind and the nervous system. Once learnt, this can be used as a tool and done anywhere. The physical practice of yoga also helps to relieve tension and release negative emotions held physically in the body, helping them to fall asleep faster and sleep longer.
Self-regulation is the ability to recognise and change your behaviour, thoughts and emotions based on a situation. Self-regulation skills help kids solve problems and adjust to new challenges, as well as help to set and achieve both short and long term goals.
By paying attention to our minds and bodies we better understand our thoughts and feelings. Practicing yoga helps kids to understand and manage their emotions based on the situation. An example, a frustrated child will find it difficult to retain new information and in a classroom setting may fall behind in class. By learning to reflect inward and recognise what they need in certain situations, kids can learn to manage their emotions and handle the situation effectively and appropriately.
Improved strength and breath control
Yoga takes physical and mental strength. When practiced regularly, we notice physical and cognitive changes within ourselves, particularly increased flexibility, upper body strength and mental clarity.
When we breathe harshly or quickly, we increase muscle tension, reduce focus and heighten our fight or flight response, all of which have detrimental effects on our minds and bodies. Research has shown that learning breathing techniques and building physical and mental strength from a young age helps to reduce the chances of obesity, depression and depressive symptoms. It increases self-esteem, self-confidence and improves overall wellbeing.
Increased determination and perseverance
Yoga is a fun activity that is non-competitive where kids learn new yoga poses and breathing techniques. When something is fun for kids, they always want to know more!
Like all of us, Kids love the feeling they get when they master a new skill (eg a yoga pose). It can take continued practice and at times it may be difficult but once mastered, they are excited and want to show everyone the new thing they learned at yoga class!
This determination and perseverance leads to the feeling of excitement. In their daily lives, kids will learn that sticking with something, even when it is difficult, pays off and they will want to bring that feeling of excitement to other areas of their lives.
Improved independence and coping skills
Kids rarely make decisions for themselves, with their parents making them. It is important for children to learn how to do things themselves, on their own and learn decision making. Yoga can help facilitate this by providing tools, increasing independence and developing coping skills.
As kids they will have the support of their family and the comfort of familiarity. This changes as they grow into adolescence and adulthood – peer pressure, ongoing learning, first job etc. It is important that kids learn how to be independent and cope on their own while they have the support and guidance from those around them otherwise, they will be left with no coping tools when the time comes for them to be on their own.
Nurture Wellbeing provides kids yoga classes within the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Western Sydney regions.