Kids and yoga seem to be a match made in heaven. After all, children love the opportunity to contort their bodies into odd positions. While it’s all play to them, yoga can play a positive role in the development of young kids.
Practicing yoga at an early age has many benefits, both in the present and in the child’s future. Not only are young yogis engaging in physical activity — something that they should be doing every day — which will keep them at a healthy weight, they are building up strength, flexibility, coordination and balance that can stay with them their whole lives.
Yoga can teach kids to listen to, take care of and respect their bodies. When kids feel comfortable in their own skin, they become more resilient to potential bullies.
“By shifting self-awareness inward, a buffer forms between the yoga student and the numerous negative societal and cultural influences [media, Internet, etc.] that promote unhealthy living and profoundly influence poor body images,” writes Kristin Henningsen, adjunct professor at Kaplan University School of Health Sciences.
Kids who practice yoga learn how to cope with stress, which is an invaluable tool to have throughout life.
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy development. While moderate, short-lived stress responses in the body can promote growth, toxic stress is the strong, unrelieved activation of the body’s stress management system in the absence of protective adult support.
Programs such as San Francisco-based Headstand are bringing yoga into schools — especially to those in underprivileged communities — and introducing yoga to students. Headstand’s program is organized into four-week units, using “mindfulness and yoga poses to teach age-appropriate skills for stress reduction, character education, and social and emotional wellness over time.”
Anyone who has tried yoga knows how tough it is to focus on holding a pose for more than five seconds. The more you practice, the more you learn to tune out the world and your thoughts swirling in your head and focus on the pose and your breath. Children who practice yoga are more focused in the classroom, leading to better grades.
Your little ones won't turn into yogis overnight so be patient with them and remember that consistency and fun are key. If there is a kid-specific yoga class in your neighborhood, sign them up. Otherwise, make it part of a family routine at home. Start with simple poses like child’s pose, downward dog, cobra and tree pose.
Check out some of the following guides to help you and your child enjoy the many benefits of yoga: