Yoga for children is taking off in schools, studios, and hospitals across the country as educators and parents look for new activities that can help kids relax, focus,and improve their flexibility, motor skills, and even their behavioral problems.
While research on the benefits of yoga for kids is limited, studies and anecdotal reports suggest that yoga can calm children, reduce obesity, enhance concentration, and help children with special needs, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism spectrum disorder.
A 2003 study by California State University, Los Angeles, found that yoga improved students’ behavior, physical health and academic performance and raised their self esteem. That same year, Leipzig University reported that yoga reduces feelings of helplessness and aggression and in the long term helps emotional balance.
Even for young children, yoga is a suitable alternative to tumbling and team sports. Young children often enjoy music, movement, and circle activities, which all can be used as a part of a yoga session. Yoga also provides an opportunity for students to wiggle, stretch, laugh, and learn to follow a lead, responding to such prompts as “roar like a lion,” “hiss like a cobra,” or “fly your butterfly wings.” Students enjoy moving into the poses of the downward dog, lion, butterfly, and cobra. These postures can strengthen the core and stretch the body into a more composed state.
Chanting and breathing exercises provide additional opportunities for students to follow a lead and experience yoga’s calming effects. With chanting, teachers can provide syllables or words for the students to say together in an extended vocalization’”actual words or single syllables appropriate to the environment (some Hebrew schools, for example, chant shalom versus om). This practice uses the vibrations of the sound to calm children and improve their focus. Breathing exercises involve inhaling big breaths, using the whole lung capacity, which can calm their emotions, quiet their minds, and relax their bodies.
Any teacher who wants to teach yoga in his or her class can begin by attending yoga classes aimed at instruction of young children, and they will gain practice for themselves as well. For some, certification may be the next step. For additional ideas on integrating yoga in your classroom, check out the Radiant Child Yoga and the Yogainmyschool.com websites.