Yoga creates children who are bright lights in this world, increasing their self-awareness and strengthening their bodies – Shakta Khalsa
“We like you already”
“You are the boy teacher!”
“What happened to your hair?”
“I love yoga, it helps me calm down”
These are some of the things that I would normally hear when I walk into a room full of pre-schoolers to take them through a 45-minute yoga class. During this time, we practice yoga poses, do breathing and mindfulness exercises and in between take a break to sing and dance as well. By the end of the class children are happier and calmer and I think to myself that I have the best job in the world.
Almost 5000 years old, Yoga (meaning union or yoke) is the practice of accessing and integrating all facets of our being i.e., body, mind, and spirit, in the pursuit of inner peace and harmony. With my own yoga practice, I realised that we adults are used to thinking of people and things as being outside of us, however, as we delve further, we might realise that we are weaved much closer than we think. As such all perception is within. Everything we see, smell, hear, feel and touch is a perception of what we are experiencing outwardly. And the more we absorb this we realise that we feel more and more connected to everything and everyone. We feel alive and happy. This is how we can explain yoga to adults, at least the ones who are interested in hearing it. But mostly, it is sufficient for me to say to most adults that yoga is good for you.
However, we need to explain yoga to kids in the simplest way by using terms and language that they can easily relate to. The way I explain yoga to kids is that it is a kind of exercise, it involves movement where we do lots of different poses and connect to our breathing. Essentially, if we cut out the fancy poses, peaceful studios, and expensive yoga pants, that is what we are left with. All we need to practice yoga is our body. Whether or not a child excels in sport, yoga is something I guarantee that they can do. Yoga is fast becoming one of the most popular complementary health practices with more and more children and teens practicing yoga. Many schools are now offering movement and mindfulness programs to help reduce stress, improve mood as well as promote physical fitness.
Children are now growing up in a vastly different world. Our pace of life has fastened dramatically, parents are busier then ever. Immense pressures at schools, relentless lessons, and competitive sports only add to the mix. Do not even get me started on the impact of technology and video games. We sometimes forget that these influences can be stressful for our children. The pace of our children’s lives can have a significant negative impact on their joy for living and learning. Yoga practice helps children and teens in many ways:
Improve fitness and physical health
Yoga helps in developing a strong connection between body awareness, breath, and movement. The various poses of yoga help in improving coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility. I like to compare yoga to music; it relaxes the mind as well the body. Yoga strengthens the muscles while building flexibility. The practice of yoga in the early childhood and teenage years is much more beneficial than the standard gym workouts.
Reduce stress and anxiety
This is one of the most underrated benefits for yoga. Due to the fast pace of life, yoga, through breath and awareness provides children with the space to step back and regulate responses in a calm and thoughtful manner. As such yoga is akin to mindful movement. Yoga is an effective, natural, and safe outlet to release stress.
Improved focus and academic performance
The core principle of yoga is body awareness. As we move through a variety of stretches and poses the brain learns to notice and acknowledge every muscle movement. The other aspects of yoga, such as guided meditation and breathing can help the mind realise a sharper sense of concentration. By learning to live in the moment on the mat, children can learn to concentrate fully on the present moment off the mat. This can help them mentally refocus on important tasks resulting in better academic performance.
Improved body image and self-esteem
The body goes through a lot of changes during the teenage years, teens can feel discomfort from growing pains, acne, sweating more, period pains (for girls), a crack in the vocal cords (for boys) and hair growing in places where there wasn’t hair before! As such teenagers may have to deal with image issues, peer pressure as well as bullying. From a spiritual point of view yoga creates an accepting and safe environment, rooted in the principle of non-judgement. Yoga helps kids feel more connected to accepting of their boy.
Discipline and self-regulation
The practice of yoga itself inculcates discipline, strength, mind, and body control for kids. Yoga helps in calming the body and mind which means children can learn how to control negativity. When taught with mindfulness, yoga has significant advantages over traditional physical activity. Yoga can help reduce impulsivity, increase patience, and improve the ability to regulate attention.
When it comes to sleep, teenagers are just like babies. They need more sleep than the average adult as it is a time the brain in undergoing development and lack of sleep may cause moods to fluctuate. Numerous studies have shown that those who practice yoga sleep deeper and better. A good night’s sleep means better memory, better immune system, and improved creativity. Many studies have linked yoga’s benefit to improved sleep. Yoga’s combination of mindfulness breathing, movement and stretching can do wonders when it comes to improving the quality of sleep.
Just like adults, children confront physical, social, and emotional challenges or conflicts, a disciplined and regular yoga practice that includes breathing techniques, behavioural guidelines, as well as physical postures can immensely be beneficial for them.