Yoga for Kids: Getting an Early Start On a Healthy Life
Our primary care doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach know you want to give your child every possible advantage in life, including instilling healthy practices. One such experience you might want to consider introducing them to is yoga.
And if you think this will make you a pioneer, guess again. Surveys show that nearly two million children in this country are regular practitioners of various types of yoga that have been specially designed to suit their age levels.
Health benefits for all ages
The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) recommends yoga for its physical as well as its mental benefits, including: increased flexibility; increased muscle strength and tone; improved respiration, energy and vitality; weight reduction; cardiovascular and circulatory heath; improved athletic performance; protection from injury; and stress management, including mental clarity and calmness.
According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), recent studies have shown that yoga many help those with chronic low back pain reduce their pain and improve functionality. Others studies suggest that regular yoga practice may reduce heart rate and blood pressure, as well as relieving anxiety and depression.
And these benefits aren’t restricted to adult practitioners.
The Harvard Medical School reports that yoga—and the accompanying training in mindfulness—has been shown to improve both physical and mental health in children ages six to 12.
“Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children,” the report said. “A growing body of research has already shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children.”
The NIH also found that “yoga practice among children indicates improved benefits in concentration, stress alleviation, self-awareness, consciousness, self-regulation, behavioral and emotional maturity, and self-confidence in everyday life.”
Other studies involving children have suggested that it may help alleviate the symptoms of asthma, autism, and ADHD.
Given all these benefits, it makes sense to introduce children to this ancient practice at an early age, and many schools already incorporate it into their physical education classes.
What is yoga?
The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “yoke” or “union”; that is, it’s about coordinating the mind with the body during exercises. Yoga originated in India as a prelude to meditation. It was originally developed to assist concentration and focus in an effort to deepen meditative states.
Nowadays in the West, the emphasis is more on the physical, combining various postures with breathing exercises, along with the discipline of “mindfulness,” or being present in the moment and fully aware of what your body is doing. In this respect, it’s not unlike Pilates, with its focus on getting the various postures and exercises just so.
Mindfulness, as practiced in yoga, is a type of moving meditation that puts aside worries and concerns to provide a kind of mental retreat. It also trains practitioners to take this new perspective into their daily lives, helping them react more calmly and thoughtfully to the stresses they face.
Yoga for kids
Of course, getting children—especially younger ones—to sit still long enough to practice complex poses and stretches can be a challenge. Which is why yoga instructors are adapting the basic principles for the younger set.
“Teaching grown-up yoga to kids doesn’t work,” Ann Huber, program director of YogaKids, a teaching certification program, told The Washington Post. “It’s best to keep it simple, short, and fun,” she said.
Shari Vilchez-Blatt, creator and director of Karma Kids Yoga in New York City agrees. Progressive relaxation and other sorts of guided meditation are an important component of yoga, she told Parents Magazine, but these disciplines need to be modified to suit children.
“Sitting still even for ten to 20 seconds can be a lot for a kid,” she explained. So these and other instructors have found ways to incorporate the principles of yoga into their daily lives.
Such methods might include having a child walk while slowly rolling her foot from heel to toe and focusing on every sensation in her foot, an exercise that encourages mindfulness. Or focusing on the flavor and texture of food as she chews, Vilchez-Blatt said.
Liz Bolton, a board member of the non-profit YoKid and owner of the Birth Club yoga studio in Virginia, suggests parents start simply: “Take a few deep breaths together or dance around to your favorite song—any mindful movement is yoga, as long as you do it with intention,” she told The Post.
If you’re interested in introducing your child to yoga, or reinforcing practices they may already be learning at school, there are numerous online videos available to help you get started.