In the spirit of the ongoing parents & kids yoga series with Ananda Bogers here at the studio, we are delighted to share with you this post about kids yoga- talking about what is it, what the benefits are, and why we love it! So let's get started.
WHAT IS KIDS YOGA?
In essence, kids yoga is being based on techniques from the Hatha Yoga system, with each asana still most usually inspired by nature and animals, albeit at times modified and/or simplified for the sake of both fun as well as safety. Also, more than just postures are generally incorporated into the classes through the use of games and stories - letting everyone's imagination run free! Moreover, other practices such as mindfulness and other elements of yoga are incorporated into the practice - such as the yamas & niyamas, breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation.
The way yogis wisely came to base many of their techniques by imitating nature, inspires to understand the world around us, ultimately helping us to get to know not only the world around us better, but also ourselves - this applies to all ages! Pretty much the same effects are achieved for both children as adults through yoga, and it is only wonderful to introduce children to this practice from a young age.
However, due to the fact that children are at a different stage of development than adults, there are a few differences in the approach implemented for children in order to make it fun and accessible to them. For instance, the length of the exercises is generally shorter, there is more of an approach of a game-like structure, incorporating also storytelling to make it understandable for them, and the level of interaction is higher (whereas in yoga classes for adults participants are generally more interiorized.
We can't expect children to act like adults. They will want to play and grant them space for that - within given guidelines in class. Kids yoga classes are playful adventures, taking them on a journey together with the group as well as within themselves. It's important to make space for interaction and spontaneity, allowing and encouraging their creative capacity and imagination.Safety is very important, so it's also crucial to make sure each child has more than enough space not only on their mat, but also around them - kids are still learning to coordinate their bodies and falling out of an asana seems to be more common for children. Also, demonstrating the postures is often needed, whereas this might not be as necessary in classes for adults who are already familiar with the practice, or are able to follow verbal instruction without physical demonstration. A mixture of discipline, flow and surrender form a great recipe for a perfect kids yoga class - this of course applies to life in general!
The earlier children learn how to connect to themselves and cultivate acceptance, compassion, and self-love through Yoga, the better - why should anyone have to wait for that? Yoga empowers children to develop a holistic and profound sense of self at a very young age.
THE BENEFITS ACCORDING TO RESEARCH
In my interest to find out what kind of studies and research have been done pertaining to the benefits of yoga for children, I was very pleased to find many! After reading several studies, I would like to present to you the most striking. *If you would like to read up more- there are tons of articles freely available for your viewing online- I have limited my sharing to a few as otherwise this blog would be too long!*
The first is from a study featured in the Journal of Integrative Medicine [16 (2018) 14–19], titled The beneﬁts of Yoga in Children by Chandra Nanthakumar, who conducted a research to study the intervention of yoga as a meditative movement practice in helping school children in Malaysia manage stress and anxiety. Her findings came to show that the practice of yoga brings, among others, "improvement in managing and reducing stress and anxiety," and that "yoga appears to be an effective modality for helping children cope with stress and anxiety." Restorative postures bring inner calmness as well as induce as state of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), calming down the nervous system. Through regular practice, children can get in touch with their inner world, and learn to coordinate and align their mind, bodies, and breath better. Moreover, the inner states of peace achieved through the practice of yoga induce more mindfulness and are beneficial to children's overall health (physical, mental, and emotional).
Yoga for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Well-Being: Research Review and Reflections on the Mental Health Potentials of Yoga, published in Front Psychiatry (2014; 5: 35) and conducted by Ingunn Hagen and Usha S. Nayar presents a dicussion which provides some context as to why it is that it seems an increasing number of children are suffering from stress and anxiety these days: "...children today, face high expectations and constant stimulation through the Internet and other media and communication technologies. One reason why children experience stress and mental health challenges is that globalization exposes the youth all over the world to various new demands, standards, and options. There is also increased pressure to succeed in school, partly due to increased competition but also a diverse range of options available for young people in contemporary times than in the past."
Another study published by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD (29 January 2016) in the Harvard Health Publishing blog, showed that yoga for kids in the U.S.A. is on the rise, and improving their physical and mental health, balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity. Also, their studies show that yoga can "improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior," and further supports the findings of the above mentioned research by Nanthakumar in the positive effects of yoga in reducing anxiety and stress in children. Another added finding was that "yoga can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by improving the core symptoms of ADHD, including inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity."
The Kids Yoga Research also published a study in September 2012, summarizing the benefits of Yoga for kids based on a myriad of academic and scientific studies that were conducted in this respect. All of it supported the findings from the studies already mentioned above, and adding that "...overwhelmingly, research shows that children...may also choose better foods to eat and engage in more physical activity than children who do not. The studies also illustrate that centered, calm and focused children learn more easily, have better social skills and, in general, are much happier kids." And furthermore that the practice of yoga for children in summary: "helps manage chronic illness, improves prefrontal cortex function (including the ability to plan and execute complex functions), influences neurotransmitter function, improves strength and flexibility of muscles while increasing circulation, uptake of oxygen, and functioning of hormones, and makes the parasympathetic nervous system may become more dominant and stabilize the autonomic nervous system to enhance resistance to the effects of stress."
Need we say more?! All in all, yoga offers a highly effective training of mind and body to bring emotional balance. It gives children the tools required to attune to their bodies, feelings, and ideas. It brings about better balance, posture, coordination, mindfulness, health, self-love, compassion, understanding, connection, holistic integration - I feel I could go on with this list forever..and that you get the point for now ;) We want to encourage a healthy, happy lifestyle for everyone, don't we?
At schools, children are taught about the world around them, but generally not how to connect with it. It would be great for schools to integrate teaching mental concentration in their curriculums as well as way to tune into the Universe in beneficial ways! How to expect kids to memorize all that stuff if they don’t know how to focus their attention? Yoga teaches beyond what is taught at the average school. It offers a deeper sense of living and perceiving the world.
It is a pity that some things are not taught at school. For example: they are told to study, but not how to study and concentrate their attention. They are quickly diagnosed with symptoms of ADHD, and given medication rather than teaching them how to deal with it in more natural and healthy ways. It is wonderful to see the popularity of Yoga growing. If schools could incorporate yoga as part of the physical education curriculum, it will be to a great advantage for students, and how amazing that would be!
I personally love teaching kids yoga because it effortlessly throws me straight into the heart, anahata chakra. It awakens my playfulness. I love to see and work with the variety of authentic personalities, still so unconditioned. It brings a sense of lightness to everything and reminds me not to take it all so seriously in life! I always feel it's a give and take - although I may be playing the role of the teacher, I really learn a lot from them too.
One of my personal missions is to dedicate a big part of what I do in my life to Kids Yoga: both teaching classes as well as encouraging parents and communities to do the same. I could have saved myself a lot of suffering and unnecessary stress if I had known more Yoga throughout my childhood. Children are our future! After having lots of fun leading weekly Kids Yoga classes over the past three years, it has become very clear to me that dedicating my time to sharing Yoga with children is part of my dharma, my purpose.
Yoga can be playful, fun and interactive as a family activity at at home too! So get some guidance: find your local kids yoga teacher - join the kids yoga activities with Ananda Bogers here at saktiisha; get inspired- you can find lots of inspiration online to gather ideas to play some yoga games with your (or your friends' and family's!) kids at home , get creative - and get STARTED!
Doing yoga with children is one of the greatest gifts we can gift them, and to the future of humanity. As a wiseman once said: "Children are our future, so let's be their now."
Aldona from Saktiisha