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As an American, I can vouch that my country is not best known for our health habits. According to statistics about our increased obesity, that’s a given. That being said, the United States may be on to something in regards to kids yoga, for there is an upward trend of kids practicing. According to Harvard University, 1.7 million American children were doing yoga in 2012. That’s 400,000 more U.S children doing yoga than they did in 2007! Why the increased popularity? Let’s take a look at some of the incredible benefits scientifically proven and I’ll add a bit about my experience seeing kids doing yoga.
1. Improved Physical Abilities
Kids who do yoga have shown an increase in balance, flexibility, muscle strength, endurance and a boosted cardiovascular system! From different poses, breath techniques, and pace of transitioning poses, kids are bettering their physical health in all aspects just from yoga alone! Not only does this make it easier for parents to schedule their kid’s extracurriculars, but it also gives children a strong foundation of positive physical health that can help them for a lifetime!
The first time I saw kids doing yoga was during my kids yoga training in Santa Monica, California, the capital of holistic health. I was so surprised at how healthy these children looked, from their slender bodies to their authentic, wide grins, and how even the little 4 year old girl with pigtails could distinguish between cow pose and cat pose! It was also impressive to see how focused these kids were when practicing more challenging poses such as crow pose or handstand!
2. Greater Mental Health and Decreased Stress
Since meditation and mindfulness are a strong part of yoga, kids learn at a young age to deal with stress in a healthful manner. As coping mechanisms, they’ll use breathing techniques and positive self-talk instead of crying, throwing tantrums, or other more harmful alternatives they may learn from television or classmates. Also, since schools are becoming more challenging with increased workloads for students, kids benefit greatly from learning healthy ways to distress from early youth.
3. Increased Focus and Attention Span
It’s no secret that more kids are being diagnosed with ADD and ADHD than ever before. Yoga helps these kids that have attention deficits because focus, or dharana, is one of the eight limbs of yoga, and they learn how to focus in their yoga classes through lessons from the teacher, holding poses and also practicing meditation.
Another memory I had of that kids yoga training was how jaw-dropping awesome it was watching the children meditate. These were kids aged four to eight and they were sitting crossed-legged, hands on their knees and breathing deeply while still for five whole minutes! When I was a kid, you were lucky to have me sit and focus on something for 30 seconds! If you ask me, this skill alone will help children thrive as productive members of society.
4. Kids Enjoy Yoga!
While yoga is very beneficial for kids, it’s important to still make it fun, for they are building their creativity and imagination skills in their younger years. (I strongly suggest parents don’t try to force children to copy their yoga practice unless the child expresses they want a more mature yoga practice, for it can hinder their desire to do yoga.) Most yoga classes for children are adjusted to have playful songs, games, creative poses and a picture book reading with morals. This allows kids to associate yoga with excitement and not as an extracurricular forced on them by their parents. This doesn’t mean they’ll never learn the proper yoga alignment or poses. It just means they start yoga with a format that will help them enjoy it instead of dread going until they’re more mature. As they get older, teacher gradually introduces more adult-like poses and meditation techniques, but truly, even teenagers enjoy yoga games from time to time!
5. Not Comparing Oneself to Others
Although there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, the fact that yoga is non-competitive is helpful for young children. Yoga is about focusing on your own practice and body, not comparing yourself to others, and judging them. It gives space to learn to be comfortable with who you are, go at your own pace and practice compassion towards others.
When I’ve seen kids do competitive sports such as baseball or basketball, I often see them try to cheat, push other kids, or cry because they feel they’ve failed or that their parents will be disappointed in them. In yoga, kids are less likely to look around at what everyone else is doing and focus primarily on awareness of their body’s needs. Most of all, they have fun and don’t worry about being perfect!
6. Kindness Towards Peers
A huge part of yoga philosophy is devoted to kindness towards the self and others, which is well stated in the Yamas and Niyamas (Two limbs of the eight limbs of yoga). Since children learn these concepts over time in yoga classes, it becomes a part of who they are, which of course is beneficial for everyday life. With all the rudeness and tackiness often portrayed in the media and entertainment, it’s important that children have clear examples friendliness and compassionate actions towards other people and animals.
I have seen child yogis give yoga props to their peers such as blocks or toys, cheer them on when they’re doing a new pose, and smile when the other kid succeeds. The compassion that children learn in yoga is magical!
If you are a parent, a teacher or simply know a child that could benefit from yoga, I hope that you encourage their practice! Yoga is an impactful exercise for the body and mind, and I truly believe that if we urge more children to do yoga, we will have a generation of healthy, kind, and productive individuals in our future!
Do you have or know any children practicing kids yoga already? Have they blossomed from the practice and enjoy doing it? Please share any experiences you have in relation to the topic! I would love to hear your feedback!
Yoga Alliance-registered yoga teacher, entrepreneur and professional writer based in Thousand Oaks, California. She loves sharing yoga and yoga philosophy with people all around the world through her teaching and writing, with the intent of helping others become their healthiest and most confident selves! You can find her at www.facebook.com/HaileyLuderYoga or www.haileyluder.com