Yoga Benefits for Youth

IMG_5051As I have watched my three kids growing up I have seen, from their developmental movements mimicking poses to their natural gravitation toward peaceful practices, and from their love of imagining being animals to their need to calm and ground, that yoga is a no-brainer for my children.

And my whole family.  My husband and I continue to find aid in yoga as individuals and as parents.  Life is hectic.  So we aren’t stellar at regular practices (yet) or regular use of yogic peace (yet), but when we remember and use the gifts we’ve received from yoga – our household blossoms – beyond our front door permeating every aspect of our lives.

meditationMy step-daughter took to meditation like a bee to a flower.  I gave her the 411 on meditation once and now she often goes off alone, “I need to meditate to clear my mind.”  I could take a cue!  My middle child is rambunctiously four.  We need regular tools as an outlet for her imagination as well as to bring her energy back down to earth.  Both girls like to see how many poses they can remember – the use of stories to introduce the poses helps their memories.

Giving them yoga helps me ensure their bodies are strong, balanced, coordinated, relaxed and healthy from the inside out.

My baby, still less than a year, appreciates baby yoga.  I know because I’ve seen it calm him down, ease his tummy and help him sleep.  It also is aiding in his development – physically and mentally.

Yoga uses both sides of the brain.  I’ve seen yoga help level my kids’ moods and help thinking become clear.  Studies have shown these optimal connections they are building from yoga help them in school.

These are all the benefits that I’ve found, but let’s not just take my word for it and look more at what other authoritative sources have found on the benefits of yoga for youth:

“A preliminary study of pediatric health benefits of yoga, published in 2008, finds motor skills and concentration improvements, on top of better posture and breathing.” (1)   “University of Michigan pediatrician Dolores Mendelow says yoga, if done properly, is a suitable alternative to tumbling and team sports for getting stressed-out, sedentary children socializing, exercising and building discipline.  She says it requires practice, patience and accepting of self-limitations” (2)

Yoga Journal, a popular yoga magazine and resource for all things yoga, states on their website that yoga for youth offers “stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being.” (3)

Jodi Komitor, “a leading authority on yoga for kids and founder of the first kids’ yoga studio in the world, Next Generation Yoga,” purports these ten benefits for children(4):
1. Maintains Flexibility and Strengthens Growing Bodies
2. Enhances Concentration
3. Increases Self-Esteem
4. Teaches Present Moment Awareness
5. Cultivates a Peaceful, Relaxed State of Body and Mind
6. Gives Tools for Stress Management
7. Sparks Creativity in Ripe Imaginations
8. Encourages Kind Peer and Social Interactions
9. Enhances Body Awareness
10. Teaches Discipline and Responsibility

“Scientifically, the mental benefits of children’s yoga result from calming heart rate, which signals the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system response. Body systems such as circulation, glandular balance, digestion, and immunity are also enhanced.  Focus, concentration, creative thinking, and emotional skills are enhanced with mindful breathing practiced in children’s yoga,” explains Kelly Wood, a certified children’s yoga teacher that estimates she has taught yoga to more than 75,000 children of diverse cultural backgrounds. (5)

Additionally, there are numerous studies that show yoga has had a tremendous positive impact on mental/emotional disorders from ADHD to eating disorders, and an entire slew of physical degenerative illnesses.  Here is a link to a study on ADHD: http://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/tripscy/localpdf/Yoga_Benefits_ADHD.pdf.

All these benefits are even easier to give them because they naturally take to yoga.  Perhaps that’s part of the wisdom they bring with them.  So how to get your kids in yoga?

You don’t need a class (though I have one for ages 7-12 on Saturday mornings), you can check out a video, book or research online to have your own home sessions.   An hour once a week is ok, but even ten minutes of something daily (or 2 minutes here and there all day seems to be my chosen method) with clear intention is when the magic happens.  I don’t worry about “style” in my classes or with my kids.  My experience is eclectic, ranging from Hatha to Kripalu to yogic-dance to Ashtanga.  The gist, in my opinion, is that they: 1) Use poses to balance their bodies, making sure they feel good and can breathe easily.  Lists of poses can be found anywhere online.  “Correct” posture isn’t as essential in children as it is more important after puberty – create the foundation for further discovery later, the benefits inherent in the pose still come.  For now let them feel connected and present, and make sure poses address core, back, arms and legs, standing, balance and inversion.  2) Breath – that they learn how it flows, and can watch it rather than control it, as the most basic rescue tool for mental health that they can return to the rest of their lives. 3) Relax!  A habit of relaxation is the best gift for their nervous system.  Imprinting this now will aid them when their older.  Meditation story CDs are awesome and easy to find, otherwise getting them in any situation where they can focus and LISTEN (to what ever) is the essence.  If they are in an intense emotional state, listening and letting themselves feel the emotion will help them work through it.  And 4) GRATITUDE.  Yes, this is great.  Start a family practice of saying aloud all that you are thankful for each day.  Reap the positive focus you have given them as they walk out the door ready to encounter their day.

Sources:
(1, 2) http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sns-health-kids-yoga-benefitshealth-story.html
(3)http://www.yogajournal.com/article/family/yoga-kids/
(4) http://www.positivelypositive.com/2012/09/24/giving-kids-the-gift-of-yoga-top-10-benefits-of-yoga-for-children/
(5) http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111511p8.shtml

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