Yoga practice has been passed down over thousands of years. What began as ancient text has been seized by booming businesses across the globe. Yoga is everywhere. It seems every urban neighbourhood has a yoga studio, popular youtube channels offer practices at home and you can purchase a mat at your local grocery store. In recent years, schools and pre-schools are offering yoga practice for children too – and for good reason. It’s not just that yoga has become trendy; young people are reaping the benefits of picking up the practice.
All children struggle with instructions in different ways. For some, the challenge is multiple-step directions, while others are easily distracted. More children are being diagnosed with ADHD at younger ages. Introducing a yoga practice to children can help improve their focus. Sat Bir Khalsa, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Harvard University, explains the connection between yoga and a child’s ability to focus. “Children concentrate on hearing their breath or feeling the stretch in their legs. This awareness, known as dharana, teaches children to keep their minds in one place instead of letting them wander. This additional self-control can often spill over into the classroom.”
Raised Self Esteem
Parents want to raise their children to be comfortable in their own skin, proud of who they are and confident in what makes them unique. Self-confidence allows children to grow to share themselves and their abilities. But growing up isn’t easy and children need a path to self-discovery. Yoga teaches participants to refrain from judging not only others but themselves and to accept where they are in the present moment. Not only does yoga remove judgement, but there is also no competition amongst participants.
Marsha Wenig explains that “Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem . . . with a physical activity that’s non-competitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion – instead of opposition – is a great gift to give our children.” With self-confidence, children are able to explore what it means to be themselves and appreciate their own uniqueness.
Reduced Anxiety and Stress
Adults are regularly told how harmful stress is to their health. But it’s not just adults suffering from high levels of stress – our children are too. Barbara Holden Nixon explains that “for children, whose bodies and minds are still growing, a well-tuned stress response system is especially important. High levels of early stress have been linked to impaired behavioural and emotional development as well as numerous health consequences later in life, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.” When yoga is introduced to young people, their stress and anxiety levels lower significantly. Researchers from Tulane University introduced yoga postures, breath work and guided relaxations (all common parts of yoga practice) to public school third-graders. The emotional well-being of the students improved compared to those who did not experience the program. Yoga creates a better emotional balance.
Ability to Self Regulate
Everyone has seen it – the young child having a tantrum and the frantic parent trying to soothe the child whose emotions have pushed them to lose control. How can children learn to regulate those feelings and their reactions to them? Again, yoga provides a key. Self-regulation is at the heart of yoga. The ancient writings state that yoga “is the cessation of the vibrations of the mind.”
Asanas, the traditional postures of yoga, give participants specific physical movements and Pranayama, the practice of focusing on breath, points to a specific focal point in the body.
The physical work of the body leads to increased awareness of not just the movement but the emotions in the body as well. “Self-regulation happens in the body,” says Leah Kalish, the owner of Move With Me Yoga Adventures. “That’s why intentional movement, such as yoga, has such profound effects on children’s ability to focus, calm themselves, and filter sensory information.”
As already discussed, yoga fosters increased focus, higher self-esteem, lower stress and emotional balance. All of those improvements, in turn, allow for greater academic performance in children. The healthy state of mind that yoga provides, lets students approach their learning from a more peaceful place. Including a regular yoga practice at school creates a readiness to learn and students have a new enthusiasm towards learning. A study by the International Journal of Yoga shows that academic performance improved with students who regularly practised yoga, compared to students who did not.
With more and more studies being done and finding similar results, it is not surprising that schools are including yoga programs on a more regular basis.
Not only do young people mentally benefit from yoga, but they also enjoy it! Unlike other things that are good for children that can be a struggle to get them to take on (brussel sprouts or going to bed early?), once children give yoga a try, they embrace it and are eager to return to the mat.