Updated: May 23, 2020
Yoga literally means union. When practicing yoga we are aiming to unite the mind, body and emotions so that all aspects of the self work harmoniously together. Children's yoga practice includes singing, games, physical postures and breathing techniques that help children develop their emotional, social, and physical awareness.
I love teaching children's yoga because I am passionate about children learning yoga and mindfulness from a young age to improve their well-being. As adults, it is our responsibility to provide our children with the building blocks needed for a successful future, enabling them to contribute to the community and make the world a better place. Throughout my career as a teacher I have found yoga to be a valuable tool for learning. It helps to develop concentration and achieve a relaxed state of mind which allows optimum receptivity for learning.Yoga is something children can practice anywhere and at any time. Research has shown that interspersing periods of work with frequent breaks is the most efficient way to work, so I teach older children breathing techniques or poses they can use as a 'brain break' while studying. This is a skill that will help them throughout life! Below are four ways that yoga and mindfulness can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance and reduce anxiety and stress in children and teens.
1. Develops Mind-Body Awareness
By exercising the physical body with a focus on breath, children become more aware of how the mind and breath can control their (often impulsive) bodily reactions. The essence of yoga is non-competitive. It is about being kind and respectful to ones-self and others. Every person is an individual so there are no ‘perfect’ poses. Children are given an opportunity to play and focus without pressure and expectation. For these reasons yoga improves self-esteem and confidence while building physical and mental strength through the mind-body connection. As a mother of young children I know that ultimately we want our children to be happy, to behave with compassion, to react with empathy and find inner peace. That’s why the focus of my yoga sessions is nurturing and developing a resilient body, mind, and spirit while cultivating compassion and empathy.
2. Improves Self-Regulation
Self-regulation is our ability to manage our stress, emotions, and behaviours. Each person’s ability to self-regulate is developed from infancy in the levels of sensitivity in which parents or carers have responded to the child’s needs. In my yoga sessions I include exercises that nurture affective and cognitive empathy such as partner and group poses, massage or breathing. Focusing on the breath and body helps children calm themselves down and be less reactive in difficult situations. So over time, instead of lashing out in anger when someone takes their toy, a child might remember to take a deep breath before and think about their reaction. Yoga also gives older children and teens strategies to help them cope with daily stresses, for example they could choose to do five minutes of breathing before an exam, or some eye yoga as a break from writing an essay.
3. Cultivates Physical Fitness
The physical postures in yoga use the body to promote an awareness of the present moment. It is a practise of ‘mindfulness in motion’ that also increases strength and flexibility and refines balance and coordination. Moving the body in new ways develops proprioception (the sense of our body’s position in space) and the vestibular system (balance and spatial orientation) which are essential for healthy physical development. Balancing poses are a key element of yoga, they promote mental clarity and stability as well as resilience. Many studies have shown that yoga improves physical fitness, respiratory function, increases exercise adherence and reduces obesity risk factors.
4. Enhances Behaviour, Mental State, Health and Performance
Yoga enhances children’s mind-body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness which in turn, boosts self-esteem and confidence. A growth mindset is developed by bringing learning to children on an experiential level and through the perseverance of trying a pose, falling down, then getting back up to try again! . Yoga provides opportunities for practicing compassion, mindfulness, generosity, focus, strength and flexibility. Most importantly, yoga is fun for children! It is taught through playful postures, imaginative stories, group activities, partner work and games.