1/3/2012 1:03 PM
Written by Erica Moltz, MA, NCC | Clinical Director
Our children live in a hurry-up world of busy parents, school pressures, incessant lessons, video games, malls, and competitive sports. We usually don't think of these influences as stressful for our kids, but often they are. The bustling pace of our children's lives can have a profound effect on their innate joy—and usually not for the better. Yoga, a simple and safe series of gentle poses, postures, stretches, breathing and physical exercises can help counter these pressures.
Yoga can be enormously beneficial to children. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with their inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them.
Children are not simply small adults. They learn differently – often making sense of their world through motion and touch. They even express their feelings in physical ways. For example, when angry, they may hit and kick. Because kids do not have the cognitive abilities to understand and control their feelings, in order to change how they feel, they may need to actually manipulate their physical state. Traumatized children are especially prone to confusing and seemingly uncontrollable physical sensations and feelings. Yoga as a form of exercise, relaxation, and meditation is particularly beneficial for these children.
Research has shown that yoga has the following specific benefits:
- Yoga teaches children relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and the use of their imagination to help them feel as if they are in a more relaxed place; these techniques allow them to control their physical state so they will achieve more emotional peace and stability. A person is not capable of feeling anxious or angry when his or her body is relaxed, and children can feel their tense and confusing emotional state changing as their bodies relax. Thus, children learn to regulate their emotions through yoga even if they do not understand why they felt anger, confusion, or frustration initially.
- Since may of the yoga poses they perform are often introduced in the context of a story about an animal or person who overcame an obstacle or who learned to rely on inner strength, yoga teaches children competence and mastery. For example, one of the typical yoga poses -the warrior pose - is taught as a bold, tall stance that elicits feelings of mastery. Other poses allow children to express but also control anger or negative energy by having them roar like a lion or hiss like a cobra and then come back to a more relaxed pose. Some poses are physically straining, and self-esteem rises when kids successfully complete a tough pose. And even though they learn to model ideas of strength and competence, yoga is non-competitive. Children are encouraged to push themselves, but they can never lose to another child; they can only win by making personal gains.
- Yoga increases concentration by requiring children to focus intently on the pose in order to perform it. Children who have learned yoga tend to be less hyperactive and have fewer behavior problems.
When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life's challenges with a little more ease. Yoga for children encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that is noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children. Yoga also brings to the surface that marvelous inner light that all children have.