Yoga for Kids? Yes, Please!
By Sara Barry
If you think yoga is about flexibility, challenging poses, and a Zen attitude, you’ve got part of it. Yoga has physical and emotional benefits for people of all ages including children.
“Getting kids involved in yoga and meditation is a life-long win for them. Both yoga and meditation teach kids the benefits of fitness, but they are also valuable coping skills that kids can key into during life’s challenges,” says yoga teacher Kerin Monaco.
Find Serenity, Strength, and Self-Confidence
Monaco started practicing yoga herself in high school to combat crippling anxiety that cropped up around SATs and college applications. She went on to teach yoga and recently began to share yoga with her young family. When her daughter was 9 months old, Monaco started to practice with her on the mat, where they both loved the peaceful energy that yoga brings.
That’s not the only benefit though. Yoga teacher Katy Dagle, says that for younger kids, yoga builds coordination, balance, and self-regulation. For older kids, yoga continues to help with coordination and balance and also helps build flexibility, strength, and self-confidence. The emotional benefits can be especially helpful in the challenging tween and teen years.
Get Started with a Class
Both Monaco and Dagle recommend classes for kids. An experienced teacher helps children learn poses correctly and can offer modifications or adjustments. Kids (and grown-ups) should be reminded to do what feels right for their bodies. Not every child can do every pose, and some days a familiar pose is harder than others.
Yoga is noncompetitive. Teachers should help children focus on their own practice every day and create a supportive environment. As Dagle reminds her students, “yoga is a practice, not a perfect.”
To find kids’ classes, check with local yoga studios, gyms, or YMCAs. Some studios have an age restriction, so it’s good to check first. Once familiar with yoga, kids can use videos and yoga cards to practice at home.
Classes provide a safe introduction to yoga and ongoing support, but the beauty of yoga is that you can practice any place and any time. Here are two practices you can do anywhere:
Breathe: Breathing can be centering, energizing, or calming. For parents, try breathing deeply while holding an upset child. Monaco says: “When my daughter is fussy, deep breathing with her in my arms works every time.” Dagle uses “flower breathing” with her toddler: sniff a flower, let it go with a sigh, to help diffuse big emotions.
Dagle teaches older kids to use breathing exercises to calm themselves before a test. She encourages them to put their feet firmly on the ground at their desk, inhale for a count of four, and exhale for a count of six for one minute to help them feel both calm and grounded.
Be present: Practice mindfulness and being present. That means noticing your environment. There are lots of ways to practice this with kids – you don’t even have to call it mindfulness.
Sit quietly together or go for a walk, and see what you notice. Try closing your eyes. What sounds and smells do you sense?
Turn off your phone and spend some time doing an activity with your kids, whether it’s reading, coloring, dancing, snuggling, building. Just focus on what you’re doing, with no distractions.
Describe something familiar as if it were new. In an exercise from Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh, kids pretend they are Martians seeing something from Earth for the first time. Ask them to look, touch, smell, listen, and taste and describe their experience.
Yoga builds strength and flexibility, self-confidence and focus. Kids get comfortable in and connected to their own bodies and minds, and learn practices that they use for the rest of their lives. What’s not to say Yes to?
Sara Barry is a writer who has practiced yoga for more than 15 years. Both her daughters have taken yoga classes and love to lead her in poses.