Yoga for Healthy Children

by Cristin Tighe, Founder of Kids & Yoga!


Why should kids do yoga? As parents, you may be able to pick many activities for your children. How do you choose what is best? What should be a priority? How, in a typical harried week, do you make sure they have a balance between fun and other beneficial experiences, maybe even those with long-term benefits?

Fortunately, there’s yoga for your kids (and for you, if you want to feel good too)! It’s fun, it’s active and it’s calming – while subtly infusing a sense of self-worth. Through the physical practice, yoga nurtures flexibility and freedom of movement and grows corresponding self-confidence. Yoga gives kids healthy bodies and minds and develops their radiant little selves.

Unfortunately, kids are not immune to stress – and they’re surrounded by it once they merge into society – whether going to school or playing sports. In nurturing contrast, yoga provides a safe, secure, non-competitive environment; a joyful space to be; and a chance for much needed relaxation. Plus, it gives them valuable tools they can use now and in the future.

So, what goes on in a kids’ yoga class? First, yoga gives kids a chance to explore being in their bodies and discover the spectrum of amazing things we can do... stretch, jump, be quiet/loud, balance, twist, bend, rest, be alone and in a group, focus, get strong and flexible, sing, play and be upside down. Yoga is one of the best activities for kids. A child can come into the class tired, frustrated, hot, hyperactive and – wherever they are – yoga practice begins. Yoga gives then the gift of joy and discovery of being vitally alive. They notice and connect with their breath, which is their life! (When is the last time you took a long, deep breath with child-like awe at the amazing creatures we are?)

Second, yoga is non-competitive. Unlike sports, learning an instrument, or playing video games, yoga does not encourage competition; nor does it put pressure on children to do more, do better, or go faster. During yoga, kids notice how their own bodies move. It’s fun as they try different poses, developing self-awareness and recognition of the their strengths and where they can improve – without self-judgment or comparison. Yoga is one of the best ways to build children’s confidence. Yoga’s positive reinforcement provides a framework for them to see positive shifts, without the pressure of needing to change.

Finally, yoga gives children a chance to be mindful, get perspective and rest. All of us, all the time, in our busy lives in the modern world are over-stimulated. Stress – noise, crowds, carrying heavy bags, working on computers, being in cars, having to rush to get places, not eating so well, pollution, too much television, pressure to do better – all tax our nervous systems. Kids are not different! On the spectrum of quiet-relaxation to fight-and-flight response, our nervous systems tend to be more on the stressed side most of the time. Constant stress increases heart rate, blood flow, breathing and brain activity. It increases the production of cortisol and other hormones in the body, which in a true danger situation is good, but over time consistently drains and stresses the body and the mind, taxing our nervous systems and likely decreasing immunity.

So, in class, after your daughter or son practices poses, laughs and discovers new things about their bodies, there is relaxation. A time of lying down gives an experience of goodness and relief of quiet restfulness, stimulating the calming parasympathetic nervous system. In addition to feeling wonderful, relaxation renews balance in the body systems and mind. It teaches children the value of quietly breathing and to focus on what is going on with them versus what the world asks them to focus on. Believe it or not – kids, even super-active ones, love this! Relaxation and yoga breathwork give kids (and us) time to focus on our bodies in the present and perspective that allows us to calm down in moments of upset or when we are overtaxed.

What should you tell your children about yoga? That class starts with sitting in a circle, maybe a name game, listening to a bell, breathing or singing, then we’ll do stretches and poses to warm-up, a series of poses around a theme (like rainforest, circus, strength and courage). At the end is a nice relaxation with soft music or guided visualization (like walking on a beach and seeing starfish). They might even get a foot massage. Class can also include non-competitive yoga games, short meditations or chants, artwork or a chance for them to teach a pose to their peers.

All types of kids love yoga and can do yoga. We hope your children have the opportunity to experience this gift of yoga as well as the health, balance and radiance it brings to their lives now and in the future.

Author:
Cristin Tighe, RYT-500, RCYT, RPYT, MEM, MA, is the Founder of Kids & Yoga! (www.kidsandyoga.com). She formerly owned Spiral Flight Yoga in DC, and founded Ghana Yoga! (www.ghanayoga.com). She teaches Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, and is a Kundalini Research Institute International Teacher Trainer. She has advanced training in Conscious Pregnancy and Relax & Renew Restorative Yoga. She is also certified by Itsy Bitsy Yoga (Babies, Little Families, Tots & Tykes), Next Generation Yoga, Samarya Center for Integrated Movement Therapy, Yoga 4Teens, Y.O.G.A. for Youth, Yoga Ed. (K-8 & Tools for Teachers) and Yoga for the Special Child. She’s the mother of three (one daughter and twin boys), has taught children’s yoga since 2003, and has trained Radiant Child Yoga Teachers since 2005 in the US, Europe and Africa. She’s a Yoga Alliance Registered Teacher and International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association member. Reach her at: cristin@kidsandyoga.com or +1-202-276-3521 (US mobile).

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