One of the most important roles of parenting is teaching children how to deal with life’s stressors. Yoga can be a healthy form of stress relief as well as a creative outlet. Bonus: It’s great exercise! The benefits of yoga can extend into children’s friendships, attitude and school success.
Developing Body Awareness
Body awareness is knowing how the body moves in relation to other people, objects and space. It involves evaluating the environment and using your senses to relate to your surroundings. Proper body awareness encourages healthy motor development and coordination skills. Yoga builds these skills through strengthening the body and its own specialized movements. Additionally, yoga brings focus on muscles that are often forgotten in the normal course of the day. It puts new demands on the body and brain, uniting them in order to make the body more connected. With better body awareness, kids can become more present in the moment. They may be more in tune with their intuition and the language in which the body speaks to the brain. They may be able to read and verbalize their own emotions better, which will translate into healthier relationships. Body awareness through yoga can also reduce the chance of injury by improving flexibility, body alignment and coordination.
Managing Stress With Breathing
Yoga focuses on purposeful, relaxed breathing and being in tune with that breath. Not by coincidence, deep breathing is taught in order to help manage stress, react to anger and think calmly. Learning to breathe in and out with rhythm can translate into performing that breath during times of stress or anxiety. When children become aware of their breath, they learn how it can relate to the body’s emotions and reactions.
Kids can try extended exhalation by exhaling their breath and then trying to exhale more, maximizing effort to get the last little bit of breath out. This simple exercise can bring more energy to the body as well as focus on the breath instead of the current stressor. Through yoga, children can learn self-calming techniques that they can apply anywhere.
In today’s hurried society, kids are increasingly exposed to intense stimuli competing for their attention. When children build concentration, they can direct their attention to what’s truly important. The balance activities in yoga encourage stillness of the body while quieting the mind. Sharpening their focus on a move can help your kids build concentration and focus on the task in front of them. During downward dog pose, help them imagine they are friendly dogs, playful and ready to run. Whom are they greeting? What do they smell? Aid their imagination as they are transformed into an animal while the outside world waits. As they concentrate their energy into the pose, they will learn to bring that concentration to daily activities. This skill translates directly into academic success as well as honing a valuable skill for the future workplace.
For newcomers to yoga, the poses and breathing can appear difficult. However, yoga truly is for everyone, as it can be modified to fit the abilities of the practitioner. Once children learn a particular pose, they can deepen the stretch and build up stamina by holding the pose a little longer each time. A stretch that once seemed difficult can be improved by repetition. With each practice, kids will begin to increase confidence in their abilities. In addition, yoga can help with posture, which can improve self-esteem and body image. Yoga helps develop trust in the body. With time, as kids ask their bodies to move in a certain way, they will. Their confidence in their abilities and determination can elevate their self-esteem. They will come to realize their own power and control over body and mind. They will see their strength and take this tenacity into the world.
Being Part of a Group
An essential skill of childhood is relating to others in a noncompetitive, parallel way. Yoga focuses on self-improvement and using the body to the best of its ability, which encourages kids to work at their own pace. When doing a tree pose, have your kids imagine their feet are giant, century-old roots planted firmly in the ground. They are still, surrounded by other trees to create a beautiful forest. Their role is solidified as the body is shaped into a purposeful tree that provides crucial nutrients to the world. The tree pose allows kids to be a vital member of the team, ensuring their own purpose while combining with others to create a collective forest.
Partner yoga allows children to team up with a peer to achieve the best results each body can perform. For example, kids can work as a group to spell out ABCs, which can require multiple bodies to achieve. This game teaches cooperation and teamwork as well as creativity in order to spell out the alphabet.
Yoga is steady, dependable and ready whenever you need it. No equipment or specific location is needed. It can be beneficial for all ages and athletic abilities. Any child can try, despite the lack of prior experience. Simple yoga can be performed in the living room or in a child’s bedroom. For an added bonus, perform stretches outside, reaping the benefits of sunshine and fresh air. In the morning, wake up and face the school day empowered by the warrior poses. Welcome the morning with a few sun salutations. In the afternoon, use fun, creative animal poses to transition into your afternoon activities. Before bedtime, relax with meditative breaths to release stress and emotions carried throughout the day. Allow yoga to help your kids reflect on their day and prepare for rest.
Try It at Home
Try the gorilla pose by standing tall with your legs wide apart. Bend forward at the waist and let your arms hang down in front. Swing your arms back and forth like a gorilla. Take a big breath in and rise up, beating your fists on your chest. Embrace the power of being strong and fierce while also being a gentle and kind member of the family. Try the cobra pose by lying on your stomach, palms of your hands under your shoulders. Press into your hands, lifting your shoulders off the ground. Visualize what is around you. Think about your path for the day. For the cloud pose, inhale and bend your knees. Curl your arms in front of you to scoop invisible clouds that hold frustrations and negative feelings. Exhale, straighten your legs and throw the clouds above your head into the sky.
Yoga practice can wake up hibernating muscles, giving them a good stretch and releasing their energy. When this occurs, children have less pent-up energy, which easily translates into a better night’s sleep. This completes the circle as better sleep aids in concentration, self-image and better mood. Try a few yoga moves with your kids at home, with friends or in a class. Enjoy time together while collecting the benefits of a healthy activity for the whole family.
Courtney Morris Gardener, MSN, RN, PNP, is a PNP in Marion, NC. She established and coached Girls on the Run team at a local middle school for the last three years.