There is no doubt that any form of exercise is important for a child’s physical health but the wonderful thing about yoga is that it’s so much more than just exercise. Yoga has the potential to help children to learn to use their bodies and minds; supporting both their physical, emotional and mental development. What’s more yoga is a less prescriptive than more formal types of physical education and because it is non competitive, it invites children of differing abilities to join in!
As we all know, a young person’s body and mind is very different to that of an adult; by focusing on some of these differences we can begin to see how yoga can help their development more than other forms of exercise.
1. Children struggle to coordinate their movement…
It’s not until the age of around of 7 to 8 where children really begin to get the hang of using their body and coordinating movement. Yoga can help them to hone these skills and also aid development of simpler actions. Asanas like wheelbarrow walking, tree or eagle pose enhance their awareness of their hands and feet and builds postural muscle strength. What’s more, cross lateral movement (e.g.arm and leg movements that cross over from one side of the body to the other) such as that found in Tiger, enhances learning as the left and right side of the brain are forced to communicate and integrate.
…Yoga helps to build co-ordination, balance and dexterity. It also strengthens the nerve-cell pathways linking both sides of the brain through cross lateral movement
2. Children’s bones are still developing bones…
Children’s bones don’t fully fuse until their late teens to mid twenties. They have growth plates at either side of their long bones, which is made up of soft growing tissue. Some forms of exercise could impact on a child’s bones and risk an injury. Boys are potentially more likely to sustain growth plate injury as their growth plates form at a later stage, when they tend to be partaking in strenuous activities. Yoga, however, helps to build bone density and encourage tissue to form. The advantage yoga has, is that a typical class is made up of moderate and more vigorous activities that include a variety of postures that use different body parts. Postures where children use their own body weight, in a controlled way, but don’t put too much pressure on the joints such as donkey kicks and bunny hops help to fortify the ligaments, which help to support the muscles and bones.
…Yoga helps to build bone density without exerting too much pressure on any one area
3. Children have reduced aerobic and anaerobic capacity…
Unlike adults children hearts beat faster and they take more breaths per minute. Yoga helps to increase circulation, uptake of oxygen and functioning of hormones. Though children have reduced aerobic and anaerobic capacity they do have a greater recovery rate than adults. This makes Yoga even more suitable, as you can develop a programme which is high intensity but intermittent exercises.
…Yoga helps to increase circulation, uptake of oxygen and functioning of hormones
4. Children have shorter attention spans…
Children have much lower attention spans (particularly boys) compared to adults. What’s more, around the age of 6 to 7 they also have a lot of energy! When the two are combined, it can be difficult to get them to focus; hearing them say i’m bored or finding it difficult for them to sit still is pretty much the norm.
Yoga provides quiet inner peace and enables children to learn to value tranquility in nature and their surrounding. This increases creativity in children as they are more able to focus on a task. Yoga also relaxes nerve cells and muscles enabling children to relax and sleep better, helping them to be more physically alert during the day and concentrate for longer periods. Breath awareness can also positively impact on their attention span. Pranayama techniques such as nadi shodana has been shown to improve attention in a studies - even in children suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder!
…Yoga helps to increase mental focus, concentration and attention span
5. Children are very much learning how to get to grips with their emotions
Many emotional shifts occur in children as they develop. Learning to socialise, adapt to new environments, cope with exam pressure and, of course, hormonal changes can result in feelings that are difficult to cope with.
Practising a range of yoga poses can help children to cope with their emotions. They help children to release extra energy, handle frustration, or relax before bed. For example, Woodchopper can help them vent anger and is fun to do. Positive affirmations and visualities can give them the skills to cope with difficult and overwhelming feelings. By helping children to practise yoga poses, affirmations, and breathing techniques and discuss the impact they have on their thoughts and feelings (to self reflect), children can freely experience their feelings and safely release what otherwise would be repressed.
…Yoga helps children to become more self aware, it gives them tools and coping strategies to reduce anxiety and stress. What’s more it empowers them and gives them the confidence to manage their experiences
The benefits of yoga for children are seemingly endless and I’ve only explored a few of them here. It boosts their confidence and enables them to feel more comfortable within their own body and mind, which is more important than ever in our fast and competitive culture. Yoga can help children to see the beauty and light within themselves and those around them. What’s more yoga is FUN AND CREATIVE. I teach yoga to children of all ages in Tunbridge Wells and London, - we did the last class wearing the masks we’d created and practised asanas inspired by super heroes!
Joanna Hunt runs Banana Studio Yoga, which is based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. We also work in schools and privately within the South East. Book your yoga class today and try a taster session for free.