Yoga (meaning union or yoke) is the practice of accessing and integrating all aspects of our true nature — body, mind, and spirit — in the pursuit of inner harmony, says Alexandra De Collibus, a yoga teacher and founder of Sweet Pea Yoga, a yoga studio for infants, toddler, and kids located throughout Massachusetts.
Yoga is becoming more popular in schools through physical education classes and after-school programs. It’s rising popularity can be attributed to its basic stretching advantages and improved body awareness, with the added component of a mind-body connection.
There are 5 key areas where kids benefit from the practice of yoga, and each of them improves their overall well-being.
1. It Enhances Physical Flexibility
- Yoga promotes physical strength because kids learn to use all of their muscles in new ways. Whether a pose is done standing, sitting, or lying down, each one can challenge various muscle groups while helping a child become aware of his body and how it efficiently functions.
2. It Refines Balance and Coordination
- Balance is a key element of yoga. Balancing poses were created to promote mental and physical poise, as mental clarity and stability emerge from the effort of trying the poses. Even if a child has difficulty standing on one foot, she learns mental and physical balance if she can stay calm when she falls and when she gets up to try again. As children learn to improve their physical balance, they will be filled with a sense of accomplishment. Coordination is also closely tied to balance and promotes overall dexterity. Some yoga teachers and occupational therapists use finger yoga and other specialized techniques to help children with gross and fine motor coordination.
3. It Develops Focus and Concentration
- The act of practicing poses encourages children to clear their mind and focus on the effort. As a result of this single focus to achieve a particular pose or stay balanced, yoga helps children to focus and concentrate in school and get better grades, several studies note.
4. It Boosts Self-Esteem and Confidence
- Yoga helps to instill confidence and to bring learning to children on an experiential level. It teaches them to persevere, be patient, and work toward their goals. A yoga teacher can only offer guidance; it is the child who has to work to succeed. Therefore, when a child masters a pose, it gives him confidence and self-esteem. Yoga also provides tools for practicing compassion, mindfulness, generosity, focus, strength, and flexibility.
5. It Strengthens the Mind-Body Connection
- Yoga helps kids achieve a sound mind in a sound body by exercising the physical body and calming the mental spirit. “As parents we want our children to act and behave with mindfulness and with compassion, to be brave, to know love and happiness, and to find inner peace,” De Collibus says. “Since the modern world moves very, very fast for children, it’s not long before they feel all kinds of pressure (personal, parental, social) to keep up with everyone around them. Yoga functions as a release valve that alleviates pressure and as a foundation to nurture and develop a resilient and resourceful body, mind, and spirit,” she says.
Yoga is beneficial to children of all ages, but it has been found to be particularly so for kids with special needs. Studies have shown that yoga benefits children with autism and ADHD. Autism Key, an autism support website, says that yoga helps address kids’ heightened anxiety, poor motor coordination, and weak self-regulation, something that otherwise is very difficult to do.
Parents may notice how yoga benefits their kids, but the best judges are the kids themselves. Children who have practiced yoga tell teachers and parents that they are able to concentrate better during the day, focus better on their activities, and pay attention to their tasks — all the finest endorsements.
Jessica Glenbocki MOT, OTR/L