The Benefits of Yoga for Kids

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Activities: Babies, Cabin Fever

Many adults seek out yoga for both its exercise and meditative components. Can children benefit from the practice, too? Cabin Fever talked to Carolyn Burke, a yoga educator who teaches "through the family life cycle," from prenatal yoga, to yoga for toddlers, children, and teens. "In a fast-paced world," says Carolyn, "yoga helps children discover a peaceful sanctuary within." We like the sound of that.

Q: Are yoga classes for children different from yoga classes for adults?

A: In classes for children, the postures are practiced in a more playful way, and are not held for long periods of time. Classes are holistic and work with all dimensions of the child. For example, the class for tots (ages 1-3) and their caregivers is geared to the children, but involves adult participation, so that parent and child can do poses together. They might imitate a cat, or dance around the room like a monkey. Often the class will involve singing, yoga, art, and an opportunity to learn new skills such as using words to express feelings.

I also teach classes without parents for children ages two years and up, through the teen years. Classes incorporate yoga poses or postures, as well as games, stories, mini-meditations, creative visualizations, art, music, and learning about the body. Earth-based teachings encourage children and teens to connect more deeply with the natural world.

The best part is that yoga can be adapted for children of all ages and abilities.
Q: What are the basic principles of yoga? How do you put these principles into practice for children?

A: When understanding the many dimensions of a child, the physical body is just one aspect. We also look at ways to engage the mental body (meditative practices), the prana body (breathing practices), and the spiritual body (chanting, chakras, yoga philosophy). We relate the teachings to children in their language and using materials that grab their attention, and interest them: through story, chanting or using rhythms, movement, reflective activities, or active games.

Q: Can you see a difference in your students from the beginning of class to the end? How about over time?

A: Seeing children tune into their own bodies, listen to sensations, slow down and relax are just some of the benefits that are witnessed when working in a children's yoga class. We also notice increased body awareness and self-confidence, development of greater strength, flexibility and balance, and deepened concentration, coordination and agility. It teaches children to relax through focus on the breath.

Q: Are there real-life applications to the skills learned in practicing yoga?

A: Yoga encourages children to respect their bodies and themselves, encourages cooperation and other positive social behaviors, increases inner awareness and discipline, and promotes creativity and self-expression. Some kids who are involved in sports find that it also helps prevent sports-related injuries.

Q: What advice would you give to parents who would like to practice yoga at home with their children?

A: It is important to remember that yoga does not need to look a certain way. Let your children teach you some yoga poses. Provide support by using a mat for protection and do not encourage them to hold postures for long periods of time. Remind your little ones (and yourself) to do what feels right in the body. Have fun, play, and create a sacred space with few distractions. Creating a few sacred moments to connect with your children in this peaceful and fun way is a gift to you both.

Carolyn Burke is a mother, counsellor, and yoga teacher, who also co-directs a training program called HeartRise® Children's Yoga Teacher Training, and co-facilitates yoga retreats for adults in Ontario and Costa Rica. Visit her web site to find out more.

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