“Exercise is really for the brain, not the body.
It affects mood, vitality, alertness and feelings of well-being.”
John J. Ratey, MD, Harvard Medical School
Kids love to move; they love to imitate others and experiment with their bodies. They have lots of energy, and between the ages of three and seven, they are incredibly flexible too. They have substantial flexibility in their spines yet are fairly weak in their muscle strength. They are less able to focus and concentrate but they are very capable at finding their way into poses.
Current research continues to suggest that movement and sensory experiences are vital ingredients for continual brain development and that such experiences actually cause the brain to constantly develop and transform itself. Doctor Carla Hannaford, author of Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head (2005), describes it like this: “Movement activates the neural wiring throughout the body, making the whole body the instrument of learning.”
Children are innately flexible; they love to engage all their senses and explore freely with their mind and body. A children’s yoga class should be specially designed to allow this exploration to occur. Each class should aim to combine elements of stories, music, imagination and visualisation with traditional yoga techniques to create a unique movement experience. Classes should integrate movement, sound and play as these elements have a profound impact on learning, creativity, stress management and improved health and wellbeing.
Kids naturally do yoga. They begin from infancy, pushing up from their belly into cobra pose. They naturally lift their feet into the air into dead bug pose, or pull their feet to their mouth.
Like adults, kids experience what it means to fuse their mind, body and breath and begin to benefit by building strength, flexibility and feeling great inside. Yoga is not affiliated to any religion or belief system. It is a science; not a religious path. Yoga is for you, about you and in you – the person experiencing a union of body, breath and mind.
In a typical children’s yoga class, they get to bend, stretch, balance, breathe, twist, and turn upside-down. They get to hear language like “calm your mind”, “use your eyes to focus”; “look for your inner eye”. They get to challenge themselves by seeing how long they can lie still for in savasana, or balance like a strong and powerful tree.
The range of yoga exercises – from dynamic standing poses to those that require balance and focus – help children to channel their natural energy into creating healthy and flexible minds and bodies. Simple breathing exercises can either calm children down or increase their energy levels when they are feeling tired.
Yoga’s visualisation and meditative tools can be particularly beneficial to children with learning difficulties and behaviour issues. For example, the breathing exercises act as a natural relaxant for children with Attention Deficit Disorder, and the asanas are particularly useful in strengthening the muscles of children with low muscle tone or poor co-ordination.
The non-competitive aspects of yoga encourage children of all strengths and abilities to participate. In fact it welcomes those who may not be naturally sporty because it focuses on the inner self, and does not place emphasis on competition. It is extremely empowering for children, giving them added strength and flexibility as well as boosting their self esteem. It can help to ease anxiety and tension, calm an overactive mind and body, or boost energy if a child is listless and tired. Yoga encourages children to discover their inner potential in a non-threatening environment and to feel good about themselves, both inside and out.
Children’s yoga classes also teach kids the language associated with their bodies. They learn the names of the muscle groups; they learn about their lungs and their breath; they get to know all the names of their body parts. Alongside the many physical benefits of yoga, both the left and right hemispheres of the brain are continuously stimulated as children practice the yoga poses, breathing exercises and balancing postures, making their yoga experience a holistic one that nurtures their mind, body and spirit.
Or as Doctor Hannaford (2005) puts it: “Movement, a natural process of life, is now understood to be essential to learning, creative thought, high level formal reasoning and to our ability to understand and act altruistically towards all those that share our world. It is time to consciously bring integrative movement back into every aspect of our lives and realize that something as simple and natural can be a source of miracles.”
Author: Beth Borowsky
Find Out More
To learn more about Greenwood’s yoga program, please visit Yoga for Children with Beth Borowsky.