Growing Tall: The Emotional Benefits of Yoga for Kids
by: The Growing Room Academy
Are yoga classes actually beneficial and enjoyable for kids? When parents contemplate adding an extracurricular physical activity to a child’s schedule, yoga might not be the first consideration. We tend to think in terms of team sports and tutus, but the evidence is mounting – yoga is fantastic for kids!
Benefits Beyond the Mat
The physical benefits of yoga are the same for children as they are for adults. Yoga poses (asanas) provide increased strength, flexibility, energy, improved balance, and coordination, (not to mention the numerous benefits for circulatory, respiratory, and metabolic health). These physical attributes will serve your child well should they chose to participate in any sport or dance. Participation in yoga practice actually leads to a higher level of performance and aids in injury prevention; however, the health benefits of yoga go far beyond strength and flexibility. Dedicated yoga practitioners can speak to the appreciable emotional and mental health benefits of the practice; yoga reduces stress and anxiety, increases self-acceptance and mind-body connection, and improves concentration. The mental and emotional benefits of yoga are readily acknowledged for adults, yet seem to be glossed over when it comes to choosing activities for children.
Yes, the therapeutic benefits of yoga extend well beyond the mat. Children are not exempt from stress and anxiety. Peer pressure, anxiety about school and relationships, and the desire to succeed can wreak the same emotional health stresses on children as it does parents. Our children are captive and active participants in our frenzied, lightning-paced, whirlwind schedules. Yoga instills stillness – It is the eye in the center of the storm, and the results can be profound for children and teenagers. The following list of benefits is by no means exhaustive, but definitely noteworthy.
Stress Management – The Ability to Self-Sooth – Pranayama (Breath Control)
Yoga practice equips children with the tools to manage stress. Sensory overload is as real for children as it is for adults. The ‘fight or flight’ response triggered by the sympathetic nervous system leads to heightened anxiety. The ability to self-sooth during times of increased anxiety insulates a child from the effects of intense negative emotion. A mother reported watching her daughter who had forgotten some important paperwork for school. She said she observed her 12-year-old turn from an over-wrought, frantic, panic-stricken child to a calm, collected, poised young woman as she instinctively applied her breathing techniques acquired in yoga. Mindful breathing exercises (pranayama) that slow down the heart rate and the related relaxation techniques taught in yoga practice are powerful tools for calming the mind and body. A calming heart rate signals the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system response; when the body’s system is in balance it has a profound impact on the child’s mental perspective. Transferring this skill of breath is indispensible in handling stressful situations—a school test, for example. This practice can have a profound impact on an anxious or nervous child.
Present Moment Awareness ‑ Anxiety, Mood, and Impulse Control – Pratyahara (Control of senses)
Yoga can reduce anxiety and negative emotions in children. While a future-oriented, goal-driven lifestyle has its benefits, there are negative effects as well. Yoga philosophy emphasizes being in the present moment. Learning to be in the moment (mindfulness) helps alleviate anxiety regarding the future or the past: the two places where anxiety resides for parents and children alike. Mindfulness decreases negative emotions. Present moment awareness provides a ‘center’ and ‘stillness’ for those whom practice it. Children who suffer from impulse control or hyperactivity benefit from mindfulness practice. Mindfulness leads to emotional stability in children, including those diagnosed with emotional or mental disorders. Meditation techniques are shown to ‘fire up’ the left frontal lobe (where happiness resides). The lower level of the stress hormone, cortisol, is associated with increased happiness levels and an improved quality of sleep. The concept of self-acceptance and nonjudgmental awareness leads to increased empathy and wellbeing. What this translates to for children is a heightened sense of self-mastery, peace, happiness, awareness, and compassion towards self and others.
Focused Practice – Increased Concentration, Mental Clarity, and Will Power (Dharana)
Yoga practice improves focus in children. At the intersection of yoga poses, meditative exercises, and controlled senses, yoga practitioners experience an increased ability to concentrate. Once the mind is ‘stilled’, the ability to completely engage in concentrated effort on a single task is enhanced. For children, this increased ability to focus and concentrate reveals itself in improved academic achievement and test scores. This ability to be completely engrossed, regardless of the activity, means not only better results, but also a greater awareness in their capabilities and enhanced mental clarity.
Self Mastery – Self Confidence, Awareness, and Acceptance
Yoga is the opportunity to participate or exercise without the worry of being ‘wrong’. Children’s yoga classes are great for children who shy away from group activities due to a fear of failure: it is a great option for those children who may fear competition. Participating in yoga in a group setting fosters a sense of connectedness and community. Yoga teaches non-judgment toward oneself. This fosters a healthier body image and a sense of gratitude for the hard work the body can accomplish. The willpower learned in yoga metamorphoses into self-confidence. In a time when the term “increased self-esteem” is assigned to almost any youth endeavor, yoga truly hits the mark.
Childhood is an extraordinary period of physical, emotional, intellectual, and social growth. Yoga instills values such as self-care, moderation, gratitude, self-discipline, and non-harming—all of which combine to produce physically healthy children with an overall profound sense of wellbeing. Perhaps one the most compelling arguments for yoga practice for children is the set of lifelong tools it provides them for living and flourishing in our fast-paced society.
Robin Stephens holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus on early childhood/adolescent development, family systems, and socio-cultural perspectives of the family. As a Certified Simplicity Parenting Coach©, Robin provides personal family coaching and facilitates parenting workshops for schools and parent organizations. She also is involved in youth advocacy organizations providing support for LGBTQ youth and their families.
The Growing Room Academy is pleased to offer yoga classes for children of all ages at our beautiful new facility in San Ramon at 2340 San Ramon Valley Blvd. For more information please call 925-820-5808 or visit us on the web at www.thegrowingroom.org/academy