By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500
Adults from all walks of life and varying physical abilities are discovering the many benefits of practicing yoga and they're not alone. Children as young as three can do simple yoga exercises; in addition to helping a child improve balance, coordination, and body strength, yoga exercises are something that parents and children can do together. In addition to a calming, pleasant exercise, yoga provides opportunities for parents to provide instruction and build trust and communication bonds with their children. And yoga is not just appropriate for small child/parent groups within the home. Larger groups of children respond well to yoga in both classroom and studio settings.
What Children Get From Yoga
In addition to improvements in general body handling and strength, children have responded well to yoga exercises as both a form of physical and occupational therapy. The props often used in yoga seem to be especially appealing to children and yoga's efforts to bring balance and tranquility to both body and mind is helpful to children as well. In the aftermath of the tragic 2012 elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, one yoga instructor mother taught what she thought would be a one time class at the targeted school. Children and instructors there were so pleased (especially with breathing and meditation exercises), it's now a weekly event for the entire school, with plans to expand these classes to upper grades, as well.
Cautions About Yoga And Children
Although the benefits from yoga are similar for adults and children, parents and instructors should be aware that these two groups require different instructional approaches. Small children have shorter attention spans, and get frustrated (and upset) more easily than older children and adults. While children are more flexible than adults, they lack an adult's body strength, balance, and coordination, all of which can potentially lead to injury if exercises aren't properly done. To avoid issues, instructors should offer age appropriate classes. Toddlers shouldn't be mixed in with kindergarteners, for example. Always start with very basic poses for all levels, and communicate to children that bodies should never hurt while practicing yoga moves, and that modifications or adjustments can be made to avoid this.
Good Yoga Strength Exercises For Children
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog): This is a great stability exercise for kids. Have children start from a hands and knees position on the mat, then lift up. Have them keep feet flat on the mat to avoid falls. Bending knees in order to do this is perfectly acceptable.
2. Vrkasana (tree): After finding a good stance on the mat, children slowly raise one leg and rest their ankle against the opposite inner ankle. More experienced children can raise the opposite leg higher, but don't let them rest the foot against the knee joint.
3. Ardha Chandrasana (crescent moon): This exercise provides balanced flexibility on both sides of the torso, but younger children will need help both with appropriate arm extensions and breathing.