A new school, an ever-whining sibling, divorcing parents, being dumped by your best friend, feeling rushed every morning at home or in school, an overstrict teacher, family financial worries, hearing snippets of news reports on war, financial crises, natural disasters, local crime–these are just some of things that contribute to the reality of stress in kids’ lives.
Fortunately, yoga, long known to enhance physical, mental and emotional relaxation, is more accessible to kids than ever. Many yoga studios and health clubs now offer yoga classes for kids. These classes are also available at a number of after-school programs, and for those lucky enough, yoga is now included as part of some schools’ curriculum. Numerous instructional videos aimed at kids are also accessible at book stores, health food stores and online.
Yoga means union–of body, mind and spirit. Through a series of postures that invoke the animal and natural world (cobra, downward dog, mountain, tree poses, for example), along with breathing exercises that facilitate a calming of emotions, and, in some cases, meditation which provides an opportunity to simply be still and silent, yogis of all ages gain much more than a work out. Yoga provides an opportunity to ever accept where we are on a given day, and to relate to the larger natural world, ultimately, yielding the understanding that no matter what form we’re in, we’re all made of the same “stuff.”
Physically, yoga offers the benefits of increasing flexibility, strength, and coordination. There is a risk of overstretching with yoga, especially for children, but no more so than with gymnastics, dance or stretching when warming up. Kids’ natural ambition and enthusiasm can also lead them to attempt doing things prematurely (like a headstand) that could result in serious injury. This is where finding a good, qualified teacher is a smart move.
Mentally, yoga is reputed to increase concentration as well as calmness. Other internal benefits include being introduced to and practicing the art of stillness, focus, self-acceptance, peace, and grace. The non-competitive nature of yoga (against others or self) makes it a safe practice, welcoming to all children. A yoga practice can provide new tools for kids when it comes to handling stress. When facing a difficult situation, instead of tensing up and shutting down, why not take a three-part breath? When feeling frightened or intimidated, recall the strength, clarity and power felt when doing warrior pose. If there are no yoga classes currently available for kids in your community, you might want to go to your local yoga studio and let them know that you’re interested in their having one.