Yoga is an ancient Indian tradition used to promote mental and physical wellness. Although the timeline is debatable, it can be traced back to early texts dated around 200 B.C. Yet, it wasn’t until the 20th Century when yoga became popular in the western world.
By combining physical postures, meditation and concentration on the breath, yoga can decrease blood pressure, increase strength and flexibility, and relieve stress and anxiety.
The benefits of practicing yoga can create balance and connection between one’s external and internal experiences. Most of us are overworked, overstressed and overstimulated, and we feel frustrated, angry and anxious. Yoga can become a tool for coping with stress and minimizing its negative impact on our mental and physical health.
Our kids are feeling anxious, too. They are overstimulated by digital devices; they are becoming more sedentary and are facing intense peer pressure at school and on social media. These things create stress, making kids feel angry, depressed and insecure.
Adults use yoga to help alleviate the effects of stress. It is often recommended by doctors, personal trainers and therapists, but is not often considered a practice for kids. Why not?
With movement, concentration on the breath and mental focus exercises, yoga can help kids find an equilibrium and ease to the way they think and feel. The practices can be taught that in a way that is relatable and interesting to kids of any age. Simple versions of poses and breathing techniques bridge the gap between their interest and their boredom. If it’s too complicated or not relatable, most kids will lose interest. The hope is that they use yoga to help relieve stress throughout their lives.
I have been doing yoga with my son Anikin since he was a toddler. His interest waivers, sometimes he loves it and sometimes he grumbles and rolls his eyes. He doesn’t realize it, but I have noticed that it brings out Anikin’s silly side. He giggles a lot and makes up his yoga poses, tries to sit on me or jump over me. It holds his attention for a little while and during that time, he is calm, happy and balanced.
When Anikin and I do yoga together, we do poses such as Cat-Cow, Lizard and Downward Facing Dog. These poses are easy to do and easy to relate to. The body position in the pose mimics the natural shape of the animal. We often make animal noises, which usually makes us laugh.
Anikin and I also work on breathing exercises that help calm the mind and support us during stressful times. When Anikin gets frustrated or angry, we first try breathing deeply and counting as we breathe. Another fun breathing exercise is called bee’s breath. We plug our ears gently with our fingers and hum on the exhale. The buzzing bee sound helps distract his mind away from negative throughs and feelings.
When breathing doesn’t work, we try redirecting our thoughts to something more pleasant. And if that still doesn’t work, we try redirecting our focus. We sing a song, look for things like insects or flowers or we have a dance party. Even if he is resistant, he usually is calmer and more balanced afterward.
There are many resources for learning about yoga — some geared toward kids. Online videos, books and apps are available, but not many specifically for kids. However, the poses in most classes can usually be done by kids, so a short class might be possible.
Anikin and I practice poses and breathing at home and we sometimes read “Good Morning Yoga” or follow a video on YouTube or Glo. Currently there are few classes for kids in our area but hopefully that will change some day.
Many schools are adding yoga to their routines to promote excellent physical and mental health. Anikin’s school does a breathing exercise called a Mindful Minute during morning announcements to encourage students to start the day off with a clear and calm mind.
Mind Yeti, an online service, is another great resource being used in classrooms to teach kids how to calm down and focus their attention. Kids can learn simple calming activities helping them to feel more connected with themselves and to others.
Despite Anikin’s wavering interest and his intermittent disdain, I am persistent in exposing him to different yoga practices. I will continue to share with him all the benefits of yoga because it has had a positive impact on my life. Couldn’t we all use relief from stress? Be open to yoga and invite your kids to be, too. You can start now. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.