Yoga for Children

kids doing yogaYoga isn’t just for moms and dads! The practice of yoga can help center your child, leading them to maintain healthy bodies, improve their school life and help with speech development. Best of all, yoga provides the perfect opportunity to bond emotionally and spiritually with your child.

Your child might feel overwhelmed on a daily basis. Many children today are suffering from a lack of connection to their bodies, to their environment, and to themselves. Our information-saturated, hectic, and stimulus-rich culture pulls kids in many directions, splitting their attention. For many children, it has become too much for their young, developing minds to absorb and process.

More and more American children from all walks of life are overweight, have stress and anger issues, and have attention and learning problems. There is a real separation of mind and body—your child’s attention might be pulled outward toward the ever-increasing distractions of the external world. Overworked parents and overscheduled children often face isolation from their families and their communities. Rather than sitting down to dinner together, it is now quite common for children and parents to communicate mainly via text messaging and e-mail. Does any of this sound familiar?

As mindful parents and adults, we must give our children every tool possible to assist them in counteracting a culture and environment that is potentially hazardous to their health and well-being. Through the use of yoga tools, stories, and play, we can provide children with opportunities to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, helping them connect with themselves and others with compassion, understanding, and clarity.

Healthy Bodies with yoga

In 2012, the CDC reported that childhood obesity had more than tripled in the past thirty years. Children are simply spending more time indoors and less time moving. Even if your child is active, she can still benefit from yoga-based movement. With regular practice, her muscles, bones, and joints will lengthen and strengthen as her overall flexibility is improved. In addition, all of your child’s major bodily systems are supported by movement and improved circulation, including the digestive, endocrine, immune, and respiratory systems. Yoga strengthens your child’s entire body!
Here are some recognized benefits that yoga can provide for your child’s body:

  • Assists neuromuscular development
  • Promotes the development of the vestibular system
  • Increases circulation, uptake of oxygen, and functioning of hormones
  • Encourages motor development on both sides of the body
  • Increases balance, coordination, and overall body awareness
  • Develops core strength, essential for posture and alignment
  • Reduces the risk of injury; improves performance in sports

Improving School Life

Anti-bullying, health and wellness, and character education are all popular topics in American education today. As standardized testing has become more common, so has performance anxiety and stress in students (and teachers). It is not surprising to note that across the world, yoga and mindfulness education are increasingly being incorporated into the classroom day to help address these concerns, and with great results.

Yoga, by nature, supports and maximizes the learning process. Students experience improved concentration and creative thinking, and due to improvement in executive functions, they are better able to prioritize and organize. By doing yoga with your child, you will help him build better relationships with other students by promoting a sense of connectedness. If your child is athletic, a yoga lifestyle will help him maximize his performance by improving his focus, strengthening his muscles, improving his flexibility, and fostering team cooperation. If your child experiences social anxiety, yoga can help instill a greater sense of self-knowing, self-worth, and confidence.

Here’s how yoga can benefit your child’s life at school. Yoga:

  • Brings students into the present moment, ready for learning
  • Encourages community and connectedness in the classroom
  • Helps create a feeling of confidence instead of competitiveness
  • Eases anxiety before test taking
  • Enhances focus, concentration, comprehension, and memory
  • Supports social and emotional learning

Yoga for Speech Development

While yoga is becoming wildly popular with kids everywhere, one significant benefit often overlooked by parents and educators is the aspect of speech development. “Yoga,” “yogurt,” or “woga” classes can help advance a young child’s speech development through slow, repetitive verbal instructions, songs, and the imitation of simple sounds found in nature.

Children with speech delays are often more physical in nature, especially boys. A movement class like yoga can pair physical motion with repetitive sounds, which will likely catch their attention more so than a simple, quiet conversation. For example, a preschooler who has not yet mastered sounding out letters like S and Z might enjoy slithering like a snake, not only attempting to “hiss” but also watching your mouth as you hiss and lower yourself to the ground in Cobra Pose. After repeating this pose in subsequent sessions, he will immediately recognize the word and sound that go along with the pose and hopefully gain the confidence to try to say it himself.

Mindfulness as a weight loss strategy

Mindfulness ‘has huge potential’ as a weight loss strategy. As the holiday season draws to a close, many may be struggling with the extra weight we put on during extensive, food-filled celebrations with family and friends. Can mindfulness techniques come to our aid in getting rid of those extra pounds?
mindfulness
New evidence confirms that eating mindfully can help with maintaining a healthy weight.

According to anecdotal evidence and some existing research, mindfulness techniques can help a person maintain or improve their physical and mental well-being.

For example, these techniques can reduce symptoms of anxiety and enhance cognitive functioning, and it may even improve a person’s immune response.

The principle is very simple: One has to be fully present in the moment, focusing attention on external stimuli and their effects on the body and mind, learning to concomitantly acknowledge and dismiss unnecessary thoughts.

Thus, learning mindfulness techniques can help us tone down the effects of stress and regain more enjoyment in present experiences.  Recently, researchers have suggested that it can also aid people in their weight loss efforts.

A new study from the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Services Trust in the United Kingdom — in collaboration with other clinical and research institutions — confirms these and similar findings.

“This research is significant, as we have shown that problematic eating behavior can be improved with mindfulness application,” says the study’s first author, Petra Hanson, a research fellow and doctoral student at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.

Hanson and the team report their findings in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, which is an Endocrine Society publication.

‘Enabling appropriate lifestyle decisions’

The research team worked with 53 individuals participating in a dedicated weight management program at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Services Trust.

Of the participants, 33 took part in at least three of four training sessions, which taught them to practice mindfulness while eating.

Over the next 6 months, the participants who had attended three or four mindfulness sessions lost, on average, 3 kilograms (about 6.6 pounds), while those who had only attended one or two mindfulness sessions lost an average of 0.9 kilograms (around 2 pounds).

Moreover, when compared with a control group of 20 participants who attended the same weight management program but no mindfulness sessions, the individuals who had received complete mindfulness training shed an average of 2.85 kilograms (almost 6.3 pounds) more.

“Surveys of the participants indicate [that] mindfulness training can help this population improve their relationship with food,” explains Hanson. Mindfulness, she explains, can help people change and manage their eating behaviors with more ease.

“Individuals who completed the course said they were better able to plan meals in advance and felt more confident in self-management of weight loss moving forward,” says Hanson, adding, “Similar courses can be held in a primary care setting or even developed into digital tools.”

She expresses hope that “[t]his approach can be scaled up to reach a wider population.”

“Mindfulness has huge potential as a strategy for achieving and maintaining good health and well-being,” comments senior author Dr. Thomas Barber, from the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The researcher notes that many pressing chronic diseases are linked, to some extent, with lifestyle behaviors and concludes:

[The] focus should be on enabling the populace to make appropriate lifestyle decisions and empowering subsequent salutary behavior change. In the context of obesity and eating-related behaviors, we have demonstrated that mindfulness techniques can do just that.”

Dr. Thomas Barber