by Shana Meyerson, founder of mini yogis yoga for kids in Los Angeles
☯ Yoga builds self-esteem and self-respect. A child’s yoga practice is a rare opportunity to do something without ever having to worry about being wrong.
☯ Yoga promotes physical strength, encouraging children to use all of their muscles in new ways. This is great for non-athletic children who typically shy away from physical activity in fear of failure or being picked last. It also helps athletic children to excel in other physical activities and sports.
☯ Yoga helps build energy and stamina…
☯ …while also calming a child and reducing stress.
☯ Yoga is non-competitive. It is one of very few (if any) non-competitive activities that a child can participate in. In day-to-day life, children compete on everything. Who’s the smartest? The tallest? The prettiest? The most popular? Who’s the best athlete? Who’s dad can beat up who else’s dad? The list goes on…
☯ When children learn to be non-competitive, they also begin to be less judgmental…of both themselves and of others. Oftentimes, children’s (and adults’) harsh judgments of others stem from deep-rooted insecurity and a feeling that they are somehow threatened by others’ strengths. Acceptance is a large part of yoga. Children learn that they are okay just the way they are. And when they don’t feel the need to constantly compare themselves to others, they become more accepting of everybody else’s differences.
☯ Yoga greatly improves internal health. Each asana is devised in such a way that it not only builds muscular strength, but it also massages and maintains the internal organs. Twists, for example, literally wring out the central core.
☯ Balance is a key element of yoga. The balancing poses were created specifically to promote mental and physical balance. Mental clarity and balance emerge from the effort of trying the poses. Even if a child never learns to stand on one foot, if they can learn to stay calm when they fall—and to get up and try again—they’ve learned balance. As children gradually learn to increase their physical balance, they are filled with a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.
☯ Closely tied with balance is the element of coordination. Children learn how to use their bodies in new ways. Through transaxial movement (across the axis of the spine), their mind is challenged and trained for greater coordination.
☯ Concentration is a clear benefit of children’s yoga. There is a plethora of documented evidence that yoga helps children to focus and concentrate in school and get better grades. That is because the asana practice encourages children to clear their minds and create a single-minded focus on the task at hand.
☯ Yoga promotes body awareness. Knowledge of the body and its components is integral to the practice. Young children learn about their spines, joints, and muscles. They learn how to manipulate their bodies and maximize their mobility. In yoga, we believe that nothing on our bodies was put here on accident. Our baby toes and jaws serve integral functions, just as our heart and lungs do. Therefore, we learn to keep all of our body parts alive and supple, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
☯ Yoga is fun. That’s all. It’s just plain fun.
☯ The flexibility that results from a child’s yoga practice increases his or her range of motion and helps prevent injuries.
☯ A child’s yoga practice is imaginative in nature, developing creative thinking skills and encouraging original thought.
☯ Yoga helps children to develop improved posture. When explained clearly (“a long, straight spine allows the good stuff to come in and the bad stuff to flow out”), children actually become excited to sit up straight and stand up tall. Make sure that they understand that this rule applies outside of yoga, too!
☯ The only way that anyone grows in life is through challenge. Think of challenges as opportunities, rather than difficulties. Even if a child is facing an extreme challenge with a particular pose or activity, encourage him or her to just try. Allow the child to modify the pose, if necessary (flexibility!) in order to find the success within the challenge.
☯ In yoga, children learn to take turns, to be nice, and to respect others. It is very important to promote kindness and sharing in all children’s classes. Everyone in a yoga class should consider each other friends and equals, regardless of any labels (positive or negative) that others may give them in school.