By Debbie Richardson
Yoga means union. It is an ancient science that teaches the importance of allowing mind and body to unite and work in harmony for the creation of a more, balanced, responsible human being. Engaging children in Yoga at an early age will lead to an easier and faster path to this end result. Yoga gives us the tools to empower ourselves through healthy habits of stretching, breathing, positive mind-training, good nutrition and rest. Yoga leads one to take responsibility for their body through exercise, (postures or asanas), proper breathing, proper relaxation ( physical, mental and spiritual rest), diet ( colorful, natural, balanced and organic when possible), and positive thinking and meditation. Children are easily molded and imparting helpful, beneficial Yoga knowledge will build a healthy body and mind with a positive mental attitude. Yoga leads to a complete art of living well. It is an interdisciplinary system of teaching, combining the multiple intelligences within us. Children become more observant by encouraging the use of their senses and this gives them a new perspective on the world around them, each other and themselves. The whole child can be stimulated by using color imagery, storytelling, visualization, music, language, speech, body articulation and drama. Yoga conveys foundational values of life: ecology, anatomy, nutrition, the interdependence of things, a sense of sacredness of life and care for self and others. These values in turn build confidence, self-esteem and self-expression vital for mental and emotional health and forming connections with others.
For children, as all through life, your body is changing and yoga helps one understand all their parts and movements. As children grow, Yoga keeps their body balanced, healthy and strong. Yoga provides an increase in general health and fitness levels and improves motor skills. It leads to a healthy toned body. It promotes flexibility, strength, balance, stability and poise cultivated through postures which ensure the correct alignment of the body. Coordination and rhythm are improved as children move from one posture to another. Posture is improved and Yoga keeps bones healthy, and strong . Muscles around the bones are kept supple and toned. Holding poses builds muscles necessary for strengthen in everyday children’s activities and for a healthy metabolism.
Yoga poses teach how to stretch and strengthen every part of the body even those not reached in everyday activities. Flexibility fades past the age of three in most children who do not bend and stretch regularly. Performing Yoga helps maintain their flexibility with practice of the postures. The poses develop flexibility and coordination skills that help prevent injury during sports or other physical activity. Yoga stretches and body alignment can create a better athlete. Motor skills and overall physical fitness are improved by practicing Yoga.
The low impact aspect of Yoga and it’s gentle movements are commonly used as part of physical therapy and rehabilitation of injuries. The adaptive postures have been used for special needs children. It can improve physical and mental functioning of children with Aspersers, ADHD, Muscular Dystrophy, and Autism.. A few hospitals now use Yoga for children with Downs Syndrome and Cereal Palsy to help improve muscle tone and breathing. Asthma and stress related disorders improve with Yoga breathing techniques.
Yoga is a way to get children moving into a healthier lifestyle, regulating weight along the way which may improve self-esteem. The movement expands energy and burns calories. It adds muscle and muscle mass fuels metabolism. More muscle means more calories are burned on a daily basis therefore controlling or even loosing weight.
Breathing exercises teach proper breathing techniques which expands lung capacity which improves performance and increase endurance. Breath control helps in sports especially swimming. It will help control anger, help prevent frustration and help prevent panicking when in a difficult situation. Impulse control problems can improve with Yoga by focusing on breath control and body movement. Breathing and madras (hand gestures) also soothe the nerves and glandular system, thus reducing aggression. Helping children become more aware of their breathing may help them control their anger, releasing negativity, and can give shy children more confidence and self-acceptance. Busy people use Yoga to calm their minds and relieve stress and children are experiencing the same problems thus Yoga can provide the same benefits to children. Relaxation techniques of Yoga help children balance their energy levels; an active child will be calm and relaxed after Yoga and a quiet child will become more alert. This relaxation also helps children sleep and rest. Sleeping better and proper rest leads to improved concentration and mental clarity.
Internal health is improved by Yoga. Children grow up in a fast paced world with a busy home life and busy parents. They are confronted with in your face media and advertising, competitive schooling and raging hormones. Yoga can empower children with the tools to handle stresses, moods and anxiety. It helps to balance hormonal system and bad moods. At around the age of eight through adolescence accelerated rates of physical , mental, and emotional growth block hormones. Glands in the body secrete hormones, which affect behavior and mood. Yoga helps to balance the hormonal system with massage. An excess flow of adrenaline can be adjusted by practicing Yoga. By holding poses blood can get into different parts of the body to stimulate organs or open blocked passages. Hormones are related to emotions. Emotions are calmed through Yoga by removing anxiety through stretching and breathing and helping children relax thus enhancing mental focus and physical performance. They learn a new way to cope when emotions take over. Children need help expressing what they are feeling and naming their emotions in order to recognize and accept them, or they may be expressed through negative behavior. Listening and communicating through out Yoga practices will help children understand and embrace language enabling them to express their feelings. Overactive adrenal glands make a child fearful and reactive and can lead to loss of control and anger.
Physical well- being enhances mental well-being. Yoga addresses the person as a whole; mind and body are one. Mental and emotional health is improved and empowered through the discipline of Yoga. Children are more positive and develop an overall sense of well being. They become aware of the interconnectedness of all things. They develop a reverence for life by an understanding that all things in life are connected. Mental activity is increased from engaging both their mind and body. Staying flexible mentally by opening the mind fosters thinking and motivation to learn new things. This flexibility of the mind enables children to better cope with new or unexpected circumstances. The meditative aspects of Yoga lead to a better observation of children’s thoughts, helps them discover and explore their feelings and learn to enjoy themselves.
The cultivation of nonviolence is also a practice in Yoga. Nothing or no one is hit , kicked, run into or interfered with while practicing Yoga. Slow, steady, balanced movement is practiced and all are encouraged to develop at their own pace and adjustments can easily be made to Yoga poses.
The brain of young children needs to be challenged and worked in order to become focused, and steady so it is able to properly learn. The right side of the brain is associated with intuitive, spatial, lateral thinking and governs the left side of the body. The left side of the brain is associated with logical, analytical, linear thinking and governs the right side of the body. Both sides need equal value. Intuitive, artistic subjects such as art and dance should be developed alongside math and science in order to unite the intellectual and intuitive. This unification of both sides enables relaxation and concentration at the same time. The relaxation techniques of Yoga help to balance the brain and breathing exercises help refresh the brain while listening techniques help the imagination grow freely. The brain requires more oxygen then the rest of the body and inverted postures increase the flow of oxygen to the brain. In order to learn the body needs to be relaxed, breathe freely, the emotions stable and the mind focused. People tend to learn best in a relaxed and calm atmosphere where they can be attentive but not tense.
Concentration is encouraged through discipline and focus. Positive thinking and confidence are enhanced. Balance poses enhance skills which require focus and clarity of mind, These mental skills enable children to learn more easily in school and outside school. For older children Yoga can help prepare them for tests by doing breathing exercises and imagining themselves calm and focused which helps with concentration. In the middle of studying it can be helpful to try a few poses to get their minds working and then go back to studying. Doing better in school helps boost self confidence and helps children feel better about themselves improving their mental health and overall well-being.
Infants and toddlers have also benefited from Yoga. It is said to improve sleep, ease digestion problems, facilitate neuromuscular development, strengthen their immune systems and deepen parental bonds. It can relieve stress for the small child and their parent.
Self-expression is encouraged which leads to empowerment which raises self-esteem. Yoga helps young girls get in touch with their bodies and feel better about themselves. They see another purpose for their bodies, one they can control and love. They learn their body is strong and that they have the ability to control it and this encourages a healthy image of beauty and strength. By exploring self-expression and practicing with others, communication skills and respect for others ideas are learned. They gain the ability negotiate with and pay attention to each other thus making them more considerate of others. That makes them better citizens and better people, making the world better. Children can improvise movements and engage in fantasy by associating poses with inanimate objects and animals. They can creatively express themselves and maintaining spontaneity and carry this forward in their lives. Gaining self-confidence empowers children and opens doors allowing them to believe that anything is attainable.
Yoga improves motor skills and physical fitness in children but it also sets them on the path to the art of living well. It encompasses improvements in physical health, mental health and social skills. The mind and body working in harmony will lead to a healthy, balanced, responsible child leading to a better over-all person.