Yoga for kids is gaining popularity each day, mostly because parents and teachers are learning that anxiety in children is a real thing. Not only that: the skills learned in yoga, like calming the mind and being mindful and present, will serve children throughout their whole lives.
Tracey Maclay, founder of Yogamotorskills, yoga teacher for children and adults, and therapeutic massage therapist, explains how yoga for kids helps calm tantrums and manage anxiety, even in those on the autism spectrum. She also shares a few breathing exercises you can try with your little ones at home.
How I got started teaching yoga for kids
I first started practising yoga around 10 years ago at home, in my lounge room, using online videos. My children were 4, 7 and 16, and I’d recently become a single mother.
I’d always previously gone to gyms and practiced pilates, but yoga was new to me. I was drawn to it by the calming way that breathing was taught, and as I practiced more at home, my younger children began to join in of their own accord.
Read: Common Causes of Anxiety in Children
It was a stressful time as my father passed away not long after I had separated and set up a new home for myself and my children. I also had a bad car accident within those years after my divorce and had lingering neck and back problems. I lost my job and my confidence, and had to rebuild myself and my family unit. I had little family support apart from my mother.
During that period, I started attending a yoga class once a fortnight. I loved the teacher I had and felt more able to cope with life each time I left the studio. There was no competition in the room, just encouragement from your teacher to focus on yourself and what was happening on your mat. I felt my body getting stronger each week along with my mind, and continued my home practice and still, often, with my children involved. It would become a happy, playful time in the house and the animal and nature poses, like ‘tree pose’ became the favourites.
At the time, I was working as an early childhood teacher in kindergarten and started incorporating yoga for kids into the kindy program. That was when I discovered that any child at this age could engage in yoga. One year, I even had three children on the autism spectrum in the program, and I saw their enthusiasm and joy in achieving a pose.
2011 was when I enrolled in a course of teaching yoga for kids, and in 2015, I got my certificate.
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Why yoga for kids?
After 10 years of teaching yoga to my own children, I can see how they still utilize some of the tools I shared with them. They are able to calm their minds and also keep their bodies healthy and flexible.
If there’s one thing I regret, it’s not teaching them sooner. In India, they often start the practice in school. Little minds are like sponges, and instilling positive ways to relieve stress early on can stay with them a lifetime.
Yoga activates calming hormones, such as serotonin. The effect is much like when you have a massage or become engrossed in any activity that brings you calm and concentration and you literally forget what time it is. This is a much better way to activate these calming, feel-good hormones.
Children as young as those in preschool are showing signs of stress and anxiety, which often manifest in tantrums. Simple, fun breathing techniques can teach them the signs of anxiety, how they feel it, and where they feel it in their body — and then learn to do something about it. The movements and poses also teach mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation. Imagine children learning self-regulation!
Read: Stress Management for Children
When a child commits to yoga practice, they also learn determination and perseverance. A shy child can become more confident as they build on their yoga poses with no competition but with themselves.
In addition, yoga poses coupled with mindfulness and breathing practices assists children to take control of their “monkey mind” and learn to be still for a moment. The Johns Hopkins University (USA) found in a study that, “mindfulness meditation reduced the symptoms of anxiety to some degree across studies (2014, JAMA Internal Medicine).”
I could go on and on about the benefits of yoga for kids, but I will end with saying that if as a nation we care about our children’s mental health as much as their academic or sporting prowess, then we need to incorporate yoga into schools, homes and sporting facilities or retreats for kids in Australia.
The rates of anxiety in young children, domestic violence involving children, suicide in teenagers, addiction to screens, and obesity in our nation, should be enough encouragement to do something.
Read: How Exercise and a Healthy Diet Can Resolve Stress in Children
At-home yoga for kids: breathing exercises for toddlers
If you are still unsure whether you should send your little ones to a yoga class, or just want something to help them calm them down at home, here are breathing exercises you can try. They are especially suitable for 2-5 year olds.
1.) Ask children to sit in easy sitting position and cross their legs (this is called “sukasana”). To encourage them to sit up straight, have them imagine a piece of string coming out from the top of their heads and lifting their bodies up with a long neck and spine (you can get them to feel their spine on their own backs to connect with their bodies and understand how our spine supports our posture and breathing.)
Encourage them to put their hands on their stomachs and fell how their tummies flatten as they breathe in and then goes soft as they breathe out. They can then move their hands up to their chests and feel how their chests rises as they breath in, like a balloon filling up with air and then flattens down like a balloon that you have let the air out of. (A real balloon can be demonstrated at beginning of breathing exercise and to engage the children). Breathe deeply in this manner for three to five breaths together.
2.) Have the kids lie down on their mats, play soothing music, and ask them to put their hands on their stomachs with their feet outstretched. Have them breathe in and out deeply, in through their nose and out through their mouth. Mouth-breathing is okay if that is easier at this stage.
Ask them to imagine a paper boat on their tummies or place a bean bag on their stomachs and imagine it is a small boat on the sea. Feel it rise and fall with their breath as it moves over the waves of the sea.
Continue to lay like this and talk hem through their breathing in and out slowly in their own rhythm. (Tip: watch the rise and fall of one child in the group in the age group your teaching and gage your counting of in and out breathes to that rhythm, children have a faster breathing rate then adults).
You can add children’s relaxation stories to the process, either taped or make up your own. You can also imagine you have a lemon in your hands and show them how to tighten their hands and squeeze the lemon, then let the lemon go and do the same with different body parts or just their hands and toes to start, them feel the difference when their hands and feet go ‘floppy’ and melt into the mat like ice-cream.
3.) Give a craft feather to each child and demonstrate how to breathe onto a feather to “make it dance.” Gradually move it away from their mouths as they blow and see if it can still dance. For fun, try holding their feather in their toes and breathing onto it doing a forward fold pose, bending from their hips and reaching down to their toes.
- See more at: http://kidshealth.com.au/yoga-kids-can-help-tantrums-anxiety/#sthash.1VuprLKK.dpuf