Yoga can provide children with a whole tool box of techniques to help them manage themselves and their lives. It introduces them to their own being, helping them develop physical strength and flexibility, mental clarity and emotional stability. It can help build a strong sense of self and help them to develop into the best possible version of themselves. It helps them to become aware of their own bodies and understand what’s going on in their heads when big emotions and feelings seek to overwhelm them. In short, yoga can provide them with life skills, maybe even life-saving skills.
I have come to learn that, however chaotic and crazy a children’s yoga class may be, there are always moments where, as a teacher, you can see on their face that a child has just got something, something has just made sense to them and they can feel it. Because even if that child only takes one thing home with them, it’s one more thing that can help them manage themselves. It’s empowering.
The physical benefits of yoga for children are many and maybe even inexhaustible. Stronger muscles, more flexible joints, improved posture, sense of balance and coordination, healthier lungs and circulatory system, improved digestion and defence against illnesses. Arguably, all of this can be got from any form of exercise but, in my opinion, there is no other practice that is as inclusive and accessible to all as yoga. There is no other “discipline” that can provide as complete a toolbox of techniques to get you through childhood and adolescence.
As children head towards their teenage years their bodies start to tighten up, even more so in this age of mobile media devices, computers and televisions with endless channels of 24/7 entertainment. As I walk my nearly 5 year old daughter to school we are passed by teenagers on their way to school, and I worry. At what point in a child’s development do they lose that glowing skin, the skip in their step, that innate curiosity to look up towards the sky and see the world around them? At what point do they become unable to swing from monkey bars or become so engrossed in their phones or the big stress of the day that they would trip over their own feet if they didn’t bump into you first? I see two boys in particular, both early teens, and already they’re walking with the posture of an old man.
All of this yoga can help fix but where I believe yoga can really make a difference is in the mind. Because in order to fix the body you have to get them out of their heads and you can’t get them out of their heads if they’re stuck in the endless cycle of past regrets and future worries. A regular yoga practice, even for younger children, can improve their awareness of their own bodies. With this awareness comes the ability to focus on the present and once here, concentration spans can be worked on and with this comes a greater sense of clarity and serenity. It is from here that a better sense of connection with oneself and others can really begin to manifest. Getting children to this point will undoubtedly take time but once here, the confidence it can give them may be life changing.
The ability to connect to the self and others is perhaps the greatest benefit of yoga because it brings with it the ability to be more patient, more tolerant and more compassionate towards both ourselves and to those around us. This in turn brings huge emotional benefits. If children can learn to be kind and more accepting of themselves they can become more confident, more emotionally balanced, less reactive to and more active in their own lives. They may be more able to look at a situation or a thought from a wider perspective and respond with an understanding rather than a knee-jerk.
I believe yoga can have a significant impact on a child’s growth and development. Having a better awareness of the body cultivates a healthy attitude towards food and other substances. The ability to connect with and to control the breath brings balance to the mind and perspective to fluctuating emotions. It can help children deal with the highs and lows of hormonal changes at a time in their lives when so much is going on and changing around them. By nurturing a more positive attitude and the ability to stay present, yoga can help children to cope with the stress and unpredictable nature of life in general. Above all, I think one of the biggest benefits of yoga for children is that it can help them develop their emotional intelligence, making them less judgmental, more empathetic and more compassionate towards themselves and others.
Physically stronger, more emotionally intelligent human beings with the ability to connect to themselves and to others and to the world around them with compassion. This is why yoga for children is important, because knowing how to move and breathe and be in your own body and how to deal with your own emotional chaos is a life skill just as much as learning to swim.