I’d like to start by asking a question… Do you notice any of these behaviours in your children on a regular basis?
- An inability to regulate their emotions
- Overeating or mindless eating
- A lack of creativity or imagination in play
- Negative body image and/or low self esteem
- Lack of compassion and empathy for others
- Lack of respect for self and others
Any of these factors can be an indicator that you and/or your child or children are experiencing stress, something all too familiar for us all. This article explains how incorporating yoga into your family’s lives can build resilience and overall wellbeing in children to help them navigate the challenges of the modern world, to thrive.
Children’s yoga is about understanding children at their stage of development. It’s about inspiring them, challenging them and engaging them in their own wellbeing and development. Whilst the benefits of children’s yoga and adult yoga are ostensibly the same, there are a number of additional benefits for children’s developing bodies and minds.
Yoga is both a science and art. The word itself means union, a connection with our whole selves, connection to others and a sense of oneness with the world around us.
The connection to our whole selves is a connection between our physical bodies, our mental processes and our emotional, thinking, feeling selves; often described as the union of Body, Mind and Spirit. We’ve all experienced times when one part of this trio is out of balance, and we feel the impact of this on other two parts. For example, when you don’t get enough sleep, you may be sluggish when you wake up in the morning and may find it hard to concentrate, resulting in feeling easily frustrated.
Yoga overrides the body’s stress response to these negative emotions on a reactive basis, by counteracting the symptoms. Deep and focused breathing exercises help to slow down the heart rate and release tightness in the neck and back muscles. Physical yoga poses, asanas, encourage the normal flow of blood around the body, back to the brain and organs instead of being directed to the large movement muscles in our body.
Yoga also helps to programme our brain and our body’s responses on a proactive basis. We learn new skills through consistent and repetitive behaviour, forming new neurological connections in our brain, called ‘neuroplasticity’. Through regular yoga practise, of poses, breathing, affirmations, massage and relaxation, we can all rewire the way our body and brain respond to negative emotions and potentially ‘stressful’ situations.
This is great news as we know that prolonged periods of stress can lead to anxiety, other physical and mental illnesses and can impact on our children’s performance at school. One of my favourite ways to describe the benefits that yoga has for children is that ‘a happy child is a happy learner’.
One of the key developmental stages for children occurs during their pre-teens (sometimes called tweens), into early teens, between 8-14 years, when children typically experience the onset of puberty. During this time, children experience growth spurts due to changes in hormonal activity. Yoga helps to maintain the alignment of body posture and relieve ‘growing-pains’.
Emotional changes can occur during puberty too. During this time there is often a mismatch between the development of the Pre Frontal Cortex that is responsible for language, which lags behind the development of the Amygdala which is responsible for emotions. It’s therefore no surprise that during puberty tweens and teens can frequently express frustrations, as they don’t have the language, the words to express their new emotions.
As children transition from primary to secondary school, it’s also a time when there can be a decline in participation in physical activity. Children become more self-conscious and start questioning their abilities, leading to low self-esteem. Yoga provides a non-judgmental, non-competitive environment for them to continue to engage with physical activity.
The practise of yoga has other transformational benefits:
- It allows children (and adults) to develop a better understanding of themselves, to appreciate themselves as individuals and to confidently express themselves. Through this enhanced sense of self, they are better able to form social relationships and to have better team working skills.
- Yoga also helps to enhance brain function, improving executive function so children are better able to concentrate, problem solve, think creatively, prioritise and organise themselves.
- Regularly practising yoga, children develop strength in their muscles and bones, ease of movement in their joints and flexibility. Physical movement of course also encourages blood circulation with increased oxygen flow around the body for energy and vitality.
We all have different preferences, we have different likes and dislikes, and yoga for you and your children may not be right for you. I think that’s part of what makes each of us unique and amazing!
If you’d like to give it a try and see if yoga will work for you and your family, I’d love to meet you and join you on the journey to find the peace, calm and fulfilment I know yoga brings me. Until then, ‘Namaste’ as the light in me honours the light in you.
By Anjli Patel
Founder of ‘World of Children’s Yoga’