A growing number of children are practicing yoga. In 2012, 3.1% of American children were taking yoga classes, and that number more than doubled to 8.4% in 2018. With many schools and parents embracing at-home yoga classes to give kids a physical outlet during distance learning, it’s safe to assume that figure has grown substantially in the past year.
This is great for many reasons. The physical benefits are the most obvious, which range from improved flexibility, strength and balance to improved cardio and circulatory health. However, it’s easy to argue that the greatest positive impact for children is found in the mental benefits. A recent study from the Journal of Child and Family Studies highlighted the positive psychological impact of the Kundalini Yoga-based Y.O.G.A. for Youth after-school program on students in North Carolina’s Chapel Hill-Carrboro public school system. Yoga calms young learners, reduces their anxiety and helps them stay focused both on and off the mat. In addition, yoga teaches children important emotional soft skills that will help them become successful teens and adults.
Being able to manage emotions and behavior despite negative circumstances is critical to growing up successfully. Children who understand and self-regulate emotions are better able to control impulses, are flexible when things change unexpectedly, and manage behavior when feeling angry or upset. Emotional regulation has become a huge priority in early education and child development, and many educators are turning to yoga to help grow these skills.
Yoga helps kids have the self-awareness to recognize stressful situations and emotions, and the tools (through breathing and meditation practice) to manage emotional responses that could ordinarily cause them to act out.
Children also become aware of how their body can impact their mind through yoga. It’s a lesson that many adults struggle with too — how much easier is it to lose your temper when you are tired, hungry or have a headache? Yoga trains all of us to be more mindful of our body state, and it helps kids understand how their physical state influences both their state of mind and ability to think clearly.
Understanding the mind-body connection is just the first step; yoga also teaches kids how taking care of their body can help them fix a bad mood, reduce negative thinking or keep their mind from wandering. The earlier kids learn these skills, the earlier they can be the best version of themselves.
Just because a yoga class is a safe and nurturing place doesn’t mean that young learners won’t encounter challenges and failure. Some poses are easy, but others demand a great deal of work and effort. Kids will not succeed at every pose right away — and that’s OK. They will discover that with persistence and dedication, they’ll be able to achieve what they thought they couldn’t. Yoga can help kids push past negative self-talk like “I can’t do it.” They’ll find themselves improving incrementally until they reach their goals, and then can choose new ones to strive towards.
Whether it’s getting used to an adolescent body, or the pressure to succeed in sports, it’s very easy for the positives of physical activity to be outweighed by the frustrations when growing up. It doesn’t take much for kids to develop a negative relationship with physical activity, an unhealthy dynamic that can cause problems well beyond adolescence.
What’s fascinating is that it’s often these children who thrive most in yoga. There’s no competitive or performative aspect to yoga; the focus is wholly on yourself and on your terms. It is the ideal environment for a child to grow confident in their body, while teaching them to respect body cues and the need to move. As kids physically find themselves, they find comfort and confidence in who they are.
For tips on how to get your child started with Kundalini Yoga, visit 3HO.org or yogaforyouth.org which has several starter videos available on their blog with age-appropriate yoga practices for children and teens.