Namaste All Day: Kids Yoga

By now, we’re all pretty familiar about the perks of yoga. It promotes our overall health and well-being, reduces stress, and helps us “find our center.” The practice has been trending in the past decade and schools have even implemented it to help guide children’s focus and self-regulation.

Research has shown positive outcomes from regular yoga practice, including:

  • Increased attention, decreased hyperactivity, and faster task completion in 5-year-olds who completed yoga 2x/week
  • Mental and emotional benefits in children ages 5-18 years, including decreased anxiety, boosted concentration and memory, improved confidence and self-esteem, and improved academic performance
  • Brain scans revealing reduced activation of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions and arousal levels) in 6th graders
  • Improvements in attention as well as decreased oppositional behaviors, restlessness, and impulsivity following 20 sessions of yoga with boys diagnosed with ADHD
  • Improvements in imitation and play with peers in children with ASD following 10 months of yoga 5 days/week

Sounds good on paper, but yoga with kids can be intimidating. “Am I doing this right? Can kids even do these poses?”

It’s not just a bunch of poses and breathing. Although that notion is partially true, there’s more to it. The goal of yoga is to grow self-awareness, connecting the mind and the body to the present moment. It’s because of this broadness that makes participation in its practice easy.

Worry About Yourself

Yoga is an ancient holistic practice that promotes personal acceptance while being present and aware. So, it’s not about flowing through postures perfectly like a choreographed dance, but more about being mindful and moving with intent for your own well-being. Completely self-focused.

Yoga consists of mantras, breathing exercises, postures, relaxation, and meditation that can all be done in one session or a la carte (there’s no wrong way here).

Mantras

A mantra (or chant), traditionally, is a single word, utterance, or breath that produces vibrations. The familiar Om sound is considered a mantra. Its purpose is to zone out the extraneous stimuli around us and focus our attention inward. Studies have shown that producing vibrational sounds activate the pineal gland (responsible for sleep patterns), generating a calming effect. Mantras can:

  • Enhance respiration and coordination of breath
  • Increase exhalation of breath, calming the body
  • Help with interoception (awareness of the internal signals of the body)
  • Improve attention and awareness to self and others
  • Reduce stress

With mantras, you don’t have to chant the classical Sanskrit words if that’s not your thing. You and your child can use words that are meaningful (love, joy, peace, etc), silly sounds (boing, bonk), affirmations (I am smart, I am kind), or lullabies/nursery rhymes (Row, row, row your boat).

Pranayama (Breathing)

How we breathe reflects our current emotional state, stress level, and state of mind. Pranayama refers to breath control with the intent to achieve a body-mind connection. By managing our breath, we can influence arousal levels; hence why “taking a breath” is a powerful and easily accessible tool for self-regulation. Breathing exercises:

  • Increase blood oxygenation, bringing homeostasis to the body
  • Improve breathing as a foundation for speech
  • Improve attention, behavior, retention of information, and learning
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve ability to achieve and maintain deep sleep

Breathing patterns can also increase or decrease arousal levels. Quick, shallow breaths can heighten arousal, which is why they are mostly used in HIIT cardio or weightlifting. The deeper breathing in yoga can soothe and calm the body down. To use pranayama to calm you child, try:

  • Focusing on the exhale. This allows inhaling to be spontaneous and full. If your little one has trouble with this, make sounds (aah, ooh) when exhaling to bring awareness to their breath.
  • Working on increasing the length of the exhale. Start by breathing out a count of 4 and then build up from there with a slow and controlled breath. If your child needs a visual, have them picture blowing out a candle or blowing a bubble.
  • Remember that breathing differently can be scary, especially for children. Be cautious and attentive, return to a normal breathing pattern, and then try again.

Asanas

Asanas are all the body poses used to facilitate focus and further deepen the body-brain connection. Think Downward Facing Dog, Warriors 1-3, Chair, Mountain, Dancer, etc. Holding and moving through these postures help:

  • Build muscle strength, endurance, balance, flexibility, and coordination
  • Improve body awareness and self-control by activating the proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems
  • Improve motor planning (the ability to ideate, sequence, and execute novel motor tasks)
  • Improve postural control and refined movements
  • Improve head and eye control with visual tracking and fixation
  • Facilitate digestion and elimination

There are a variety of poses and yoga sequences to try and there is no “right way” to go about them, as long as it doesn’t cause pain. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. If it’s too tricky, you can always modify it and work to more advanced positions over time. It’s all about listening to your body and giving it what it needs, even if that means you stay in a seated position while listening to your breath.

A fun way to incorporate these asanas with kids is to tell stories with each pose, similar to a Sun Salutation. You can also don’t have to stick to a certain flow. Try out a yoga edition of Simon Says. Oh, and don’t forget to tell them to breathe.

Relaxation

This is self-explanatory. Any time you complete a physical or mentally stimulating activity (like yoga), it’s helpful to take a moment to let the body and mind settle, integrating any new information and reflecting on the experience for next time. A good example of this would be corpse pose (shavasana) where you lie on the floor and let yourself relax after a yoga session. Relaxation benefits include:

  • Decreasing stress and arousal level
  • Developing awareness of tense vs relaxed by releasing any stored tension in the body
  • Improvements in achieving and maintaining deep sleep

Your kid will definitely be a little confused if you just want them to lay on the floor in silence for 5-10 minutes. You can have them complete calming breathing techniques or have them tense their muscles as tight as they can and then relax them. You can also keep talking to them or ask them questions while they are resting. You can also put on a mellow song and lay there until the song is over.

Meditation

Meditation is mentally training your mind to improve attention and awareness of self. Its purpose is to eliminate distractions and reduce negative thoughts and feelings. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of meditation, including improvements in brain functions regarding memory, emotional regulation, executive function, and empathy. It also encourages:

  • Stilling and becoming aware of our internal thoughts
  • Reducing stress
  • Sustaining attention/concentration
  • Detaching thoughts/emotions

Again, another “easier said than done” point when talking about kids. But, think about when you were playing Thumbs Up, Seven Up in school. Everyone had their head down, was totally quiet and was focusing on one thing, their thumb.

You can include guided body scans that involve paying attention to parts of the body or bodily sensations starting from the feet to the head. If your child is a bit restless, you can try a yoga game called Attention Attacker. where your child holds a yoga pose while you attempt to distract them for 1 minute. Do you best to get rid of distractions during your wind-down period. Turn out the lights. Unplug. Get them an eye mask. Be an anchor for them by holding their hand and talking softly.

Yoga is really about finding a moment to focus on yourself and what your mind and body currently need, whether that is movement, breath, or reflection. For our kids, this doesn’t need to be a long exercise. A short 10–15-minute session can be enough. It’s another way to help them process their feelings in a healthy way and teach them how to respond to stresses thoughtfully rather than impulsively.

Try yoga as part of your daily sensory diet; whether it’s in the morning, after school, or before bed.


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