Why children need Yoga
Christina Karaviotis, one of our Children Inspired by Yoga Franchisees, explains exactly why children should be doing Yoga and how Tatty Bumpkin classes can help with child development.
Why children need Yoga
In modern society and particularly western culture, there are many influences on children’s physical and mental health. The stresses of modern society bring muscle tension which means children can lose flexibility by the age of 3. Less nutritious food choices and sedentary lifestyle also affect growing bodies. Childhood obesity is in the increase. Schools are struggling to provide the required hours of activity and sport to every child. There are also increases in sleep and eating disturbances and even in depression in young children. Yoga gives children exercise, develops body awareness and helps them to relax and unwind. It provides an alternative to the performance-driven environment that many children live in, giving a safe haven where there is no pressure to succeed. Yoga is non-competitive and fosters self-esteem, cooperation and compassion. These qualities help children to face life’s challenges, deal with and resolve difficult situations.
What is children’s yoga?
Yoga for children is not traditional yoga. It is much more spontaneous, creative and much noisier! (See here). Sessions can incorporate many different activities such as movement, dance, singing, storytelling, counting, drawing, games and problem solving as well as the postures and relaxation. The greatest challenge in working with children is holding their attention and keeping them interested. This is why the stories and adventures in Tatty Bumpkin classes are so engaging for the children.
Babies are born with an innate flexibility – they are natural yogis! Baby yoga classes encourage babies to move with gentle massage and movements to help maintain their flexibility and develop strength in their limbs. Baby yoga can strengthen the bond between mum and baby and can help babies with their growth and development and with digestion and digestive issues such as colic. It can also aid restful and good sleep.
The key benefits of yoga
Body awareness (strength, flexibility and balance):
Yoga helps children to become more aware of their body. They tune in as they do poses and see how it feels when they stretch, balance and relax. They learn how to use all their muscles in new ways. Healthy body awareness will give them confidence and ensure better posture and breathing. Physically, yoga improves strength, stamina, flexibility and balance. Poses such as cat, dog, house and crab help children to strengthen their upper body by using their own body weight. The gentle stretches help them to maintain their innate flexibility. Balancing can promote mental and physical poise that in turn helps them to stay calm and increase attention span.
Concentration and focus:
The act of practicing poses encourages children to clear their mind and focus. This helps to sharpen their concentration and extend their attention.
Breathing activities also help children to clear their minds. The focus needed to achieve a particular pose or stay balanced in Yoga can help with focus and concentrate in the classroom. Concentrating on the Yoga poses can be the pathway to improved concentration on more abstract, cognitive tasks.
Yoga is non-competitive and therefore every child can achieve at their own pace. There is no right or wrong and they can feel good about what they have achieved. Feeling encouraged for their effort rather than for completing a task or activity is extremely rewarding.
Mental strength and relaxation:
Yoga helps children to relax and relieve anxiety tension and stress. Breathing and relaxation techniques can be applied outside of yoga so that children are learning life skills to help control anxiety or high emotions. In addition to the relaxation and breath work, certain poses help to calm children and to unwind their system down. As they discover this they will be learning the vital skill of self-regulation. The mindfulness in yoga helps children to be present and to engage and focus.
Yoga games, activities and stories help children to be expressive and creative and to use their imagination. They can come up with ideas for their adventures and make exciting discoveries about themselves, the world and each other. They are also encouraged to use all their senses.
Social and communication skills:
Yoga classes encourage children to communicate and work together. They learn to pay attention and listen to their friends and to be respectful of each other and of themselves. In Tatty Bumpkin sessions we see children gradually becoming more respectful of each others space and more aware of each others needs. It also teaches children that we are all the same despite outward appearance: we have bodies that function, hearts that love, feelings that feel. Partner yoga can demonstrate this to children physically as they work together to create a posture. Yoga also inspires children to be kind, patient accepting and empathetic with themselves and their friends.
Specific Benefits to Mums and Babies
For Mums gentle yoga postures can help with specific post-partum needs, especially weakened pelvic floor and fatigue. It will help improve posture and core strength and stability, which can deteriorate substantially after birth. And Yoga can often be the ‘gateway’ back into more regular exercise. And because they are moving with their baby, a mum’s focus is not really on their own movement. They move on a more ‘automatic’ level just like the children following the story.
Postures can also release tension that builds up from carrying baby and from breastfeeding. This tension usually builds up in shoulders neck and back. Yoga can also help new mums to reduce anxiety and stress at a time when they are sleep deprived and sometimes overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes of having a new baby. Yoga is also extremely bonding for mum and baby.
Newborn babies have not yet developed their postural control, which relies on a complex process based on the maturation of the neurological and musculoskeletal systems. They can grasp objects placed in their hand (a reflex) and respond to bright lights and colours but can only see clearly about 25cm from face.
At 6 weeks to 3 months babies start to be able to hold their head up for a short time and move a bit more, kicking legs and swiping at objects. They can focus on objects close to them and follow their movement. They will also turn their head towards sounds and smile and briefly hold objects placed in their hand. At 3-6 months babies go through a lot of change. They can lift their heads, taking weight on arms, hands and legs and may be able to sit unsupported for short times. Their sight improves too, being able to focus on things in the distance and pick things up, moving them from hand to hand. They will also babble!
At 6-9 months babies can sit unsupported and become more mobile rolling crawling and pulling selves up to standing. They start to use fingers separately and to pick things up between finger and thumb in pincer grip. They also start to understand more words and develop a range of facial expressions and sounds.
How Yoga Helps:
Yoga can help babies in all areas of physical development and also can help to create calm and relieve tension related to digestion.
For babies, gentle yoga stretches will help them to slowly unfold from the foetal position and gentle massage will stimulate their immune system, improve circulation and promote calm and sleep. They will see clear benefits such as:
- Massages internal organs – gentle warm up massage
- Helps with digestion and issues such as colic and constipation,
- Strengthens muscles
- Improves motor coordination
- Helps develop balance
- Maintains flexibility
- Opens knee and hip joints
- Improves lung capacity
- Develops spatial awareness
- Strengthens immune system
- Enhances bond with mother
- Calms soothes and promotes better sleep
- Promotes play and interaction with others
- Encourages communication skills
Specific benefits to children
Yoga can be incredible fun for children as is often taught through stories and adventures so the children become animals and nature, moving through postures as they do so. The introduction of yoga games, stories, and music all help to engage children with yoga. The postures have various benefits for children including strengthening their bodies, calming their systems, helping with concentration and communication (as listed above). The various types of postures have many benefits:
- Standing (such as mountain) – great for improving posture and balance as strengthens legs and increases flexibility in hips pelvis and lower back.
- Balances (such as tree) – increases strength and flexibility in legs and hips and improves postures as well as focusing attention.
- Seated poses (such as butterfly) strengthen back and hips, groin and knees giving added flexibility. Also improves postural control in sitting – so children tire less when seated.
- Forward bends (such as giraffe) help release tension in back and increase flexibility in the spine
- Backward bends help energise the children opening chest and ribcage and releasing tension in the front of the body, increase spinal stability and flexibility in shoulders
Forward bends tend to generally stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, whilst backwards bends stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (Fight, fight and freeze see here).
- Lying poses (crocodile) on back or front release tension in the body
- Twists (such as mermaid) release tension in spine and increase mobility in hips and shoulders, connecting right and left brain
- Inversions (dog) help strengthen upper body and increase circulation and oxygen to the brain.
- Relaxation and breath work allows children’s minds to settle and calm, releasing tension and allowing their bodies and minds to relax
One of the key benefits of yoga for children, especially in Tatty Bumpkin classes, is giving them the ability to self-regulate. The classes aim to keep children in a just-right state so that they are not too hyperactive and aroused and not too bored. The movements follow an ebb and flow to keep the children in this perfect alert state. For example in the warm up, we do the active Bendy Giggly Warm up and then run downstairs for breakfast. Then we sit and calm as we make porridge/breakfast. This ebb and flow of pace is important. It teaches the children what excites and what calms and they learn this internally by doing it within the structure of the classes.
The benefits of yoga to babies, children and their families are limitless and the benefits to children then become benefits to the family as a whole.
When children stretch like a dog, balance like a tree, breathe like a lion or stand strong like a mountain they are making connections between their environment and their bodies. Children begin to understand that we are all made of the same stuff just in different forms. They can develop healthy habits and healthy bodies at an early age that they keep for the rest of their lives. Yoga is surely the best gift we can give to children!