Mindful Matters - the Science and Fun behind Kids' Yoga
“My kid would never sit still for that!” is a phrase I hear quite often from parents and caregivers who’ve never seen a kids yoga class before. These days we’re almost all familiar with what a yoga class for adults looks like. But if you’ve never seen a yoga class for kids, you may be surprised that it can be a fun, lively environment – filled with games, songs and movement. The classes teach kids how to channel that dynamic energy, so by the end of class they’re ready to sit quietly and focus.
Why do I believe it’s the perfect activity for kids, and why is it important to start at a young age?
Yoga gives children the tools to manage their energy and emotions, it’s a non-competitive, confidence building, playful way to integrate fitness and mindfulness into our lives. It’s never too early to bring these healthy habits into our daily routine - supporting a positive mind-body connection, in-turn lowering rates of stress and disease.
Research has shown that with regular practice, yoga makes us more resilient under stress. Whether it’s sharing on the playground, performing on the sports field, taking an important test, facing a bully, information overload including unhealthy body images in the media, kids encounter constant stresses. Yoga equips kids with practical methods to manage these challenges, bringing focus and balance.
There’s science behind it – take one example, simply taking a deep breath, signals the brain’s relaxation response (aka ‘parasympathetic’ response). Yoga helps kids to recognize what they’re feeling and when they’re feeling stressed, age appropriate breath exercises are one of the techniques they can use to help bring back a feeling of calm, balance and control.
If you’re interested in learning more about the science, check out the work of Sat Bir S. Khalsa, Ph.D (he holds an impressive resume including Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and Research Director at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health).
But, while there’s a ton of amazing research, and the field continues to grow – kids are natural Yogis. I see the proof daily in our studio, watching the single-minded focus of a child balancing in tree pose. I recently heard that on average, adults switch tasks on their computers 566 times a day (!), wouldn’t it have been great if we had learned those focusing techniques when we were young?
Yoga is for everybody, regardless of age or ability. It’s always so gratifying to hear from those parents and caregivers who were previously saying: ‘My kid would never sit still for that’ when they start saying ‘My kid is sitting still and asking to come back for more!”
Marni Sandler is the Founder of Monkey Do! Yoga in Brooklyn, NY. As a mom and kids yoga teacher, Marni believes that learning and growth happen best through play and founded Monkey Do! on those principles. Her desire to bring yoga to children, led her to Shakta Khalsa’s Radiant Child Teacher Training program. The program included training in Yoga for Autism, ADHD and Differently Abled Children – with Allison Morgan of Zensational Kids. Marni truly believes that yoga is an important way to help all children, including those with sensory processing disorders reach their full potential.