Stephanie Sandy, Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT)
I was nearing the the end of yoga class with K-4 students. I had led 20 four-year-olds in active and quiet yoga poses that imitated the animals in the Dr. Seuss book, My Many Colored Days. We kicked like horses, buzzed like bees, soared like birds and hibernated like bears as we read and listened to the story. “Do you see that boy in the red shirt?” the teacher whispered to me, “He has ADD. I have never seen him be still.” We watched him resting in “do nothing” pose with a little pillow on his eyes and his hands on his belly, feeling it go up and down with his breathing.
I often get a reaction of amazement from adults when they observe children change from high energy and restless to calm, centered and still during a single yoga class. I appreciate their amazement, but assure them it’s nothing magical. It’s yoga.
Exercise is essential to the growth and development of children. It not only builds strength and flexibility in the body, it also supports brain development. Starting at infancy, children move their bodies and use their muscles and all seven of their senses (yes, seven) to explore the world and grow. Infants and toddlers use:
- muscles in their upper bodies and neck to lift their heads and torso
- shoulder and arm muscles to roll over
- leg and arm muscles to come to hands and knees and then push up and back to roll up and stand
Their sixth and seventh senses, vestibular and proprioceptive, guide them in balance and coordination for crawling, rolling, walking or anything in-between. To maintain strength and flexibility, feel good in body and mind, maintain a healthy weight and sleep well, kids (and adults) need to keep moving.
Yoga is a great form of exercise for children because it benefits all systems of the body. The word yoga means “to unite,” and yoga unites body and mind. Yoga helps:
- develop strength and flexibility in muscles, bones and joints
- improve balance and coordination
- improve focus and concentration
- aid digestion
- increase lung capacity
- calm down the nervous system
But, most importantly, yoga helps builds self-awareness, not only of the body, but of the mind and emotional state. With practice, kids can learn to self-regulate and self-soothe using movement and breath to energize when feeling low or to calm themselves when feeling stressed or agitated.
And it’s fun! Many yoga poses are named after animals or other natural elements. In yoga, kids become slithering snakes and patient turtles, fierce lions and proud polar bears, majestic mountains and shining stars, tall trees and tiny seeds. They learn about themselves, the natural world, and the interconnection of all of life. Many a time, my yoga classes with kids end with them asking, “Can we do that again?”
What forms of exercise does your child like the most?
Stephanie Sandy is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), certified YogaKids teacher and founder of YogaConnects. She has taught yoga to children and teens since 2004 in classrooms, after-school programs, day care centers, private homes—just about anywhere you’d find kids! She has also worked with children with special needs and the Girl Scouts. Stephanie trains adults in how to bring the benefits of yoga to children in school and therapeutic settings.
“Get Active.” Let’s Move: America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. Web. 4 February 2014. <http://www.letsmove.gov/get-active>.
Van Pelt, Jennifer. “Yoga and Children’s Mental Health.” Social Work Today. December 2011. Web. 4 February 2014. <www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111511p8.shtml>.