If you practice yoga, you know personally the benefits to all aspects of your life. Children can also reap these benefits from regular yoga practice. No matter what form of yoga children practice, they will increase their well-being, reduce stress, and purify their little, physical bodies.
There is evidence that special needs children may especially benefit from yoga. For example, often children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Cerebral Palsy have poor muscle tone. Practicing asanas offers a gentle method to build strength. In addition, yoga calms the mind, eases tension, and teaches children coping methods. These skills are especially important for children with special needs. Joshua Betts, a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, writes of his yoga experiences:
My mom loves yoga. Since she loves me so much, she wants me to do yoga too. She says that yoga keeps her happy and not stressed. I learned some yoga poses. I must say they are not as bad as I thought they would be. My body felt weird at first: very shaky and wobbly. My mom made me do this yoga stuff a lot and I actually started liking having my head upside down! I also liked when my mom told me things to think about while I was doing the poses. She told me to think about being a warrior and being brave and strong when I am doing some of the poses. Sometimes when I am bored at school, I think about these stories to make the time go faster and to stop myself from flapping so much. The weirdest thing my mom makes me do is breathe in strange ways. Mom said that the breathing could help me stop flapping when I am not supposed to. I used to flap at the bus stop all the time, because I was bored and nervous about the school day. Mom told me to take some breaths and she breathed with me. Since I was thinking about my nose and air coming into my body, I could not think about flapping at the same time.
Like Joshua’s mother, I love yoga too. From the time my children were growing in my womb, they have been part of my practice (some Hindu texts say that children practice all 108 asanas in utero). As my children grew into toddlers, they would alternate between playing with my body, such as crawling under my downward facing dog, to imitating my poses. In fact, my daughter would get upset if I skipped my daily practice.
Young children’s attention span for yoga is not that of an adult; thus, many yoga products have been created to entice children to practice. There are many videos, games, and books available to introduce children to yoga. My favorites kids’ yoga products are the children’s book Babar’s Yoga for Elephants, which offers advice as to where to place your trunk during certain asanas, and the Yoga Garden Game, a cooperative game where players work together to plant the flowers before nighttime falls.
Children don’t need specially designed products to learn yoga, but they do need a teacher to guide them. As an elementary school teacher, I regularly incorporated asanas into our physical education program. In addition, the whole class would form a circle and complete the sun salutation each morning. We called this the "Good Morning Stretch," and it was a wonderful way to begin our day of learning together.
It is important that children learn that yoga is a gentle practice, in order to avoid injuries. According to Cookie Magazine, "In yoga, children’s natural gifts, agility and enthusiasm, are also their curse: Many are so bendy that they may not recognize their limitations and overstretch, inadvertently injuring muscles. Kids can also get hurt in efforts to compete with their friends, impress the teacher, or try advanced poses before they’re ready." Children must be taught that yoga is not a competitive sport!
Yoga practice with children is definitely different than practicing with adults, but children deserve opportunities to experience this ancient tradition. If you decide to include children in your practice or volunteer at a local school, be prepared for giggles and silliness. You might even find yourself joining in the laughter with the little yogis and yoginis!
For more information on Yoga for Kids, please visit Yoga Journal.