When I was a kid the only yogi I knew was Yogi Bear. Clearly, the times they are a-changing. With yoga rising in popularity—a recent article in the New York Times Magazine estimated up to 20 million people may be doing downward dog up from just 4 million in 2001—it’s not all that surprising that yoga is filtering down to our kids as well.
“Yoga has a lot of physical benefits [for children] like working on gross and fine motor skills through doing the poses,” says Julie Phillips, a yoga teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “It can also help with anxiety especially the breathing work. Kids talk about stress and feeling nervous about homework or a test so it’s a way to help them master some stress-relieving techniques.” Not only that but yoga has been shown to help improve sleep, encourage better digestion and provide higher levels of concentration. For example, Julie likes to foster good listening skills by having kids work together. Two favorites are a mirror game where children are paired up and must copy what each other is doing and a memory game where everyone stands in a circle and must do all the poses done by the previous classmates.
While yoga is great for all ages, it obviously varies by maturity level. Mommy-and-me baby and toddler classes tend to focus on spending time together and having fun while tot classes (generally ages 3-5) are more about burning off excess energy.
With her class of 4- and 5-year old students at the playspace NEST, Julie likes to incorporate yoga with more traditional games like freeze tag—when the music stops the kids freeze into a certain pose. She also talks about the yoga philosophy and even teaches chants in song form to help the kids remember.
By the time kids hit later grade-school age they are often ready for more serious yoga that looks similar to what adults practice. While she enjoys teaching all ages, with her background as a school social worker, Julie found her greatest feelings of accomplishment came when she taught a yoga class at a school in an impoverished neighborhood that also encouraged discussion. “Kids through movement found comfort and trust with the group to talk about difficult subjects,” she says. “Things came out about abuse at home and violence they had witnessed. It was very therapeutic physically and emotionally.” Regardless the age, anyone can enjoy yoga—just ask Julie’s 2-year old daughter Chloe. After only a few mommy-and-me classes she now gets her mat out, sits with her legs crossed and chants “ohm!”
Kristen Stewart is a freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition, parenting and lifestyle topics. To learn more, visit her website at www.kristenestewart.com.