By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Kids live active, stressful lives. They attend school, do homework, participate in competitive sports, play video games, and meet their friends at the mall. In addition, they deal with divorce, new schools, tough neighborhoods, illnesses, bullying, and pressure to get excellent grades. Whatever the burdens might be – kids need to learn how to manage stress. Yoga is a practice often cited for helping adults cope with stress. Can Yoga help kids, too?
Positive Results of One Study
According to a 2011 article, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health say: “Yes.” They studied 97 fourth and fifth graders, half of whom participated in a 12-week Yoga program. The researchers found that the students, who practiced Yoga, demonstrated improved overall behavior and ability to concentrate. In addition, the Yoga kids were less likely to ruminate on negative thoughts or engage in a brooding contemplation, often associated with depression and anxiety, than those who did not participate in the Yoga program.
Changing Thinking Patterns
Yoga may help kids on different levels. Practicing physical postures (asanas) can increase the production of endorphins, which generate feelings of well-being. Breathing techniques (pranayama) help regulate the nervous system by activating parasympathetic (relaxation) neurons and calming sympathetic (flight or fight) neurons. Guided relaxation techniques benefit kids by giving them an alternative way to respond to the stressors in their lives. Instead of responding with anger or anxiety, kids learn to relax and breathe through their negative emotions. Yoga students also learn how to manage the mind and perceive stressful situations in a different light. They begin to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Teaching Yoga Life Skills to Children
Teaching Yoga to kids, however, is not like teaching adults. The biggest challenge may be keeping their attention. Songs, music, and games all help keep kids focused on learning Yoga. In addition, kids love to move and make sounds, and they can make noises while in the poses; for example, kids bark while holding Downward Facing Dog pose or squawk while in Eagle pose. The poses help relieve physical stress, while making sounds, which also help to relieve stress on the emotional and mental levels.
Learning Yoga at a young age, can give kids a set of tools for managing stress in a positive way, for the rest of their lives. Non-competitive in nature, Yoga teaches children compassion and collaboration, rather than anger and divisiveness, which are valuable instruments for navigating the stresses of life.
Opportunities for Yoga Teachers
Yoga instructors reach out to many different age groups. If, or when, we decide to teach Yoga to children, we create a positive impact on global society. Children need valuable life skills to progress and cope with an ever-changing world. Children gather in schools, clubs, and sports leagues. It is easy for local Yoga teachers to reach out to these groups and give the next generation skills that will last a lifetime.
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