The toddlers in Tamara Margas’ Berkeley daycare are budding yogis, performing pint-sized poses that stir their imaginations and stretch their tiny bodies. One of their favorites is the snake pose — with their bellies on the floor, torsos lifted while they make hissing noises. Another popular pose is “Paint the Rainbow,” where the kids trace an imaginary arch with their arms, dipping into pretend paint buckets.
Past generations of children did the Hokey Pokey and sang jingles about the leg bone being connecting to the knee bone. Today, educators and parents are recognizing the power of yoga and how it can be used as a tool to teach children about their bodies. It comes with the added bonus of helping little ones get the wiggles out. Various studies show yoga does wonders for a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. With that in mind, yoga programs tailored specifically for toddlers, children, and teens are springing up.
“With yoga, children learn to connect with their bodies,” says Margas.
Margas was trained by “Pretzel Kids,” a nationwide kids yoga company that offers classes and teacher training. She enjoys doing yoga with her own 2 1/2-year-old son, as well, because it helps him unwind after playing, and brings about a calmness, she says.
Should your kids be doing yoga? Here’s more on how it can benefit children, plus tips for helping incorporate the practice in your own kids’ lives.
What are the health benefits of yoga for kids?
Yoga comes with a wide range of health benefits, from helping improve flexibility to bettering focus, health experts and researchers say.
A recent study from Tulane University, for example, found that participating in yoga and mindfulness activities at school helped third graders exhibiting anxiety improve their wellbeing and emotional health. The sessions included breathing exercises, guided relaxation, and several traditional yoga poses appropriate for children. The 2018 study was published in the journal “Psychology Research and Behavior Management.”
Yoga also teaches children how to relax, which naturally allows them to cope better with school and emotional pressures, says Robyn Parets, the CEO and founder of Pretzel Kids.
In fact, school-based yoga and mindfulness programs can improve grades, as well as lower anxiety and depression among youth, studies show.
Maureen Healy, the author of “The Emotionally Healthy Child,” explains that yoga can teach children how to calm, center, and ultimately pause before making choices.
“They learn that true strength begins on the inside,” says Healy.
Other research points to yoga as having the potential to help kids improve concentration and memory, build self-confidence, better their physical fitness, and regulate emotions. The practice can even help children foster respect for their peers and others. The researchers make a case that yoga programs should be implemented in schools as early as preschool and at community centers so children have access to the practice.
Another selling point Lauren Chaitoff, the owner and founder of Yogi Beans, a children’s yoga company with classes throughout New York City and Long Island, highlights is that it is non-competitive, so even kids who are intimidated by some organized sports can feel at ease doing yoga. Rather than emphasizing winning or achievement, classes teach kids to embrace concepts like self-awareness and compassion. (For those outside of the New York area, Yogi Beans Kids yoga classes and teacher development courses are also offered on the yoga streaming network Om Stars).
How to get your kids started doing yoga
Despite all the great benefits of yoga for kiddos, not many have tried it.
The most recent survey, which was done in 2012, showed 9.5 percent of U.S. adults do yoga and 3.1 percent of U.S. children do yoga. That translates to 1.7 million children who practice yoga, 400,000 more children than in 2007 — and it’s likely the numbers have increased dramatically since the last survey in 2012, as more yoga studios and community centers are incorporating family classes and teachers are using yoga to bring zen into the classrooms.
Curious how to get your kids started with yoga? It will come naturally to them, says Jennifer Coulombe, a certified kids yoga teacher and founder of Sat Nam babe, a kids yoga clothing company.
“Due to kids’ flexibility, they are natural yogis,” Coulombe says.
Even babies will naturally get into downward facing dog or happy baby poses, she points out.
For toddlers, Coulombe recommends teaching them how to slow down and bring attention to their breathing through the “candle and rose” breath. She explains it like this: In your right hand, pretend you are holding a flower. In your left hand, pretend you are holding a candle. Inhale through the nose to smell the flower and then exhale through the mouth to blow out the candle. Continue this inhale and exhale breath several times, inhaling and exhaling fully each time.
Many yoga poses that are done in adult yoga classes can be introduced to kids, she says, such as cat and cow. To make it even more engaging for kids, she says you can incorporate “meows” and “moos” as you move through the posture.
When introducing your children to yoga, fun introductory poses to try are the bridge, bow pose, cat pose, cobra pose, and downward dog, says Jennifer Lobo, co-founder of bodē nyc, a hot yoga studio in New York City that offers youth classes for kids ages 11 to 17.
Ready to help your kids give yoga a try? Red Tricycle pulled together a list of kid-friendly yoga studios around Chicago.
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Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.