Yoga works for children on many levels. Yoga is an ancient science. It helps build awareness and develop strength, stability , co-ordination and flexibility. Yoga Classes are non-competitive so they provide a safe environment for children to open up and develop skills that can be used in every day life. It also strengthens the connection between a child and his/her koshas (different bodies), i.e., mind, body and spirit.
During different periods of development in the child, physical growth can be more advanced than mental growth and vice versa. (Swami Satyananda Saraswati, 1990). Yoga can help children adjust during these periods.
Asanas are grounding and develop strength, flexibility and co-ordination. They also stimulate and regulate the different systems of the body. For example, standing poses instil a sense of strength, e.g. Warrior Pose. Balancing poses instil a sense co-ordination, e.g. Tree pose. Asanas that cross the mid-line of the body (cross-patterning)help activate communication between the right and left sides of the body e.g. Windmill pose/eye exercises. These help children who are mentally disorganised.
A study was carried out in a Los Angeles primary school over a 12- month period (Slovacek, Tucker & Pantoja, 2003). Findings showed that children who regularly attended yoga classes showed a significant increase in self-discipline, academic performance and overall fitness. There were fewer discipline problems with those children attention the yoga classes and 20% of students had greater self-esteem by the end of the study.
Yoga also greatly benefits the over- active child, children with attention deficit disorders, learning difficulties or behavioural problems. Yoga can help them to channel their energy in a positive way.
Pranayama can help children to become more balanced and calm. By learning breathing techniques, children learn how to exhale and inhale fully. In turn, they learn how to re-connect with themselves. Breathing properly strengthens the nervous system. During pranayama, children also develop skills in listening and concentration.
Chanting/Kirtan helps develop rhythm and expression. Inadvertently it helps breathing and concentration. Working with sound is healing and fun.
Visualisations can help the “psycho-emotional balance”( Swami Satyananda Saraswati -1990) and relaxation helps children calm down.
Children in today’s world are subject to a fast-paced environment and a lot of external stimuli. Internally they also have a lot to deal with. David Fotana mentions in his book “Teaching Children to Meditate”, that they “ experience feelings ,such as love, joy, fear, disappointment and anger, with an intensity which they may never match in adult life”. Meditation helps with concentration, physical and mental relaxation. It also gives them the space to stop and listen to themselves.
Yoga is a fantastic tool for children and has the potential to guide and aid them through childhood and into adulthood. It teaches children to respect and pay attention to their bodies as they grow and change.
Ann Marie O’Connell – InnerSpaceHealth
Swami Satyananda Saraswati.1990 Yoga Education for Children
Slovacek,Tucker & Pantoja, 2003 University of California. “A Study of the Yoga Ed Program at the Accerlated School”
David Fontana Teaching children to meditate