The Littlest Yogis

Being a kid these days is hard work, between the stress of schoolwork, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. And that’s in addition to the all-too-common family problems or parental stress that can take a toll on a little one’s energy. Luckily, a number of yoga studios tailored specifically to children have been opening up all over the country, giving even the youngest members of society a chance to benefit from the practice.

For example, in Georgetown, MA, the Peace Groove and Happiness (PGH) yoga studio gets kids started in yoga before they are even born. Prenatal classes for mom flow into Mom and Tot sessions, instilling a love and respect for yoga that can be continued throughout the elementary and high school years. Camps, birthday parties, simultaneous classes for parents, and even courses designed just for home-schooled children round out this child-centric studio. Depending on the child’s age group, classes at PGH focus on different aspects of yoga, to take advantage of children’s innate abilities while working through their limitations.

Marcia Wenig, creator of the YogaKids video and program, learned firsthand how important it is to “tune in” to how children approach yoga. She encourages the use of music, sound, and imagination in her classes. She explains in an article she contributed to Yoga Journal:

“The greatest challenge with children is to hold their attention long enough to teach them the benefits of yoga…Luckily, most children love to talk, and they love to move—both of which can happen in yoga… Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in the dog pose, hiss in the cobra, and meow in cat stretch. Sound is a great release for children and adds an auditory dimension to the physical experience of yoga.”

When instructors are able to meet the challenges of leading children through yoga classes, great things can happen. Good breathing skills can help kids deal with stress, anger and frustration. This has obvious practical implications; the next time your child is taunted by a bully or stymied by a tough math test, she may be able to navigate through the challenge by breathing and focusing her way to success.

The physical benefits of childhood yoga are plentiful, too. Kids who play sports will have greater flexibility and muscle resiliency after practicing the asanas. Posture and body awareness are honed in yoga, and a general respect for one’s physical fitness and self-esteem is developed.

Your child may participate in other active extra-curricular programs, but yoga has special rewards. While playing in a soccer or softball league might be great exercise, the competitive nature of these activities can cause more stress rather than relieve it. Likewise, dance and gymnastics classes are performance-based, in comparison to yoga, which focuses on the journey rather than the destination.

There are additional benefits for kids with special needs. Yoga programs for children with ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities have shown great promise, offering a healthy, drug-free compliment to more traditional treatments. Yoga is also a great tool in combating common childhood issues like shyness, coordination problems, or childhood obesity – or for simply giving today’s high-stress kids a break from being “perfect” all the time. As a PGH instructor said in an article for local newspaper The Georgetown Record, “it’s a yoga practice, never a yoga perfect.”

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