Should you have your kids doing Down Dog? Consider this: Yoga for kids is proven to improve self-esteem, physical health and grade point averages among children.


In a Gaiam-funded study of kindergarten through 8th-grade students in an inner-city school, researchers from California State University examined the correlation between yoga for kids and academic performance, discipline, attendance and self-esteem. The 2003 study showed a 20 percent increase in the number of students who felt good about themselves — and a 6 percent increase in classroom discipline scores, indicating that students who had high participation in yoga class also had fewer referrals or discipline problems. In addition, while the increase in average GPA was not provided, the study showed a "statistically significant" link between yoga participation and better grades.


"It works on many levels," says Marsha Wenig, creator of the Gaiam YogaKids® DVD programs and president of YogaKids International. After nearly 20 years of bringing yoga to children, Wenig says she has seen the benefits first-hand. "On a physical level, it develops strength, flexibility and concentration," she says. "But the main thing it gives children is the feeling of 'I can do it.'"


"Yoga covers the whole gamut," she continues. "There are breathing and quiet moments, as well as movements that develop eye-hand coordination and motor skills."


More important, she says, yoga for kids promotes a way of learning that's natural for children. "Children are kinesthetic learners — they learn through movement," she explains. "It's how they interact with the world. When that element is incorporated, the difference is magnificent. They get it."


Wenig is developing a program for teachers of young children and teens that merges yoga with astronomy, geography, math and languages. By incorporating sound, movement and "childese," Wenig says she is dishing out yoga in kid-size portions so it can be used as a springboard into education. For example, the yoga pose downward-facing dog might be used to teach children about acute angles.


But whether teaching children about geometry or teaching them how to relax, Wenig says it's important to know how they think. "You don't teach children like you teach adults," she says. "You have to empower and excite them about being physically and mentally fit. To them, yoga for kids is about fitness, fun and feeling great."