You know that delicious feeling you get from doing yoga - the clearer thinking, the suppler and stronger body, the improved mood? Your kids could be experiencing that, too. After all, yoga isn’t just for adults. It’s an infinitely customizable practice that can be tailored to every age level, from the littlest babies on up.
"Kids Yoga helps in all the same ways it helps adults - it improves flexibility, strength and balance, and it also teaches focus and provides a means of self-soothing,” says Marcia Wenig, a kids’ yoga teacher for 25 years and developer of the YogaKids method.
Nicole Cherubini of Brooklyn, New York, credits yoga with helping her three-year-old son settle himself. “He is much more in control of his body, and knows to do his breathing when he’s upset,” she says. And Julie Margolis, a yoga teacher and mother of two young yoginis from Montclair, New Jersey, has seen her girls develop confidence. “They are so proud of their practice. They love showing me a particular asana or telling me what they thought about during final relaxation,” she says.
Science has also noted the positive effects of yoga for kids: Studies have found that yoga can improve symptoms in adolescents with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and children with ADHD, and that it is an effective way to help obese teens lose weight and even improve kids’ grades or help them get a good night’s sleep.
But perhaps the most important reason to introduce your child to yoga is much more far-reaching. “Children are the culture of tomorrow,” says Paramhans Swami Maheshewarananda, a yoga master and the founder of Yoga in Daily Life, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing the teachings of yoga to people of all ages, fitness levels and spiritual leanings. “By helping them grow up happy and healthy, yoga can create a brighter future for everyone.”
How to get started with the right yoga program for your child
You can start going to Mommy (or Daddy) & Me classes as soon as you’ve up to it, and many yoga classes for the littlest kids accommodate crawlers (with parents also attending the class). It is important, however, to find a teacher who is trained in teaching kids yoga, Maheshewarananda notes. “Because children are still developing and certain poses have very strong effects, you do have to work with care. The teacher should know which poses are good for which ages and be able to make adjustments for the physical and mental needs of your child.”
If your kids are past the age where you can simply attend class together, one of the best ways to encourage your kids to try yoga is to let them see you doing it. Margolis saw that talking to her girls about her practice got them intrigued. "I would tell them how much I enjoy yoga, and how it makes my body and my heart feel,” she recalls. “But probably the most compelling thing for them was to see grouchy Mom go to class and super Mom come home.”
Wenig advises getting your children their own yoga mats and inviting them to join you. But keep it lighthearted. “Remember that kids’ yoga looks different from adult yoga. Allow them to have fun and explore and show you what they can do instead of trying to tell them that their feet should be a little wider,” she says. And if your child is a certified couch potato, try a yoga DVD (such as Wenig's own Yoga Kids DVD series from Gaiam).
As with most of parenting, you can point the way, but you can’t force your child to love yoga just because it’s good for them. Margolis knows that social lives, academics and team sports might one day absorb all of her girls’ time and attention - a possibility she’s already prepared herself for. "If they ever choose to stop going to class, I will be fine with that,” she says. “But I will tell them that their practice will always be waiting for them and they can pick it up again whenever they want.”
Kids Yoga: Poses & benefits for different ages & stages:
Pose: Tree pose
Benefits: Teaches balance, promotes a connection to nature, grounding
How to do it: Stand with feet together. Bring the bottom of your right foot to the inside of your left leg and rest it as high as you can and still balance - the ankle, the shin or the inner thigh. Stand up tall and raise your branches (arms) up in a wide V. Open your fingers and stay here as long as you can. Then do it balancing on your right leg.
Pose: Volcano pose
Benefits: Releases stress, deepens the breath, opens the chest
How to do it: Stand with feet wide apart and hands in prayer position in front of your heart. As you breathe in, reach your arms up as high as you can. As you breathe out, open your arms out to your sides and make a big sighing sound. Return your hands back to the starting position and repeat three to five times. “Think about what’s in your volcano that you want to get rid of,” Wenig says.
Pose: Warrior series
Benefits: Builds strength in the legs, arms and core. Improves posture, which boosts confidence and helps teens look their best (an oh-so-important concern to them right now). Also teaches teens how to stand their ground against peer pressure.
How to do it: Aim to spend three deep breaths in each pose. Start standing with your feet wide apart. Turn your right foot 90 degrees to the right and point your left foot toward your right foot. Bend the right knee deeply, rotate your torso to face toward your right leg, and bring your arms straight up alongside your ears. From here, open your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and look out over your right fingertips. Finally, transfer your weight to your right leg and lift your left leg to hip height behind you (toes pointing down). Straighten both legs and extend your arms alongside your ears so that your entire body is in one even line except for the right leg, which is supporting you. Repeat on the left side.
Watch yoga for kids videos on GaiamTV.com!
Kate Hanley is the author of "The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide” and the founder of msmindbody.com.