Yoga isn’t just for grownups. A new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that among kids aged 4 to 17, yoga is on the rise. The percentage of children aged 4 to 17 who do yoga increased from 2.3 percent in 2007 to 3.1 percent in 2012, which translates to about 400,000 more kids practicing yoga in the U.S.
Yoga, a 5,000-year-old practice, was originally created to “calm the fluctuations of the mind,” says Caryn Antos O’Hara, a Charleston, SC-based health consultant and yoga instructor who has been teaching children for more than six years. She said that yoga can be offered to children as young as a year old as long as the child is accompanied by someone old enough to thoughtfully take care and watch over the child.
“If you have a child younger than toddler age and decide you want to introduce your child to yoga, you can look in your community for classes at yoga studios and community centers often called Mama and Me or Baby and Mama,” O’Hara said.
As with any physical activity, it’s important to find a qualified instructor. “You want someone who is formally trained in yoga for kids and holds a certification, and/or someone who has years of experience under their belt,” explains O’Hara.
“Teaching children requires that the instructor has a good amount of subject knowledge, an ability to share that information in an age-appropriate manner and the foresight to manage the personalities in the class to keep distractions and disturbances to a minimum,” she said.
It’s also important to note that there are certain yoga poses that should always be monitored or even supported by a hands-on assistance.
“Balancing poses for toddlers and older have different thresholds and should be taught using knowledge of which of these poses is appropriate for what age,” O’Hara said. “Certainly inverted poses, where the heart is lifted above the head, should be considered in the same manner. Protecting the head and neck are paramount.”
The Family That Oms Together, Stays Together
Life can be stressful no matter what your age. Yoga is a great way to counterbalance the non-stop, fast-paced modern world. Plus, the benefits for people of all ages, backgrounds and physical fitness levels are plentiful.
“Yoga can be a time to introduce healthy eating habits, responsibility, compassion, forgiveness and consequence (or cause and effect),” said O’Hara. “Kids can achieve all of these benefits [from yoga], plus they will gain confidence, better concentration, improve their understanding of personal space, and develop a deep appreciation for themselves.”
This article from from PBS, includes a few more benefits such as:
While many studios around the country offer classes for kids and parents, there are also DVDs, books and even streaming videos that provide guidance and suggested sequences if you prefer practicing with your family at home.
“Yoga at home is a wonderful way for kids to explore the practice because they are introduced to a new activity in a comfortable, not threatening environment,” O’Hara said. Just be sure that the place where you practice yoga is free of distractions and clear enough to move safely, she said. There are even kid-sized mats that little ones can call their own.
Practicing yoga with your kids should be enjoyable and positive. Focus on having fun with movement and cater to your kids’ energy levels and different learning styles.
Ready to get started? Here’s a great list of 58 illustrated yoga poses for kids to help you get started.