By Christa Melnyk Hines

Many adults swear by the ancient practice of yoga for stress relief; to improve flexibility, balance and strength; and to enhance daily focus. With playful names like downward dog, cat, cow and gorilla, yoga poses easily inspire the imagination of the younger set.

Libbey York enrolled her sons Graham, 8, and Lawson, 4, in a children’s yoga class last summer thinking they could meet friends and try something new. Their response surprised her.

“They couldn’t stop talking about all of their new moves and practicing their poses all around the house,” she says.

Graham likes practicing seated crossed-leg pose, and Lawson loves to show off his tree pose.

In addition to enhancing her sons’ flexibility and strength, “the class improved their focus and body awareness as they attempted the poses,” says York, who is also a yoga practitioner and instructor.

Linking mind and body. Yoga, which in Sanskrit means “to yoke,” nurtures a connection between the mind, body and spirit. Balancing poses like airplane and tree, for example, strengthen muscles and also require mental focus and concentration to achieve and hold. 

Overall, multiple studies have found that yoga can help kids improve academic performance, physical fitness, self-awareness, self-esteem, concentration, emotional balance and behavior.

Slow down and breathe. In a 2014 “Stress in America” survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, more parents than non-parents report that they struggle to manage the stress of jobs and family responsibilities. Since children pick up on the tensions of their caregivers, they may internalize more stress too. Multiple studies have found that yoga offers effective stress relief for all ages.

“In this fast-paced world in which we live, children need to know how to relax and breathe and mindfully move through their day,” says yoga instructor Katy Henderson. “Teaching children how to breathe in yoga allows them to take that crucial breathe before they get mad, angry or frustrated.”

Focus power. In a study conducted by School Psychology Review, researchers found that regular yoga practice can help children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) learn to calm their minds and focus on the present, improving on-task time and attention. And thanks to the proliferation of distracting electronic devices, even kids who don’t suffer from ADHD can benefit.

A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that children spend an average of seven and half hours daily engaged with screen technology. The mindfulness techniques that yoga practice offers can help kids re-focus on the present and concentrate on tasks like homework and chores that require their undivided attention.

Strike a pose. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 12 million kids between the ages of 2 and 19 years old are considered obese. Yoga offers a gentle way to get kids moving, strengthen muscles, improve flexibility and practice gross motor skills.

“For the child who is not particularly active, yoga provides an avenue to move in a playful, engaging way,” Henderson says.

Spread the love. “Yoga fosters self-acceptance and actualization. It invites all participants to improve concentration and focus, and even helps develop self-compassion and compassion for others,” writes Kristin Henningsen, adjunct professor at Kaplan University School of Health Sciences in her report “The Benefits of Yoga for Children.”

Pauline Emmett, a YoKid Ambassador, agrees. “In practicing yoga, children experience better self-esteem, and therefore have the confidence to trust themselves as being strong and capable beings,” she says. “We talk about self-love, and how if we love ourselves we can better care for our friends, family and the world.”

Christa Melnyk Hines is a freelance journalist and mom of two boys who love to attempt headstands. Her favorite yoga poses are triangle and warrior. Christa is the author of Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World.

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