Jo Manuel, founder and director of the Special Yoga Centre, writes about the benefits of practicing yoga from a young age.
Yoga is renowned for its health benefits and teaching yoga to children from an early age is an ideal way for them to understand and experience the value of good health.
Nowadays children and teenagers are suffering from a substantial rise in everyday stress levels. Ten percent of all children suffer from mental health problems including stress, anxiety and depression (source: Office of National Statistics).
Yoga gives children the opportunity to be in a non-competitive, non-judgmental space and gives them time to understand and listen to their mind, body and heart. Children are invited into this safe environment where there is no expectation to achieve, no pressure or demands to reach specific goals and they are offered a space where they are given the opportunity to be heard. Allowing a child to practice yoga helps them develop self-confidence, acceptance and gives them the chance to reach their full potential.
Firstly, yoga helps children learn how to breathe deeply, using the diaphragm, which induces feelings of calm and relaxation. Learning to breathe well is paramount for a child’s wellbeing and improving the respiratory system is the foundation for a healthy, happy child. Asana helps children build a nurturing relationship with their body and these days yoga classes have developed beyond poses purely for fun and fitness now routines are designed to target specific issues such as obesity, stress, ADHD and Autism. Meditation is a great tool for children to practice for understanding the nature of the mind and experiencing controlling the senses.
Relaxation is the key to all yoga practice and is often the favourite part of a child’s yoga class. Children still have the innate intelligence to really listen to their bodies and this part of the yoga class, often neglected in adult classes, is enjoyed and never rushed.
Alongside endless testimonials from mothers, fathers, carers and school teachers about the improvements they witness in their children after practicing yoga, nowadays there is plenty of scientific evidence to prove the magic of yoga and the practice.
Research studies show that a regular yoga practice can improve children’s concentration, motor skills and communication skills. A scientific study in America compared before-and-after verbal and spatial test results for three groups of children: those attending a fine arts camp, those attending a yoga camp, and a control group.
The only group that showed any difference between its before-and-after test results was the yoga group, which demonstrated a 43% rate of improvement in the spatial category. This suggests that yoga practice, which included physical postures, yoga breathing, meditation, and guided relaxation in the study, improved the performance of children’s right-hemisphere brain activity. Another study reveals that students who received yoga instruction had an increased emotional balance in the long term and showed reductions in fear, feelings of helplessness, and aggression. This study also observed that students who received yoga instruction transferred what they had learned to situations outside of school to improve their well-being and to control negative feelings.
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the UK with classes now being offered in schools, at the workplace and class numbers growing in community centres and yoga centres. This very growth shows there is a demand for children, teenagers and adults wanting to learn and experience the benefits of a yoga practice.
Written by Jo Manuel, founder and director of the Special Yoga Centre
The Special Yoga Centre www.specialyoga.org.uk provides yoga therapy with an emphasis on children with special needs, as well as training courses, one-to-one yoga therapy, outreach work in schools throughout the UK, group classes and parent support groups.