Do Kids Need Yoga?
We all hear lots about the benefits of yoga, but do kids need yoga?
The short answer is: Not so much, but maybe.
We need to distinguish a bit more the different aspects of yoga to really answer that question. For the purpose of this discussion, we will say that yoga has three aspects: the asana or physical practice, attention to breathing, and the mental practice of using the mind well. Let’s take each one separately.
Physically, kids are born yogis. Just look at any infant who can sit up, and you will see an ability to sit up effortlessly with a perfectly lengthened spine. Watch an infant who is practicing to crawl or walk and you will see a perfectly supple, limber, and strong body. Kids who have access to the natural world, plenty of freedom to play, not too much time slouching in front of a TV or computer, and not too much early training in only one sport or movement continue to use their bodies naturally and effortlessly. In other words, it is our world that shapes us into the bodies we have as adults. Conclusion: If kids have the freedom to be kids, they don’t need physical yoga, and I would even go so far as to say that playing outside is even better than asana for them. If they don’t have access to that kind of playing freedom, then physical yoga could be a helpful thing for them. And in any case, it is unlikely to hurt them.
Where things get a little more complex is when it comes to how yoga affects our nervous systems, and the toll that our 21st century life takes on our nervous systems. Our nervous systems are designed to rev up when there is a demand on us, and then settle down as soon as that demand passes. Trouble is, the demands keep coming. In our high paced, multi-tasking world, we all have demands waiting in line for us, and our kids get drug along. And they have their own demands—time for school, day care, sport practice, tutoring, birthday parties, appointments, this or that class, or fun time. I am not saying that our world isn’t full of good things and wonderful opportunities. It is! I am just saying that when there is too much of even a good thing, we get tired and stressed, and when there is a moment to rest, we don’t have enough oomph left to want to do anything but slouch in front of the TV. Our nervous systems don’t have the opportunity to s-l-o-w down. And we end up with anxiety, restlessness, and many physical ailments. This is the place where yoga might save our lives, both literally and figuratively. Learning to breath with a full exhalation to make room for new fresh air in our lungs, to fully use and fully relax our breathing muscles, is good for us in more ways than there is room for in this article. (Just Google “breathing and nervous system.”) We should all learn to breath naturally because virtually all of us have lost that ability. That includes our kids. Children who have special needs, such as autism or ADHD can especially benefit from therapeutic forms of yoga. (That is also outside this article. Call me for more information.)
Mentally, yoga can also be helpful to all of us. Learning to sit quietly is helpful for our nervous systems and our health too. (Google “meditation and health”) In addition, while our culture has a subtle understanding of people as being bad and broken and in need of fixing, yoga starts with the assumption that we are all good at our core. This does not mean, by the way, that kids don’t need to learn how to live in the world with others, or that we can do whatever we want. It means that we don’t have to shame ourselves or our kids in order to learn how to live better. We just need to be guided to be compassionate, responsible, and thoughtful. Sometimes that means we need strong guidance, and sometimes not so strong. Yoga does this through ethical principles such as non-harming, learning to be content with what is, truthfulness, and self-discipline.
So, kids need yoga not so much, but maybe.
Sandra Helpsmeet is the owner of the Yoga Center of Eau Claire. She is registered with the Yoga Alliance at the 500 hour level, and is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She teaches classes and offers workshops in various aspects of yoga, and is available for private therapeutic yoga. www.yogacenterec.com 715-830-0321