Yoga for kids: A good idea?
Is your child about to start practicing yoga at school? Does he or she seem interested in taking a yoga class? If so, you may have questions about the possible benefits of yoga for kids and what a typical program entails. Before your child does his or her first pose, get the facts on yoga for kids.
How can yoga benefit children?
Research on the benefits of yoga for kids is limited. Anecdotal reports suggest that yoga can calm children, reduce obesity, enhance concentration and help children manage certain health conditions, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. Studies suggest that yoga may also benefit children who have various mental and physical disabilities. Yoga may even help children who have eating disorders lessen their preoccupation with food. More studies, however, are needed to confirm the positive health effects of yoga for kids.
At the least, yoga can be a gentle method for your child to get more physical activity and enhance his or her well-being.
What happens during a typical yoga class for kids?
Yoga classes for children rarely focus on the importance of perfecting poses. Instead, they often emphasize yoga basics, such as the cultivation of compassion — rather than competition — and the connection between breathing and different poses. A typical yoga class for kids may involve:
- Warm-up. Your child will remove his or her shoes and may lie down or sit cross-legged on the floor or on a chair. A special object — such as a yoga mat or pillow, clothing, or stuffed animal used only for yoga — may be used to signal that this is a time for relaxation. The instructor may encourage your child to quiet his or her mind, perhaps by closing his or her eyes and imagining a problem disappearing.
- Breathing. Your child will be encouraged to focus on breathing in and out slowly and deeply through the nose. In one technique, your child might imagine filling up his or her stomach with air like a balloon and then slowly releasing the air.
- Postures. Gentle movements, including stretching, will help your child prepare to do postures that involve standing, sitting, twisting, balancing and bending. Some instructors provide pictures of plants, animals or objects to imitate. During each pose, your child may be reminded to breathe through his or her nose, to avoid forcing a position, and to stop if he or she experiences pain.
- Relaxation. After completing a series of poses, your child may lie down on the floor on his or her back and close his or her eyes. The instructor may repeat a sound or phrase to encourage your child to concentrate on his or her breathing. Your child may also be encouraged to visualize experiences, such as lying on a cloud or floating through the sky.
- Reawakening. As the class ends, your child will begin stretching or wiggling his or her body and slowly rise from the floor.
Are there styles of yoga that aren't recommended for children?
There are many different styles of yoga. Two styles that may be inappropriate for children include:
- Ashtanga. This type of yoga, also called power yoga, focuses on strength and flexibility training and rapid movements. Practicing ashtanga requires excellent physical condition.
- Bikram. Commonly called hot yoga, Bikram involves doing vigorous poses in a room heated to 100 to 110 F (38 to 43 C). Practicing Bikram also requires excellent physical condition.
Are there special safety guidelines for kids who practice yoga?
If your child tries yoga, take steps to help him or her avoid injury. For example:
- Find a safe place to practice yoga. Insist on level ground and a comfortable room temperature. Have your child use a clean mat to prevent slipping. Avoid locations where candles or incense are used.
- Practice on an empty stomach. Certain poses may cause your child to vomit if he or she practices yoga soon after eating. Generally, don't allow your child to practice yoga until two to four hours after a large meal or one to two hours after a light meal or snack.
- Don't overdo it. Remind your child to keep his or her movements slow and to avoid forcing a pose or doing inverted poses, which involve extending the legs above the heart or head. Inverted poses put pressure on the head, neck or shoulders.
- Consider your child's medical conditions. If your child has migraines or any condition affected by extra pressure to the head or neck, he or she may need to avoid shoulder stands. Your child may also need to take care doing certain breathing techniques or poses if he or she has asthma, bronchitis or a hernia. Don't allow your child to do yoga if he or she is sick.
How do I choose a yoga class for my child?
If your child is interested in taking a yoga class, look for a program taught by an instructor who has training in yoga for children. Ask about the instructor's experience with your child's age group and the goal of the class. Consider observing a class prior to registration to see if you're comfortable with the activities involved, the instructor's style, the class size and the environment. Look for a class where the children are having fun and receive positive attention from the instructor. If your child has a medical condition or special needs, be sure to alert the instructor and ask about his or her ability to work with your child.
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