February 24, 2024
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Article Features/Columns

BENEFITS OF YOGA IN KIDS

Words: Suni Gargaro

At this point, the power of yoga is recognised universally. I think it is fair to say that India has given an excellent gift to the world; a path towards health, wellness, and mindfulness that is accessible to all that have an open mind and choose to take the first step on their own personal yoga journey. That is exactly what I am writing about today, specifically my personal yoga journey, and how it inspired me to share the wonderful possibilities that yoga represents, with future generations.

I started practicing yoga 18+ years ago. At the age of 10, when my family emigrated to USA, I was so fortunate to find a teacher locally that hailed from the same region of India where I was born He has taught me so much about yoga and its philosophies. One of those lessons is that yoga is not just about practicing yoga on the mat. The essence of yoga is about applying its principles in our daily lives. After all, if it does not help the practitioner to live a more balanced, fulfilling life, then how valuable could it be?

I have seen so many benefits from practicing yoga from the day I started. Whether moving your body in union with your breath for an hour, or 20 mins, or just 10 minutes of meditation, it makes a difference. Yoga ultimately had a big impact on my daily life over the course of time. Before my son was born, I had experienced so many positive effects from my yoga practice, that I knew when I became a parent, I would introduce yoga as early as I could. The day came that my son was born (the best day of my life) and I have been practicing yoga with him ever since.

My husband practices yoga, and is also a big advocate of meditation, something he discovered as a 10-year old, almost by accident. He was stuck at the public library for a few hours and decided to research Martial Arts (a passion of his from very early in life.) He happened to find a trove of books on meditation in the same vicinity of the library (contextually relevant given that most traditional martial arts value and teach some form of meditative practice) and spent the better part of 4 hours reading about Zen Buddhist meditation.

From that day forward, mediation became a parallel pursuit to his martial arts studies. He introduced meditation to my son at the tender age of two, again practically by accident. It was late, the family was asleep and my husband sat down for mediation before bed. The simple act of sitting crossed legged and still in the dimly lit bedroom, caught the attention of my son (who should have been fast asleep.) He was so fascinated by seeing this, that he snuck over to his dad in the dark, and perched himself on his lap, crossing his legs to mimic Dad’s sitting posture, and even tried to imitate his mudras (hand positions) and the sound of his deep breathing. It happened so spontaneously, with no prompting or discussion, and was the most precious thing to behold.

Over time, Mason (my son) started doing yoga with me. I would come up with fun “exercises” (asanas) for him, to get his body moving, but without necessarily calling it yoga. Little did he know that he was learning this ancient practice of yoga (at the time he just thought we were pretending to be animals!) He has been applying yoga and its principles ever since.

My son is the greatest gift of my life, and I have made every effort to bestow this life-giving, affirming, healing gift of yoga to him, believing that it will enrich his life and strengthen him as a person. He is 12 now and I am blown away by how much he has internalised the wisdom of yoga, which I see evidence of on a daily basis. It is evident in how he thinks about the world, how he approaches problem solving, how he expresses himself, as well as his personal discipline both physical and mental. My hope is that he stays on this path for the rest of his life.

Having seen such positive and powerful outcomes for my son, I became inspired to look for ways to share yoga with other children. I began volunteering regularly at local schools teaching yoga, and this experience has been so rewarding. The transformation that I see in these kids from the start of our class to finish, is truly incredible. I see how the innate happiness, kindness and positivity that most children have abundantly within them – but not always obvious on the surface – just blossoms and flows freely by the end of our classes together.

I started digging more into how yoga can help them deal with things like the stress of peer pressure, anxieties over social acceptance, bullying, or a plethora of other challenges facing our children these days, by moving their bodies, calming their minds, and taking deep, mindful breaths. My teacher always says “you have to first fix your body, so that you can fix your mind,” and I believe that. This simple statement conveys a major goal of the physical aspects of yoga – to acquire enough mastery over the body to be able to “forget the body” during meditation, opening the way to deeper, profound meditative states, which are impossible to achieve when the mind is preoccupied with aches, pains, and discomforts of the body (all of which diminish progressively as one practices yoga asanas over time.)

In childhood, our bodies are incredibly flexible and resilient to begin with, so it does not take much time or effort (relatively) for kids to experience the balancing, healthful impacts of yoga asanas. Studies from Harvard and so many other resources have shown scientific proof of its enormous benefits in children.

The health benefits of yoga are well known to those who practice and experience the benefits first hand. But beyond personal experience or anecdotal evidence, these benefits are becoming well documented. In addition to flexibility and strength, yoga can assist with mindfulness, concentration and ultimately, confidence. Other benefits include better sleep, strengthened immune system, improved motor skills, coordination, and agility.

There have been numerous studies that show a relationship between academic improvement and stress reduction, in addition to improvements of memory. For school-age children (like those I volunteer with), this obviously translates to improvements with studying and preparing for exams. The topic of academic improvement is particularly relevant given that during the pandemic, we saw children’s academic performance decreasing overall due to the limitations of online learning and lack of direct access to teachers in person to help offset and overcome the setbacks so many kids experienced during the pandemic, Yoga can, and has been shown to be, a very effective means to accessing these benefits.

Aside from physical health, yoga can be so self-affirming, because it is non-competitive, unlike other activities and sports that have competition at their core. This is the difference between PE or team sports, and Yoga. Everyone can do yoga at their own pace. The only competition one has is oneself, in the sense that yoga philosophy does not embrace the idea of practicing in a way that is better/stronger or in any other way “superior” to anyone else. The goal is simply to gradually improve one’s own health and well being. This aspect is really valuable for kids struggling with self-esteem, because it gives them a safe context to engage in healthy activities without needing to experience performance anxiety or other stresses. In this aspect, yoga has proven to raise self-esteem in kids.

It’s so important now more than ever, with attention spans before decreasing and competition for attention growing exponentially, to teach kids how to calm their minds, how to focus on their breath, how to stay centered throughout their day, through whatever challenges it may bring. The relaxation that comes along with yoga, mindfulness and meditation, can help cut through the stress of our fast paced world and build inner calm. I think most of us can agree that our children, our world, and our future generations will benefit greatly by the benefits that yoga has to offer. My hope is to give them the spark they need to ignite a passion for yoga in their lives. My goal is to help guide the next generation towards a kinder and more compassionate world, by getting more kids doing yoga

Suni Gargaro has been a practitioner of yoga for over 18 years. She has her RYT-200 certification from International Yoga Alliance, under her master teacher Shashi Pottathil. She is the founder of Sunia Yoga, an eco-friendly yoga clothing brand, and Sunia Kids, a wellness and mindfulness programme for elementary school kids in San Diego, California.

Sources:

  • 7 Benefits of Yoga for Young Kids | Arizona Early Childhood (azearlychildhood.org)
  • 8 Benefits of Yoga For Kids – DoYou
  • 31 Proven Benefits of Yoga for Kids (thegoodbody.com)
  • Permission to Unplug: The Health Benefits of Yoga for Kids – HealthyChildren.org
  • 10 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga For Kids – Nurtured Neurons
  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/more-than-just-a-game-yoga-for-school-age-children-201601299055
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26491461/
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