Clayton Early Learning
12Mar/14Off

Kids Love Yoga! You Will Too!

Erin Jamieson

Posted by Erin Jamieson

By

Erin Jamieson

Earlier this month, after a string of cold ‘inside’ days, I sat back at the end of the day and watched my four year old daughter fidget her way onto the couch, off of the couch, onto the chair, to the floor and back onto the couch. She then repeated this little course about six times in the span of five minutes. As I watched her wiggle around, I fought the urge to tell her, “Just calm down and sit still for one minute!” I’ve gone that route before, and as you probably know, it almost never works.
To a parent or teacher of young children, the cold days of winter and early spring can be long and challenging. Without the ability to get outside and burn some energy, young kids can get jittery and distracted, sensitive, hyper, and unfocused. If we aren’t careful, this kind of behavior can make us grown-ups impatient and frustrated as well. So, what can we do to get through the coldest months of the year without driving ourselves or our children nuts? Well, I can tell you that there is no magical, one-step fix; meeting a young child’s mental, physical, emotional, and social needs requires a vast tool-kit. However, there is one activity that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, that can also help to release pent-up energy and stress, as well as increase our health and general well-being: Try yoga!

Games and activities based in the ancient practice of yoga are showing up in classrooms, gymnasiums, living rooms and locker rooms all over our country in recent years, with remarkable results for the children who practice them. Simple yoga poses increase physical strength, flexibility, and balance, and other yoga techniques like deep breathing and positive imagery can help to relieve feelings of restlessness, frustration, anxiety, and imbalance not just in children, but in their parents and caretakers too.

Yoga is good for Kids!
Children need to move their bodies. When they can’t get outside and run around, they will find a way to move - wandering, fidgeting, squirming, or rough-housing. Yoga offers a structured way for kids to burn off some energy as well as to focus their attention on a motor activity. The postures of yoga are almost all based in nature, and children can easily achieve the ‘shape’ of a tree, an ape, a snake, or a cat, which in turn helps to improve their confidence, balance, and coordination. Children not only have fun playing games based on yoga poses but also enjoy taking on the challenge of trying new things!
Another huge benefit that yoga offers is reduction in stress and anxiety. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, children feel stress. Demanding schedules, over-exposure to media, pressure to make friends and feel successful at school are all things that contribute to high stress levels among our nation’s children, and they need tools with which to manage it. Creative movement gives children an outlet through which they can express confusing or complex feelings such as anxiety. Deep breathing, a cornerstone of the practice of yoga, helps to strengthen the body’s immune, regulatory, and nervous systems, which helps to calm the body and the mind. When kids feel less stress, they enjoy a more relaxed state of being, increased focus and concentration, better body awareness, and an overall boost in self –esteem.
Another aspect still of the practice is visualization. Children naturally have an active and robust imagination. By gently guiding their thoughts using peaceful and positive imagery, we can help to promote further relaxation and ease among our kids. This kind of activity supports children in self-regulation, meaning they become better at managing their own behavior and emotions. Helping children to access a ‘happy place’ within their imagination can help them deal more effectively with their real-life problems.

Yoga is good for Adults!
Adults enjoy and benefit from yoga for many of the same reasons children do – stress-relief, increased ability to concentrate and focus, and deeper feelings of relaxation. The additional benefits which apply to adults who practice yoga, even a very simple practice, are compelling.
As we move through life from cars to desks to meeting rooms to couches, adults loose strength and muscular flexibility pretty easily. Even adults who are highly active, moving from bicycles to soccer fields to gymnasiums can discover that their bodies are stiff and inflexible though strong. The unique movements and postures of yoga address the whole body, stretching large muscle groups such as those that support the spine and low back, as well as challenging muscle groups which we don’t necessarily access in our day-to-day activities. Adults who practice yoga discover increased strength and flexibility in their bodies, and a decrease in sports-related injuries. And contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to be flexible to practice yoga!
Beyond stress-relief, adults who practice yoga can actually decrease their risks for stress related illness such as chronic headaches, hypertension, and heart disease. There is even evidence of decreased feeling of depression and fatigue among adults who practice yoga regularly. When we, as adults, can more effectively manage our stress and tension, the children around us automatically feel less stress and tension. A teacher or parent who can deal effectively with their own stress is not only a great role model for the children they interact with, but is a more patient, more emotionally available caregiver to those children.
And lastly, yoga gets us to breathe. This might sound silly in its simplicity, but it is far from silly. In our busy adult lives we spend our time thinking about bills, work, family, money, meals, childcare, planning for holidays, and more bills. We worry about putting our best foot forward upon many different avenues of life simultaneously; we wonder if we’re doing all of this as well as our friends and neighbors, we worry that we can’t possibly live up to the expectations others might have of us. Our minds can move non-stop; much in the same way we see our youngsters move their bodies non-stop when they don’t get a chance to play outside. By focusing your attention on something as simple and easy as 10 deep breaths, you will give your busy mind a ‘recess’ from the pressure and complexity it deals with every day. And you’ll feel good!
Simple Yoga Activities to Try With Your Children

Flower Breath/Birthday Breath flower
-Close your eyes. Imagine it’ spring, and you’re in a huge field of flowers. Any type of flowers you’d like. Now, bend over and pick a flower. Take a long, deep inhale, smell your flower. Gently exhale. Try again, collect as many flowers as you’d like!
-With eyes still closed, let’s have an imaginary birthday party! How many candles are on your cake? Get ready to blow them out, taking a big inhale…. And like the Big Bad Wolf, blow all of your candles out! Repeat, try blowing out more candles next time! How will you blow out your birthday candles when you turn 90?
Seed to Tree
Come to your hands and knees. Shift you seat relax back toward your heels, letting your forehead relax on or close to the floor. Arms are either extended on the floor above the crown of your head or relaxed Treedown with wrists near your hips. Most importantly, get comfortable. Imagine you are a seed. Take a few moments to feel yourself getting heavy, sinking into the cool, moist earth.

Then, as the seed gets ‘watered’, slowly allow yourself to grow. Move like a small plant sprouting and growing, very slowly and quietly. Breathe deeply as you grow from seed to stalk to tree, from hands and knees roll the spine slowly up to standing. From a standing position, extend your branches outward and upward.Finally, take one foot off the floor and gently place it on the inner shin or ankle of your standing leg. Stand tall and breathe deep, you are a tall, majestic tree!Take turns, allowing one person to pretend to water the seed and the other person to grow into a tree.
Legs up the Wall
Time for a challenge! Get your body into a capital letter ‘L’, with legs going straight up the wall and torso, head and shoulders lying on the floor.
Try reading a book with your kids this way! Try taking some time in this pose before bedtime or naptime, or when your back or shoulders feel tired.
Now there is nothing left for you to do but go for it! You and your kids will be glad you tried a fun new activity together!
Want more?
Denver is a community that is rich in yoga resources! See Radiant Beginnings Yoga, www.radiantbeginningsyoga.com or Yoga for Young Warriors, www.yogaforyoungwarriors.com to learn more about kids’ yoga programs in our community.
For more ideas about how to integrate yoga into your home or classroom routine, check out www.yogainmyschool.com.
Yoga Journal, www.yogajournal.com has a wealth of information about yoga in general, including several resources related to kids and family yoga.
In addition, this spring, Erin Jamieson will be offering drop-in yoga sessions to the Preschool classrooms at Clayton Early Learning and at Clayton Z-Place to those teachers who are interested! A family yoga class may also be on the calendar in the spring of 2014! Stay tuned, and please, speak up if interested!