It’s no secret that in the West we favor a fast-paced lifestyle. At the tender age of 4, in order to prepare us for the adult world of work, we are introduced to the pressures of schooling and a 40 hour a week timetable. On top of the early mornings, after-school clubs and homework assignments, we are expected to be high achievers, constantly having to prove our academic worth and living in competition with our peers. From a young age we are no strangers to stress.
Of course school is vital to producing well-functioning, healthy, happy and contributing members of society, but as many are now realizing, current education systems are focused towards cultivating mostly the left side of the brain. The left side of the brain is concerned with a linear timeline, with language and with our identity – we use it to figure out problems and to make sense of our surroundings. Children who are natural left-brainers are better at math, science and languages.
On the other hand, the right side of the brain is concerned with the present moment. It thinks in pictures and in emotions, providing us with a feeling or a sense of what is around us. Children who are natural right-brainers are better artists, dancers and poets. Unfortunately, these subjects are usually valued as less important than the left-brain subjects, meaning that children go through school with the focus mainly only on one side of their brain; not exactly ideal for cultivating balanced individuals with a broad range of intelligence.
This is where yoga for children comes in.
Yoga – like the right side of the brain – is the practice of coming into the present moment, it helps to cultivate our sensory awareness, learning to listen to our bodies wants and needs. If practiced from a young age, yoga can help relieve stress, prevent injury and promote overall health. Here are some ways yoga can positively affect children’s wellbeing.
Awareness of the Breath
There are many kinds of breathing exercises associated with yoga; there are exercises that can relax you, and there are exercises that can energise you, with all the exercises requiring concentration. If taught in a fun and engaging way it can help increase a child’s capacity to concentrate and help to connect them to their bodies – naturally reducing stress and encouraging the release of endorphins.
The balancing poses in a yoga class are great at bringing children into the present moment. Balancing on one foot requires concentration and attention, teaching highly energetic children how to best apply their energy. Falling out of balance is also an important lesson to learn at a young age. Teaching a child that it is ok to fall out of a pose or wobble, will show them that life is not about your successes, but rather about how you react to your ‘failures’, and that these are all part of the journey.
Strength and Flexibility
All children want to be fast, strong and agile and all parents want their children to develop good coordination and a healthy body. In school these skills are normally developed through races, gymnastics classes and competitive sports. Yoga for children will cultivate all of these characteristics in a non-competitive environment, promoting both the children’s overall bodily health as well as increasing their strength and flexibility. A healthy body will digest food, circulate oxygen and recover from injury much more efficiently than an unhealthy one. Through games and interactive play, a teacher can show the children exactly how yoga will benefit their bodies.
Any parent or teacher will know that it is hard to get children to relax. In yoga, there are many techniques to promote relaxation for the excitable child, helping them to create space and reduce the stresses of a demanding timetable. End of class relaxation can be brought about by getting the child to lie down on their mat, and bringing their mind into focus by asking them to think of their favorite toy or something they did at the weekend while counting their breaths.
There are many ways to teach yoga for children and many benefits they can reap from a regular class. By improving concentration and enabling children to tune into the sensory awareness within their bodies, the inclusion of yoga into a school schedule will help to mould well-rounded individuals who are able to draw on a range of different intelligences. The aim of school is to prepare children well for the highs and lows of adult life, helping them grow into happy, healthy adults, able to contribute to society. The practice of yoga can provide them with the tools they need to achieve this, helping to keep them balance, relaxed and aware of their environment and wellbeing – even in challenging situations.
Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com