Yoga is one of the fastest-growing forms of exercise and stress reduction in the United States — for adults and increasingly for kids. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, 15 percent of adults have done yoga in the previous six months, and a “growing body” of research is examining the benefits of yoga for children. There’s even evidence that yoga can help pediatric cancer patients improve their quality of life.
A recent study in the journal of the Annals of the New York Academy of Science found that there is good evidence that school-based yoga programs can help improve health and reduce stress.
So with all these benefits, should parents start their toddlers and preschoolers in yoga? Is that even possible?
According to Jessica Walsh, founder of YogiDance kids yoga and member of Yoga International, it’s possible to teach young yogis the ancient practice of yoga, as long as you begin by recognizing that kids are not just little adults. They will learn and move differently than a new adult learning yoga. Here are her four tips for teaching kids yoga:
1. Don’t get too attached to your plans. Preschoolers are distracted, playful, rambunctious, and not exactly masters of staying on task. It’s OK, according to Walsh. It’s more important to have fun.
2. Keep them focused on the teacher. Kids feed on each other’s energy, and one crying child could turn into a room full of misery in minutes. Ideally, the attention should be on the teacher (even if it’s you).
3. Maintain discipline. This is especially true in class settings. Kids learn better when they understand the ground rules. State simple, clear instructions for behavior in a way that toddlers can understand.
4. Let them be creative! Kids love imagination play and making up scenarios. Don’t make yoga into work; let them be dinosaurs, animals, or anything else that seems fun and interesting. They can learn the proper names for poses later.
But when is it a good time to start? It depends, says Walsh. In classroom situations, children as young as three can sometimes participate and learn the basics and fundamentals. It’s a good idea to try a local yoga class for children; if it’s challenging or your child seems uninterested, come back in six months.
Overall, one of the main benefits of yoga for very young children is increasing their physical activity and having some fun. While most kids aren’t ready for a structured exercise program, it’s still important they get lots of activity and play to help build strong muscles and bones, reduce excess weight, and help them feel calm and aware of their bodies.
- Child yoga is not like adult yoga but for smaller people; it’s a different practice entirely.
- Children as young as 3 years old can start practicing yoga, but don’t be discouraged if it’s not working out right away.
- Give children rules and discipline but still let them be creative and make believe.