Yoga for Kids

Not long ago a national survey found that 3% of U.S. children perform yoga. That was four years ago, and that number, 1.7 million, was up from just 400,000 in 2007. It’s safe to say that yoga is becoming increasingly popular among American children.

For wellbeing and mindfulness, not to mention physical health, it’s hard to knock yoga for school-age children. Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance and aerobic capacity in children ages 6 to 12. And the pile of published research steadily grows showing that it can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance and classroom behavior, as well as reduce stress and anxiety.

Yoga may help children with ADHD, as well, by improving the core symptoms: inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsivity. It can also boost school performance in children with ADHD. Many schools now integrate yoga into physical education curricula, and studios offering classes for kids are springing up rapidly in many communities.

If you are looking for a fitness activity you can do at home with your children, yoga is a great one to fold into your repertoire. It’s also an opportunity to weave in parables and “teachable moments” on compassion, gratitude, acceptance of self and others, persistence and strength.

The following are simple and fun yoga exercises and games you can do with your children. They are relayed here just as you might relay them to your kids.

Simple yoga breath exercise
  • Take a deep breath in and hold it for a count of three.
  • Breathe out forcefully, like you’re blowing out a candle.
  • Repeat this for five cycles of breath.
Flying bird breath
  • Stand tall, with arms at your sides and feet hip-width apart in standing Mountain Pose.
  • Imagine being a beautiful, strong bird.
  • Pretend to prepare to fly by inhaling and raising your arms (“wings”) until your palms touch overhead. Keep your arms straight.
  • Exhale slowly as you bring your arms back down to your sides, palms facing down.
  • Repeat in a steady motion with each breath: inhale as you raise your arms, and exhale as lower your arms.

Optional: Close your eyes as you repeat the movements, imagining you are flying in the sky like a bird.

Mirror, mirror
This game is a good warmup exercise to increase focus.

One person starts as the leader. The leader chooses a pose to do and shows it to the others.
The other players copy the leader’s pose as if they are looking into a mirror. Change the leader with each round of poses, so that everyone has a turn at being the leader.

Yogi says
One person is selected as the Yogi. The other players must do the yoga poses that the Yogi tells them to do if the instruction starts with “Yogi says.” If the Yogi doesn’t use “Yogi says,” then players do not do the pose. Keep changing the person who is Yogi, so that everyone gets a turn.

Red light, green light yoga
One person is chosen as the Stoplight. He or she stands at the front of the room. The other players are the “cars,” and they start at the opposite wall. The Stoplight starts the game by calling “Green light!” The other players then use yoga poses to move forward. When the Stoplight calls “Red light!,” each player needs to be in a yoga pose and remain still. Everyone takes a turn being the Stoplight.

Meditation
Meditation can be short and simple, and does not have to involve complex yoga poses or staying still in a quiet, dark room. Playing a “meditation game” with your children before bedtime can be an effective way to relax them and ready them for sleep. Turn off electronic devices and reflect on the day with your children, using questions like, “What are you grateful for today?”

Here are a few simple meditations for children, which can be done for as little as 30 seconds or for several minutes.

Mindful awareness meditation

  • Find a comfortable seated position or lie down.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Try to listen to every single sound in the room.

Loving kindness meditation

  • Find a comfortable seated position or lie down.
  • Close your eyes and think about someone you love.
  • Hold them tight in your heart and continue to think about that person.

Harvard Health Blog, January 2016, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog

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