Family & Community Life
Yoga Helps Families Stay HealthyView Photo Gallery
Our children face particularly complex challenges today, and we can draw from the ancient philosophy of yoga to teach them how to cultivate happy and healthy lives.
Yoga is more than just stretching. It’s a combination of physical postures, healthy living practices, breathing techniques, meditation, and character education. These practices can be either calming or energizing, depending on your needs at that moment. Truly practicing yoga is more than attending a yoga class once a week. It’s a lifestyle that guides us to choose fresh foods, breathe deeply, play with yoga poses, behave responsibly, and sit quietly for a few minutes once in a while. Yoga is healthy for the body and mind.
How Yoga Helps Families Stay Healthy
The physical postures help build strength, flexibility, and balance. The various movements develop gross and fine motor skills. They also improve digestion and circulation. Besides being good for physical development, yoga also helps to trigger endorphins, which make us feel good. The bending, twisting, and stretching increases body awareness, encouraging children to have a closer connection with their bodies and, ultimately, themselves. We know physical activity promotes good health. Yoga is no exception.
The yoga practices of relaxation and meditation help calm the mind and clear away the clutter of negative thoughts. Guided visualization and relaxation stories teach children coping mechanisms for their busy lives. These techniques are beneficial to soothing the nervous system and helping children learn to focus. Stress is often caused by thinking about the past or future, which can be reduced by living in the present moment through mindfulness practices. For example, encourage your children to focus on one task at a time and embrace the sensory experience of guided visualization or the relaxation story.
In Sanskrit, yoga means “union.” Practicing yoga as a family naturally encourages a strong parent-child bond. The physical postures are fun, energetic, and playful. Share your passion and enthusiasm for movement, build trust, and create an emotional connection with your child through yoga. For example, play yoga songs for children and dance around the living room together. Human connection, happiness, and good health all go together.
Integrating yoga with language learning, music, and storytelling provides children the opportunity to be creative and express themselves through movement. There are no “right” ways to practice yoga, so the possibilities are limitless. The varied opportunities for movement, breathing, and relaxation are empowering for children. They can choose the one they are most comfortable with. They can also express themselves by using their bodies instead of words, or they can act out a story through kids yoga poses. Fully self-expressed and confident children are more likely to regulate their emotions, which is also beneficial for their health, wellness, and ability to learn new, exciting things.
The focus on breathing makes yoga difference from sports or other forms of exercise. Even young children can begin to learn breathing techniques to deal with stress or challenging situations. Deep breathing helps oxygenate the blood, which, in turn, reduces stress and anxiety. Taking a few minutes to sit with a tall spine, count your inhales and exhales, and breathe deeply will relax your muscles and help you focus. During times of stress, we tend to take shallow breaths, which deprive the brain of oxygen and inhibit its ability to function. Breathing deeply gets the rich, oxygenated blood flowing again.
Practicing yoga before bedtime can release tension in your child’s body, and a relaxed child often sleeps better and longer. A bedtime yoga ritual will trigger their minds and bodies to slow down and unwind from the day. Dimmed lights, gentle music, and a quiet household all create a calming atmosphere before lying down for bed. Breathing techniques such as counting your breath or extending your exhale and relaxation stories are also beneficial for inviting sleep. Good sleep habits are proven to improve health and encourage other healthy habits.
As you can see, yoga is so much more than just doing the Downward-Facing Dog Pose. That pose is a lot of fun to practice with children, though. Yoga is a way of life that benefits the health of the whole family.
Which yoga technique will you practice with your family today?
Giselle Shardlow is the author of Kids Yoga Stories. Her yoga-inspired children’s books get children moving, learning, and having fun. Giselle draws from her experiences as a teacher, traveler, yogi, and mom to write her stories.
Updated on 10.23.13