As adults, we’re well aware of the need to insulate ourselves from the stresses of an increasingly competitive, costly, and insecure world. It almost seems that every time we listen to the news or engage with social media, there’s a new reason to pursue and practice self-healing techniques.
For the past 20 years, I’ve used yoga as a means to find inner peace and center myself during times of anxiety or stress. Spending time on the yoga mat brings me contentment and mindfulness needed to successfully navigate through life’s twists and turns, and to skillfully adapt to lifestyle changes such as starting a family.
If you’re a parent, you already know that even the most free-spirited child isn’t immune to societal pressures. In fact, challenges we simply walk through may seem insurmountable to them, especially when change is involved. Kids simply don’t have the emotional maturity or experience to handle stressful situations, and complete meltdowns can occur at the most inopportune time.
My first-hand experience with this started when my oldest son was 4 years old. He experienced significant anxiety from new situations, such as starting school or going to camp, as well as from smaller, seemingly ordinary circumstances. More often than not, I’d have to quickly remove him from a store as he screamed uncontrollably. I wasn’t always sure of what triggered him, or how I could help alleviate his anxiety.
Then it struck me: if yoga works to help me through life’s challenges, why wouldn’t it help my son?
The very next day, we sat down and tried some breathing exercises. It took a little time and patience, but once he started getting the hang of it, his expression started to relax. On another occasion, we started doing poses, acting out little scenarios that kept the breathing and movement fun and on a level he could relate to.
I was struck by how open he was to be learning the yogic disciplines, and even more astounded by the results. He became a completely different child, with increased mindfulness and more emotional control. No more outbursts without attempting to use the coping skills he’s learned to overcome triggers that would normally be a struggle for him to face.
All of the benefits that yoga brings adults are amplified for children, which is why it’s important to introduce yoga to children during these impressionable years. Yoga encourages an acceptance of oneself that comforts them during times of self-doubt. It encourages a mindfulness that creates a positive outlook, increases confidence, and builds resilience tools that kids can use their entire lives. Yoga also ties in nicely to other aspects of healthy living, including exercise, nutrition, and overall well-being.
In short, yoga celebrates all the beautiful parts of life.
Since receiving my children’s yoga teaching certification, I’ve developed school and daycare programs for youth to further promote deep breathing and calming techniques that help them cope, develop, and grow in a positive setting.
During these sessions, my teachers and I use fun scenarios to get the kids moving and breathing, and change the names of the poses to ones more accessible to kids. We also use flashcards to openly discuss how we’re feeling that day. If someone isn’t feeling their best, we try as a group to make it better, helping everyone develop empathetic life skills. Parents have already expressed how happy they are with the changes in their kids’ approach to stress, and noted an overall improvement in mood and behaviour. They’re also impressed with the increased focus and attention span, leading to improved academic performance and better grades in school.
One of my favourite teaching experiences involved a boy who was diagnosed with autism. His teacher initially expected him to just watch, but became amazed as the student got up and fully participated, wearing a bigger smile than anyone (next to mine, of course – I was thrilled by this incredible breakthrough).
That little boy reinforced how yoga supports positive overall health in children, and can help kids of all abilities blossom as they develop into young adults.
This is especially crucial because, as kids grow older, they become even more subject to the social pressures found at school, in after-school activities, and online. Teenagers will have a much better adolescence with self-confidence already ingrained, and not depend on social acceptance they believe they can find on social media or elsewhere.
It can be a scary world out there at any age. We can help prepare our children to better handle life’s challenges with the tools, skills, and mindfulness they learn with kids yoga.