Recent studies have shown that today's kids are more stressed than many parents realize. According to the American Psychological Association's Stress in America research, "Children age 8 to 17 say they worry about doing well in school, getting into good colleges and their family's finances. They also report suffering headaches, sleeplessness and upset stomachs." The survey also found that many parents don't know their children are experiencing stress.
In our increasingly hectic world, where children's days are filled with school, homework, and extracurricular activities, it's vital that they know how to deal with stress, especially since they seem to be keeping it to themselves. By developing coping strategies early in life, kids will be more well-equipped to handle stress and may be less likely to develop psychological conditions related to chronic stress.
One way to help children handle stress is to incorporate a yoga practice into their daily routine. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in adults, and the same techniques often work for children. By helping kids focus on the present moment and become aware of their breath and body, we teach them a very important coping mechanism for stressful situations: mindfulness.
According to Marsha Weng in Yoga Journal, "When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life's challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that's noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children."
Children derive many other benefits from a regular yoga practice in addition to reduction of stress and anxiety. For example, yoga can be physically strenuous and promote fitness, helps children with body awareness, promotes motor function and balance, and teaches children to listen to their bodies.
Alice Louise Blunden, a senior Yoga Medicine instructor who teaches both locally in London and instructs teachers in training all over the world, is also the founder of The Yoga Project UK, a company that connects yoga teachers with schools across the UK. She discussed her recommended yoga poses for children via email in an interview with Green Matters, which has been edited for clarity below.
To build self confidence, we always practice tree pose in my kid's yoga classes. Balancing in this pose is great for building core and leg strength, and focusing the mind helps with their concentration skills. It can be a really challenging posture to begin with and often the kids will fall over like dominoes! But when the little yogis finally manage to balance, even for just a moment or two, they always shout out in glee so it's worth the effort.
Resting in child's pose is perfect for bringing a sense of calm. Whenever the class starts to feel a little chaotic (which can happen quite quickly with kids), I bring the children into child's pose and it always transforms the atmosphere from being a manic mess to a place of peace and quiet.
I'll always include pranayama exercises in my kid's yoga classes. Lion's breath is without a doubt the all time favorite among the students. Most kids need little encouragement to pull a silly face by crossing your eyes and poking your tongue out, so this one always ends in giggles. Is there any better way to release tension than laughing?