What are the benefits…
At the tender age of 4, we are already introduced to the concept of stress. School is essentially a 40 hour work week, with added homework and any other extracurricular activities taking up more time. Throughout our academic lives, the pressure is high. Life seems to be filled with expectations to be high achievers, constantly competing with our peers.
To produce happy and healthy individuals, who will grow into well-functioning, maybe contributing members of society, we need to focus on all the intelligences of the body and mind too. However, modern-day schooling is largely focused on left-brain topics such as maths, science and languages. More right-brain subjects, like art, dance and creative writing, tend to take a back seat. To be an effective, intuitive problem solving, children need to be educated in mind, body, and soul.
The right-brain is all about the present moment; it puts us in touch with our sensory experience, thinking in pictures and emotions. The left-brain operates on a linear timeline; it is concerned with our personal identity and thinks in language. When balanced, both sides of the brain offer us a more versatile intelligence; we are able to creatively solve problems and experience life through different perspectives.
Like the right-side of the brain, yoga is the practice of bringing us into the present moment. If practiced regularly, it helps us listen to the needs of our bodies, relieve stress and prevent injury, all whilst promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some ways that introducing yoga can positively benefit your child:
Using breath in yoga not only encourages concentration (extremely useful for a learning, growing child), but it also actively reduces stress by calming the nervous system. For a child, understanding the connection between the breath, the body, and brain functions, is an extremely useful tool that will serve them throughout their lives. Connecting to our breath literally has the power to rewire the emotional responses in our nervous system.
Part of teaching a kids yoga class is to tap into their innate creative abilities. Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not a personality trait, but a state of mind. One of the best ways to cultivate this is to encourage children to build bodily awareness. This means taking the energy of focus from their minds, into their bodies, allowing them to tap into their sensory experience. In a class, this can be done by asking children to feel certain parts of their bodies, notice how they feel when they wiggle there toes, or how they feel when they stretch their arms up above their heads. Not only does this cultivate creativity, but it also gives them mental space away from the stresses of school and society, setting the stage for the development of good mental health in the future.
Yoga builds strength and flexibility, and helps to cultivate overall body fitness in a non-competitive environment. This improves a child’s health and happiness through the release of endorphins, without encouraging rivalry against classmates. A healthy body also means better circulation, respiration, digestion, and brain function.
Sometimes getting a child to relax seems like mission impossible. Luckily, yoga teachers have countless techniques to help your child wind-down and get some much needed space. Relaxation helps to reduce the stress of a demanding timetable, and activates the parasynthetic nervous system (also known as our rest-and-digest system). Rest and relaxation allows new ideas, ways of thinking and perspectives to emerge, supporting your child as they navigate their identity.
Ultimately, childhood should prepare our children for the highs and lows of adult life. By cultivating the right-side of the brain, promoting good health, and encouraging a relationship with the body built around awareness, yoga can equip our children with the right intelligences to grow into balanced and happy adults.
Luckily, recently we have seen in the media the education system in the UK is beginning to realise this, and soon, hundreds of children will be taught mindfulness in school, with the aim of promoting good mental health and regulation of emotions.
As a society, we are much more open about mental health than ever before, and we are beginning to understand what needs to be done to improve our understanding and create positive change for future generations to come.