Yoga offers a forum for children to exercise independently in a noncompetitive, yet focused environment. Some may have questions regarding the safety and appropriateness of yoga for children, due to the strenuous nature of certain poses. Parents interested in introducing their children to yoga should be aware of risks and precautions, seek adequate training and ensure their children are practicing under adequate supervision.
Yoga is a form of exercise which is about 5,000 years old, originating in India. The word “yoga,” loosely translated from the Sanskrit language, means “union.” Yoga poses involve a combination of stretching, breathing and mental relaxation (meditation). Many yoga poses have names that draw on elements of nature (animals, landmarks), which can intrigue children and stimulate their efforts.
The Benefits of Yoga Practice
Yoga can develop strength and balance, as children learn to support their own weight in new ways. Yoga highlights good posture and body alignment, as many poses fuse stretches with balancing, yet do not allow straining beyond what is comfortable (i.e, the inverse of a “no pain, no gain” philosophy). The poses encourage focus and concentration, as children must hone their movements to the specific pose or series of poses. Yoga develops flexibility, which can be obtained through repeated stretching.
The Benefits of Yoga for Children
The American Yoga Association (AYA) states that yoga should not be practiced under the age of 16, as the poses induce pressure on various glands which can affect a child’s growth and development. As a result, the AYA opposes children’s books and products that lead cartoon characters through yoga poses without detailed instructions and warnings as to the risks of injury. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has not taken a position, it acknowledges yoga's increased prevalence as a form of exercise. "Yoga is the new soccer," says Lawrence Rosen, M.D., of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Complementary, Holistic and Integrative Medicine. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) encourages yoga as a means for children to learn to quiet the mind, use energy efficiently and take care of themselves. PBS notes that yoga’s individualized standard and pace creates an inclusive environment for children with disabilities.
Yoga Products for Children
Infants and toddlers may be exposed to yoga via “Mommy and Me” classes, where parents stretch around their children or guide them through basic movements (such as raising up their arms). Younger children may practice yoga using decks of “pose cards,” or learn moves from instructional DVDs, which are available in most public libraries.
Yoga Precautions for Children
Children tend to have looser joints and great enthusiasm. As a result, they may be unaware when they are stretching beyond what is safe. Parents without yoga backgrounds who are interested in incorporating yoga should seek proper guidance and instruction. Parents practicing independently with their children should be aware that upside-down poses (such as headstands) pose great risk to children who have limited body awareness. According to yoga instructor Baron Baptiste, only children over 8 should try upside-down poses and only with adult supervision. Lastly, do not consider yoga to be a substitute for aerobic exercise, which is a crucial way to combat the childhood obesity.