Dr. Nada Milosavljevic
STRETCH GOALS: SHARING THE BENEFITS OF YOGA WITH YOUR CHILDREN
Yoga’s wisdom goes back 5,000 years when it began in India. The gradual movements of yoga combine challenging exercise with deep empathy – the understanding that people of all athletic abilities should be able to benefit from the mindfulness and stretching that form the core of the practice. Because it is so adaptable to individual needs, yoga supports the perfect union of mind and body in adults as well as in children. Adults who have grown their inner and outer strength through yoga are often eager to share this practice with their kids.
The physical, psychological and nervous system rewards of yoga are abundant. Some of the best include: reduced stress, increased self-awareness, decreased anxiety and depression, enhanced concentration, improved calmness and inner peace, better energy and vitality, as well as greater creativity.
If you’re already doing yoga for yourself as an adult, be careful not to have children do the exact same series of movements that one would encounter in an adult yoga class. Here are some exercises that cause less stress for kids with growing bodies and joints:
Pose like a child
Kneel on your mat and sit your bottom on your heels; then, rest your head on the floor in front of you and place your hands by your sides. Breathe deeply in and out. While holding this position, continue to take several deep breaths and slowly exhale.
Be a lotus flower
Sit down on your mat and keep your back straight (shoulders away from the ears!), then rest your hands (gently) on your knees and close your eyes. Breathe deeply in and out several times.
Touch your knees! Touch your toes!
Stand up straight as an arrow, then bend forward slowly from the hips, keeping your back as straight as you can and bending your knees just a little. Rest your hands on your knees (gently) and keep your back straight. When you’re ready, continue to bend forward until you can touch your toes. Take several deep breaths in and out. If you need to stand up, just bend your knees and slowly roll up to a standing position.
How do you convince your kids to embrace yoga? Lead by example and make the exercises fun! Follow their passion and interests to keep them engaged, and don’t be afraid to get creative. Some children like to be rewarded for trying new things, so you may consider making a “heart chart” for your children that promises them a healthy heart (or a happy heart, or a compassionate heart), and uses stickers and magic markers to show their progress. After they achieve a certain number of hearts, they can earn a special treat. It’s a terrific motivator.
In addition to making the exercises engaging and fun, you can also incorporate them into a child’s daily routine—just like brushing their teeth or washing their hands and faces. It’s like hygiene for the soul. Pick a time (preferably the same time) every day that is likely to complement your—and your children’s—schedule … and stick to it. I’m a big believer in daily exercise and mediation. There’s no doubt that taking a few minutes every day to breathe, focus and move in harmony can bring increased levels of happiness and tranquility into children’s lives. Before you know it, mind / body work will become a seamless part of your children’s daily routines.
In doing yoga on a daily basis, one should remember that the benefits of mind / body work are holistic, and therefore, deeply interwoven. The exercise involved in yoga is different from kids running around on the playground until they feel tired. Rather, yoga teaches kids how to feel and think in the moment, to focus on a simple exercise that combines breath and motion. These exercises can help children bring an increased level of awareness and purpose into other areas of their lives – like schoolwork, interpersonal skills and sports.
The regular practice of yoga-based exercises builds strong, healthy postures and muscle tone. Further, it develops deep, centered breathing that can boost brain function and help children stay alert and focused. Making it a part of your children’s daily routines can have huge payoffs today. And when your children grow up, I’m sure they’ll be thankful for your efforts!