Kids the world over need the same things to thrive: food, clothing, shelter, confidence, security, and a sense of calm. However, no two children are able to receive these necessities in the same way. Some children blossom in routine while others crave variety. One child may require complete silence to relax while his sister needs constant ambient noise to settle down. Similarly, each child’s body has different challenges and strengths. Unlike other physical and recreational activities, Yoga is uniquely suited to meeting each child where they are to develop and enhance the skills they already possess.
A complete kids’ Yoga class should include breathing practice, a variety of postures presented in an imaginative way, and meditation time. This is especially true for a Yoga class adapted for children with special needs, whether it be developmental delays, chronic disease, or cognitive and physical challenges. As Yoga teachers, we strive to develop the whole child – their mind, body, and spirit. Rather than focusing on a disability or using a label, we recognize the child. An adaptive Yoga program celebrates what any child can achieve and how he/she learns.
Physically, Yoga build strength and flexibility through the entire body. The poses promote endurance, coordination, balance and body awareness. Kids also learn how to move their bodies through gross and fine muscle skills and motor planning. Plus, breath work teaches kids to feel their breath and use it to positively affect their mood.
An adaptive kids’ Yoga class supports emotional and social growth, too. Because no postures are “wrong” and you can’t “win” a Yoga class, kids are free to express themselves uniquely and playfully. Through Yoga, children learn to find stillness through physical activity and breath. And children learn to be present, thankful, and kind to themselves and others. Additionally, the children (and their parents) are able to interact through play and shared experiences.
Evidence of Yoga’s benefits are more than just anecdotal. Through neuro-imaging and genomics technology, scientists have been allowed to measure physiological changes in greater detail. Researchers at Harvard, UCLA, and King’s College in London have found evidence supporting the use of Yoga, meditation, and breath work to improve mental and physical well-being. Additionally, a study published in May in the medical journal PloS One showed that one session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion. At the same time, the expression of the genes linked to inflammatory response and stress was reduced. A study from NYU published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that Yoga exercises help kids on the autism spectrum concentrate and focus, and improves their strength, motor coordination and social skills.
If you are interested in the many ways Yoga and other mindfulness practices can benefit all children, you may want to look into First Annual Accessible Yoga Conference being held in Santa Barbara, California, the weekend of September 12-13th. The aim of the conference is to make Yoga more comfortable and accessible for people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. One of the presenters at the conference is Haris Lender, creative force behind Kidding Around Yoga. She will be sharing her years of experience teaching Yoga children all over the world, training other people to share Yoga with kids, and utilizing a huge musical library she developed to get kids moving and grooving to tunes specifically created for a kids’ Yoga class.
Even though every child is unique and brings his/her own strengths and challenges to class, a kids’ Yoga program is sure to benefit each child that rolls out a mat.