Yoga programs for children continue to grow in popularity and number in yoga studios and in schools throughout the US. While most of the initial objections to teaching yoga in public schools have been resolved, there remain a number of parents who choose to pull their kids out of yoga programs. Those who do so may wish to reconsider based on recent reports which suggest promising benefits for yoga-practicing youth.
In the UK, a recent report shares that children as young as 9 are being taught yoga and meditation to improve school performance; a non-clinical, anecdotal report shares that students in south-east London scored 100% on exams after being taught breathing exercises by their instructors.
The Institute for Extraordinary Living is conducting research on the impact of PE-integrated yoga classes on adolescent health, cognitive performance, and mood in suburban and rural Massachusetts public schools. Student reports have suggested increases in empathy and breakdown of peer cliques within the yoga setting.
Clinical research suggests that yoga supports sharpened concentration; reduces behavioral problems, stress, heart rate, headaches, and general tension; lengthens attention span; and improves grades, physical health, and self-esteem among children of all ages.
By teaching yoga to children, we engender positive behavioral templates and traits—such as self compassion, acceptance, mindfulness, empathy, resilience, positive coping in response to stress, and self-care—that foster the cultivation of a healthier, more conscious, compassionate, and connected citizenry.
When children practice yoga, developmentally and physiologically they are more malleable than adults; the templates established in childhood can form behavioral habits and neural pathways that persist over the course of the lifespan. Physiological development may lead to safety issues for children under age 6 who practice yoga, but when practiced in a safe environment for older children, it has significant potential to positively aspect many domains of functioning.
Both the curriculum for teaching children yoga and research on the benefits (or contraindications) of children practicing yoga is relatively new. As more children practice yoga in studios and schools, and more research is conducted, we expect to see even greater short and long term benefits emerge.
Do your children practice yoga? How has yoga effected their behavior and well-being?