At the age of eight children have the awareness and ability to feel and understand their bodies at a much deeper level. Yoga can now be taught with more focus on alignment and connecting their bodies to their mind and emotions.
When taught using age-appropriate techniques the results are incredible.
This doesn’t mean taking time out for a daily yoga class but integrating yoga throughout the day, providing skills for life and perhaps making the job of a teacher just that little bit easier.
1. Increase learning potential and outcomes in schools
Imagine – it’s been a long day and the children are fading fast but teacher has a schedule and was really hoping they could get to grips with long division. A couple of yoga postures, which can bring energy into the body and fresh oxygenated blood to their brains, and the whole class are in a different learning zone.
The reverse will work too – the class has just come in from playtime, they may even have consumed some sugary snacks. The kids are hyper, and their attention is all over the place. Five minutes of postures to calm and focus and once again the children are in a different zone, as is their teacher.
This all sounds too good to be true, yet yoga has been proven to help cognitive, emotional and behavioural outcomes. It provides the children and teaching staff with a self-regulation toolbox to help manage or alter their impulses or responses.
On all our LGY training courses, trainees are taken into a classroom or environment to work with a class full of children. On the two days leading up to the practical we cover the theory on how yoga can change the way we feel. This is magnified when working with the children – whereas we might take 15 minutes to alter our state the children, on the other hand, only need a couple of postures. It’s quite incredible to witness the immediate transformation.
2.Yoga is mindfulness
Mindfulness is about staying in the moment and accepting and appreciating everything as it is.
It’s wonderful that mindfulness is becoming part of everyday school life as a way of dealing with present-day stress. Some children do find it more difficult than others to concentrate and focus their minds feeling the positive effect.
Yoga is often referred to as meditation in motion, so can help achieve mindfulness for those who struggle to sit still. Here attention is directed to particular parts of the body while the child is in a yoga pose.
The awareness is on how the body feels, all the sensations, keeping the child very focused on the present moment.
This focus takes the child’s attention inwards and contributes to the withdrawing of all other senses and distractions.
3. Reduces sports injuries or likelihood of repetitive strain
A recent increase in the number of children participating in competitive sports has resulted in an increase in stress injuries. These stress injuries can be difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat.
Some of the more common injuries children develop at this age include Osgood-Schlatter syndrome, shin splints, stress fractures and tennis elbow.
These stress injuries occur when too much stress is placed in an area of the body resulting in inflammation, muscle strain, tissue damage and sometimes fracture. This is often contributed to an over-developed muscle pulling a joint out of alignment.
Of course, a good stretching programme can alleviate this and often prevent these injuries from happening, but children find stretching boring.
Encouraging the children to participate in yoga will not only balance these overused muscles but teach them how to spot tight areas in their body.
4.Yoga embodies power
Generally speaking, children today are not as active as children were 20 years ago. Contributing factors are concerns over safety, more parents working and an increased interest in online activities. More and more children stay socially connected with their friends by playing their computer games online. Hand-held devices are putting strain on young bodies from the hours of sitting in one position, contracting muscles down one side of their body.
Our bodies are designed to move and, quite frankly, if we don’t use it we lose it.
Remember how your child moved as a baby – the crawling, the desire to walk and the delight in doing so. Now it’s a struggle to get them outside for a walk!
Movement creates feel-good endorphins but also moving the joints through their full range of motion keeps the body working. Think about your hips and how it was easier as a child to sit cross-legged on the floor – lack of use, in this area, has contributed to stiffening up.
It’s empowering to move and it’s particularly empowering for children to be able to stand on their hands as well as their own two feet – they feel free, strong, the sense of achievement is huge and it’s not all about strength. It’s about your body being properly stacked – knees above ankles, hips above knees, shoulders above hips and the cherry on top is your head perfectly balanced on top.
5. Maintain a balanced physical body
Children who don’t participate in competitive sport can and do develop muscular imbalance from a very young age. Remember that none of us are totally symmetrical, but developing body awareness at this age can help avoid imbalances which put strain on our joints and spine and, of course, cause pain.
Most parents will have seen their child kneeling with one foot tucked under; carrying their bag on one shoulder and rotating their upper body while doing so and standing with weight on one leg.
All of these habitual problems can be changed once we become aware.
Long-term effects could result in shortening of one side of the body, rotation of the pelvis and even scoliosis of the spine.
Remember one of the jobs of the skeleton is to protect the internal organs – misalignment can ultimately affect our organs too.
Teachers and parents telling their children to sit up straight, shoulders back etc has always been the norm, but with a daily yoga practice that may be one less thing to moan about.
- Little Greene Yoga will be running their alignment-based yoga for eight to 12-year-olds teacher training course in Jersey on 30 June – 2 July. See littlegreeneyoga.com/yoga_training_8-12yrs/ for details.