Yoga’s roots take us to ancient India, about five thousand years ago. Its purpose is to bring well-being on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. The word “yoga” comes from Sanskrit and it is translated as ?union,? or ?to yoke?. The benefits of practicing yoga are well researched and documented. Yoga increases our flexibility, strength, and stamina, improves our posture, body awareness, balance and coordination, and boosts our self-esteem. It reverses the negative effects of stress by lowering cortisol levels, and stabilizes our autonomic nervous system. In short, yoga improves our well-being and overall health. No wonder its popularity in the United States has been on the rise in the last few decades!
Yoga postures are called asanas and constitute only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Breathing techniques (pranayama) and mediation are the other two most well-known limbs. Beyond all the health benefits, what makes yoga a unique form of exercise is that it’s available to everyone regardless of age, fitness level, and health status. It can be practiced by children, teens, adults, elderly, as well as by people who need healing from various medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, arthritis, scoliosis, low back pain and more. The only element yoga requires of us is to give it a try, to roll out our yoga mats and start your practice.
Babies and young children love yoga. Poses such as sit-ups with chin tuck, knee bends, and leg lifts while the baby is on his back (known as “Bridge Pose”) can be used with babies as young as 6-months-old. After all, babies are our teachers when it comes to practicing the “Happy Baby Pose.” Young children love imitating yoga poses. “Child’s Pose” was actually modeled after a child! To make yoga more fun for children, some of the poses are called by animal names such as Cat, Butterfly, Cobra or Dead Bug. Others are inspired by nature such as Tree Pose or Waterfall Pose. Children’s yoga classes often include chanting, signing, and making funny animal noises corresponding with the pose. A knowledgeable teacher will be able to adapt the poses to any child, regardless of his or her abilities. Children participating in high-level sports will benefit from yoga as much as children with severe musculoskeletal conditions. Once a child reaches the teenage years, yoga can ease the anxiety and stress common to that age by bringing forth calmness, confidence, coolness and improved relationships with friends and family.
Yoga is also constructive for children with special needs. Yoga allows children with motor skills disorders to improve their breathing patterns, which are often restricted by tight muscles in the chest wall. It helps “overexcited” muscles to quiet down and lengthen, improving child’s flexibility. For children on the Autistic spectrum, yoga helps to calm their bodies and minds and improves their ability to concentrate, as well as perform an activity with better accuracy and for longer periods of time. Yoga improves a child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth as well as quality of sleep for both child and caregiver.
Practicing yoga as a family helps everyone to connect on a spiritual level and creates an extraordinary bonding experience. It is a great way to enjoy all the benefits that yoga has to offer in the most loving environment imaginable, with your closest family including children and grandparents. It is important that children as well as adults practice yoga regularly to gain full benefits of consistent yoga practice. You can choose to practice in your own living room, or take your practice outside to the garden, city park, or to the beach.
Look out for the second part of this blog post next week to follow a simple asana flow that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Magdalena Oledzka is a pediatric physical therapist and is the section manager at the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner’s Children’s Pavilion, Hospital for Special Surgery. She is NDT trained in the management and treatment of children with cerebral palsy and other neuromotor disorders.