Research has shown that regular yoga practice leads to better mental, physical and intellectual health, and according to psychologist and author of ParentMagic, Carol Surya, the benefits are not only apparent in adults, but children too. Carol reports that in many schools worldwide, it’s now common knowledge that when children practiced yoga, parents, caregivers and teachers see a variety of positive results to include better self-esteem, improved focus and concentration, and reduced fear and anxiety in children.
“Whilst the physical benefits of kiddies’ yoga like building balance, co-ordination and strength are important, we see tremendous positive changes in children’s mental health too,” says Carol. The trend of moving toward a more holistic approach to child wellbeing is fast becoming popular. Just this year, it was announced that over 370 schools in England have introduced mindfulness as a subject to improve youth mental health.
Health benefits of yoga for toddlers
- On a physical level, children build balance, strength and endurance. It also helps with co-ordination, flexibility and increases aerobic and lung capacity.
- Body awareness. Getting in and out of different yoga poses requires an awareness of where your body is in the space, which develops the vestibular sense. Your little one is also developing a sense of how their body parts are moving in relation to one another (proprioception).
- Language development. Yoga can help little ones develop their language skills as they listen to and decipher the instructions of how to get into the poses.
- Helps to develop gross motor skills and confidence in toddlers.
- Builds social skills. If your child does yoga in a group, they are learning to interact and work off each other.
- Instils calm and relaxation. In fact, some yoga poses, and calm breathing can even help your child fall asleep easier.
Carol, who is also the co-founder of WISE (wellbeing in schools and education) shares the following tips to make yoga fun and interesting for your toddler:
- Have a structure. Little ones need structure and consistency, so try and stick to a routine. This way they can also get excited when they know what’s coming next.
- Turn yoga into a game or a story. You can use a storybook and turn some of the characters into yoga poses. For example, you could do ‘unicorn yoga’ and the ‘tree pose’ becomes a unicorn balancing on one leg.
- Get involved. Kids are naturally curious and if they see you doing yoga, they are more inclined to want to join in. It’s also something fun to do together.
- Animal poses. We use the ‘Magic Mat and its little secret’ in our WISE programme which introduces children to yoga through likening the poses to different animals and their qualities. For example, the owl pose is about getting in touch with our inner wisdom, while the giraffe pose helps us to stand tall and believe in ourselves.
- Disney-inspired yoga. Most little ones have their favourite Disney characters, so check out some of the Disney inspired yoga programmes online like Moana. Or get creative and make up your own Disney or cartoon character moves like Spiderman yoga.
- Make yoga cards. Download printable yoga cards off the internet or make your own. Get your child to choose three cards each day or take turns with their siblings to choose. There are some great themed yoga cards available (e.g. wildlife, dinosaurs, marine life etc.).
- Use music that perhaps have lyrics that speak to the yoga movements. There are some great yoga songs for kiddies on YouTube, like I am a mountain or Fly like a butterfly.
- Fun breathing exercises like the ‘Frozen’ game or Teddy bear on my tummy. Play music and every time the music stops, you have to ‘freeze’ and notice your breath (tummy going in and out). Another way to notice breath is to put a teddy bear on the child’s tummy while they are lying down, and they can watch it move up and down with each breath.
- Add fun props like scarves, blankets or colourful yoga blocks. Get your little one to wave their scarf high above their head or roll their blankets into a ball and sit on them. Small kids love having a prop to add extra excitement to the activity.
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