My 5-and-a-half-year-old has a new task listed in her agenda — to teach her mummy and daddy yoga. She pulls out the yoga mat and rolls it out like an expert, as we stand gawking. She sits cross-legged and nudges us to do the same. Then she closes her eyes and starts chanting ‘Om’, specifying that the all-encompassing syllable is made of three sounds. As she glides through the asanas one by one, from Parvatasana (mountain pose) to Shavasana (resting pose), we realize that our backs and necks are so stiff that perhaps we should have started learning yoga when we were young like her.
Yoga, unlike many other physical activities, reduces impulsiveness in kids. It brings about calmness and a sense of peace, even while it inculcates discipline, flexibility and strength.
As Somika Basu, an Early Childhood Educator at Ankur Montessori, Bengaluru explains, “When we introduce children to a regular practice of yoga, they are motivated to learn and master new poses, while discovering their own bodies. This includes balance, strength, breathing and movement. Being able to master even the most basic pose, such as touching their toes, or balancing on one leg, is a huge achievement for them. Our youngest children at school are two years old and the earlier they gain mastery over their own bodies’ balance and gross motor skills, the more beneficial it is. Yoga helps strengthen small growing bodies and helps improve flexibility, which can reduce children’s chances of injuries.”
Yoga helps improve kids’ attention in the school as well, Basu says, as it provides a physical outlet to them. “Simultaneously, it teaches them discipline as they work on clearing their minds without getting distracted by their neighbours,” she adds. But do kids find yoga boring compared to other activities like sports? Well, Basu, herself, got into yoga only much later in life as she thought it was slow or not challenging enough as a workout.
“My exercise was focused on competitive goals and challenges, like training for six months to run a sub-2 half-marathon, swimming 100 laps in an hour, or staying on a spin bike for 2 hours. The motivation factor was always external,” she explains. Now, however, she has realized that yoga allows an instantaneous mind-body connection, without the need for props, machines or distractions. She passes this learning on to the kids at the school.
Yoga is being used today as therapy for special kids in many schools as well. Empower, a centre for children with special educational needs in Bengaluru, works with children with autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disabilities. It helps children and their families by providing appropriate guidance, home programmes, counselling, remedial intervention, dance and movement therapy along with yoga therapy.
Shree Soumya, a yoga therapist and a special educator at Empower, says that certain postures like Vrikshasana help bring balance in a child’s autonomic nervous system while simple meditation helps them stay focused, develops concentration, and calms down the mind. She elucidates the example of one of her students with ADHD who, with regular yoga practice, has not only seen improvement in flexibility but has become less anxious as well. Soumya was working in the corporate sector for a long time before switching to teaching yoga full-time because of the job satisfaction she enjoys via the positive impact she sees among her students.
Various studies have also been done globally on the impact of yoga on kids. While some have found yoga to be a promising therapy for kids with ADHD when combined with existing treatment, others have found it to help reduce anxiety and bring about psychological well-being among adolescents. Some studies have also indicated that yoga intervention brings about better classroom behaviour by improving their cognitive, social and emotional skills.
Realizing the potential of yoga for kids, globally, many content creators have tried to make it fun as well. Jaime Amor, from Reading, England, who used to entertain kids at birthday parties, understood early on that movement was a great way to keep kids focused. She started incorporating yoga poses into the stories she was telling and started teaching story-based yoga in schools in 2010. In 2012, her husband, Martin suggested that they record some of these videos and post on YouTube. Today, her YouTube channel, Cosmic Kids Yoga, boasts of over 1.44 million subscribers, and her courses are available on an app as well.
Amor’s yoga videos are fun and creative, incorporating popular characters like Mario, Minions and even Little Red Riding Hood. In the one inspired by Super Mario, you can see her sporting the famous Mario moustache, while she walks her child viewers through the adventures, yoga-style. As per her website, Amor wraps yoga and mindfulness in fun and story, to help kids be happy, healthy and strong.
Sindhu Sajeev, founder of Samartha Yoga in Bengaluru, though, strongly believes in the spirituality aspect of yoga. Besides yoga and the Sanskrit language, Sajeev studies and imparts lessons in the Bhagavad Gita and other Vedanta texts. She believes that teaching yoga to children, is like sowing the seeds of grace, love and happiness in those tiny hearts. “It will grow into a nurturing tree of joy that will protect them throughout their life,” she explains.
Barkha Shah is a Bengaluru-based writer and digital marketing strategist.