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Studies show that yoga for children is an effective way to build self-confidence and incorporate healthy physical activity into everyday living. The type of yoga practiced by children tends to be a variation of regular yoga sequences practiced by adults. Most orthodox yoga routines can be adapted for a younger practitioner. They deviate from traditional practice in that sessions are shortened, and any extreme yoga poses are disregarded. The most common types of yoga for children include Ashtanga and Lyengar, which are derived from Hatha yoga.
These practices can be altered to meet a child’s needs relatively easily. Yoga for children tends to prescribe poses, or asanas, based on animals and plants. Three common poses in yoga for children include the snake, tree, and dog asanas. Often times, after the child is in the pose, he can then be guided in age-appropriate visualization. The teacher will ask him to imagine what it feels like to be a tree, for example, and then facilitate any creative play that might arise from the pose.
Many benefits from yoga practice for children have been identified. A study published in the Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed a decreased risk of depression and anxiety in children participating in a yoga practice, as well as a decreased risk of obesity and associated low self-esteem. In addition, caregivers who work with children with disabilities like autism have reported that yoga shows promise as an adjunct therapy. Yoga is considered safe for the majority of children, but parents should still seek approval from their child’s pediatrician. Children suffering from asthma, for example, may need to monitored closer than the average child.
Yoga for children can be implemented as early as infancy, and many progressive daycare facilities offer infant classes that focus on mimicry and music. During a child’s preschool years, practicing simple yoga can help concentration by helping the child learn to sit still for a few minutes. Preschool yoga classes often times revolve around creative movement, a more relaxed yoga practice than following a sequence of postures. When the child gets older and more experienced, the length of sessions can be increased, leading to a more fulfilling experience. As they grow to be teenagers, more complex asanas are introduced, and the child can naturally start to grow into an adult yoga practice without the intimidation that some adults experience when they begin a yoga program.
A good way to get younger kids really involved in yoga is to tell a story that involves the different poses they need to do. For example, as noted here, animal and plant asanas are most common with kids, so a story could begin with them in a dog pose and tell the story of how the dog meets a snake--so they would then need to go into snake pose. This can be a brief exercise of go on for a good while to get the kids more involved than simply using yoga as an exercise class.
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