On this day, we celebrate the physical and mental well-being that yoga brings into our lives.  Yoga benefits stretch further than just physical exercise (pun intended). The Yoga philosophy teaches us that we are part and parcel of everything. On this parenting feature, we focus on ways to improve your child’s physical and mental strength through yoga and to help us learn this, is Banesa Tseki, Co-owner of The Nest Space Yoga Studio, and Izelle Nair, Yoga Educator at Earth Yoga. 

Mental Well-being Through Yoga

As much as we might think that children don’t have a lot going on in their lives and that they might not need any exercises to improve their health, this is not true. Children need their mental well-being taken care of. 

”Yoga and often mindful practices offer numerous psychological benefits for children,” – Banesa Tseki 

”I have seen yoga improve children’s focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and general behaviour. It can also reduce anxiety and stress,” explains Tseki. 

The strong connecting between a child’s mental health and yoga enables them to learn how to train their mind and body to bring forth emotional balance. “Breath awareness and learning to take a deep breath when feeling overwhelmed will help to manage their emotions. The breath is the link between body and mind,” says Nair. 

Children need such tools to connect inwardly and to listen to their bodies, feelings, and ideas. ”Children today are facing numerous mental health challenges brought about by several issues, including the constant stimulation of the internet and other media technologies. Yoga has been proven to help children cope with stress and anxiety, allowing them to begin to foster emotional balance, well-being, and mental health,” says Tseki. Research also suggests that yoga improves children’s physical and mental well-being, and from Tseki’s personal experience of teaching yoga in schools, she has seen how the practice directly improves resilience, mood, and self-regulation skills pertaining to emotions and stress.

According to Nair, children love aerial yoga where they incorporate a silk hammock that hangs from the ceiling. However, all yoga for kids styles are helpful and will foster positive thinking. 

Dealing With Trauma Through Yoga

Yoga can be a form of healthy activity for children who went through trauma. Trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event or events that threaten or cause harm to their emotional and physical well-being. ”The core elements of the yoga practice, such as breathwork, postures, and meditation, help to equip children with skills to handle stress and trauma-responses. A trauma-informed yoga practice can strengthen the mind and body connection, helping to reduce overstimulation and reactivity, and encourage relaxation,” shares Tseki. Therefore, Yoga can help give children the power to reclaim control of their bodies and experiences.

“The body is like a library that stores trauma in our cells. The mind might have forgotten however the trauma is still recorded in the body and can lead to disease,” – Izelle Nair

Nair further explains that yoga is a great way for children to express themselves and work the trauma out of the body. “They find their voice again and become more confident”, she adds.

Physical Well-being Through Yoga

Nair shares that yoga builds muscle and bone strength as well as maintains flexibility. It helps with motor skills and brain development. She expands on this by also giving examples, ”Yoga postures develop core strength and aerial yoga builds upper body strength. These postures can also help to drain the lymph and keep their bodies healthy by strengthening the child’s immune system.”

Yoga focuses on our body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing. Its purpose is to build strength, awareness, and harmony in both the mind and body. ”There are many different types, or schools, of yoga, ranging from;

Vinyasa – Is a style of yoga characterised by stringing postures together so that you move from one to another, seamlessly, using breath.

Hatha -Typically involves a set of physical postures (yoga poses) and breathing techniques.

Kundalini – Involves chanting, singing, breathing exercises, and repetitive poses.

Ashtanga – Ashtanga yoga is a powerful tool to tune the body. It improves focus, balance and coordination.

Kemetic – Involves a combination of physical movements, deep breathing techniques and meditation.

Most sessions typically include breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming postures/asanas that stretch and flex various muscle groups. Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps one manage stress and anxiety, which can have devastating effects on our bodies, mental health, and lives,” says Tseki.

“Today, being International Day of Yoga, it is more important than ever to recognise this day, as we are all stressed and collectively traumatised by this pandemic. Think about how much it affected you. Our kids read us subconsciously and feel everything we do. Movement is medicine. Now is the time for everyone to connect with themselves and experience a sense of ease and inner peace,” says Nair.

Tseki gives these five tips on why children should practice Yoga.

  1. Stillness and Concentration. 

Today’s world offers kids so many distractions and hyper forms of stimulation, making it difficult for them to focus. Through yoga, kids can develop their concentration skills and learn how to be focussed. Kids learn this by learning how to focus on correct body alignment but most importantly, by learning to focus on their breath. 

2. Discipline 

When children learn how to practice yoga, they tend to learn the very essence of committed practice. It makes them apply the learning to their daily life activities. They develop a discipline that is an integral quality in self-improvement and regulation.

3. Connection

Yoga can serve as a bridge for children to connect with both their inner and outer worlds. Through yoga, kids can interact and socialise with other children which can help them develop their communication and social skills. We were taught in our training that kids learn better through socialisation and they become more aware of the world around them. 

4. Confidence building

Yoga’s ability to boost a child’s confidence and self-expression is life-changing.  Confidence building done early, can help children build up a strong personality which will serve and benefit them well in the future. 

5. Boosts Mental Wellness

Mental health should not just be a priority for adults but children too. Most of us accumulate a lot of tension and stress during our childhood. Childhood memories go a long way in terms of shaping our mindset. Having suffered from mental illness as a child, I learned first-hand that if you boost the mental wellbeing of children in their early stages, it will help them develop and utilise the skills to manage their mental health, up to adolescence and adulthood.

To end off today’s parenting feature, I leave you with this quote from The Dalai Lama, ”If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”