Yoga for Life - Childhood Through Young Adult
In the past few decades, yoga has become synonymous with health. Nearly every media outlet has reported research on the health benefits. These range from physiological and psychological benefits to biochemical benefits.1 While many of us discover yoga as adults, the powerful benefits that come from regular practice do not only apply to the adult population. Numerous studies have touted the benefits of regular yoga practice for toddlers, children, teenagers, and even college students. In fact, in every stage of life yoga has been noted to increase the heath and wellness of individuals.
While we often think of stress as affecting only adult populations, when examined more closely it is clear that children suffer from stress as well. Long school days, after-school lessons, and busy parents all add to the pressure that can accumulate in a child’s life. This can lead to emotional outbursts, periods of withdrawal, and negative attention-seeking behavior. Incorporating yoga in to a child’s life can help him or her build self-esteem, body awareness, improve concentration, and encourage a sense of calmness.2 Not to mention the physical benefits of improved balance, strength, and flexibility.
There are many ways to bring a yoga practice into your child’s life. In addition to the growing Kids Yoga classes popping up all over the country, it is also easy to incorporate postures in daily life. Act out your child’s favorite stories with them using yoga postures to bring the story alive and encourage creativity. Challenge your child to hold a posture to a certain number count or while they recite ABCs to work on their balance. You can even use music to create a more flowing sequence that will increase their heart rate and burn off energy. Simple breathing exercises like inhaling to a count of 4 and exhaling to a count of 6 will give children valuable tools to use when feeling frustrated or anxious. Keep it simple and fun, and your children will naturally benefit from the practice.
Adolescence (in particular the tween years) is an especially poignant time to practice yoga. According to yoga instructor Paula Walker,3 “Self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect are the three most important things for preteen girls to develop as their bodies are changing. Yoga teaches them to become very in touch with their bodies from the inside out.” Through breathing exercises, meditation, and physical asanas they can utilize the tools to ease anxiety and deal with stressful situations. This new awareness can then seep into every part of their lives. More meaningful relationships, mindful nutrition, and a strong template for physical fitness are all gifts that yoga can bring.
This age can be especially tough for trying new things, however. A great way to get tweens into yoga is by finding an age-appropriate class. Check out the local offerings and talk to other parents. You can instill confidence and independence in your tween by giving him or her the freedom to attend class by themselves or with a friend. The passion and idealism that is common in this age is conducive for continued practice at home as well. And it may even carry into the teenage years.
For teenagers, yoga practice can be especially beneficial. This is a time of life that is often thought of as disconnected, transitional, and filled with anxiety. As teens test their boundaries and struggle to find just who they are in this crazy world, they can turn to yoga as a shelter from the storm. As Tummers (2009) states, “Practice allows for self-study and self-care as well as development of vital intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, such as improved communications skills, which are critically needed at this developmental stage.”4
This is especially true for troubled youth. With the increased gun violence, divorce rates, and STDs within our culture, it is no wonder that some teens have trouble interacting and engaging with society. Colleen Morton Busch sums the issue up particularly well as she writes, “Adolescence, it seems, has become a kind of preterm adulthood, a time when kids face adult issues and concerns but with the emotional intelligence and coping skills of children—and with little societal support for making the transition.”5
Luckily there is a large outpouring of support for teens in the yoga community. Teens tend to gravitate toward classes with more vigorous asanas and challenging poses. However, it is usually the final resting post (Savasana) that they find the most rewarding. This age group is so over stimulated; it is crucial that their bodies and minds have the resting time needed to process their experiences. There are numerous videos geared toward this age group, and more and more classes are emerging. Again, peer support can be a great motivation. While it may start as a group practice, yoga quickly becomes personal as they deal with their own feelings, misgivings, and joys that yoga can bring.
The period between graduation from high school and an independent adult can be an exciting time. As teenagers spread their wings and fly into college or the workplace, they come into their own. This power and independence can be a heady experience. Yoga can help this age group learn to unwind, deal with adult relationships, and juggle the many responsibilities that may be new to them. In fact, according to a study done by the University of Southern Mississippi (2007), yoga can increase physical and mental relaxation, decrease emotional reactivity, and improve concentration and academic performance in this age group.6 The study also showed the improved self-awareness, more energy, and a new positive outlook on life. These skills will help carry the young adult into the more challenging roles of later life.
Money often tends to be an issue for this particular stage in life. For those on a budget, many yoga studios offer Karma Yoga classes monthly. Here, participants can bring in a can of food or support the studio by donation. This offers low-income individuals a chance to participate in regular classes, which will in turn help them form a regular home practice. There are also many books, podcasts, and videos which offer individuals a chance to deepen their practice of yoga without having to spend large amounts on weekly classes.
The early stages of life can be greatly enhanced and benefited by regular practice of yoga. There are many options and choices available to those who want to seek out practice. Kids, tweens, teens, and young adults can find resources from local programs, classes, books, and online media. The most important aspect however, especially for these ages, is the feeling of support and community. Creating an honest, open atmosphere for this practice of self-discovery is key in helping create the foundation needed for a lifetime of practice and enlightenment.
Kristin Henningsen, M.S., R.Y.T.
Kristin Henningsen is an adjunct professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches courses such as Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutritional Supplements and Contemporary Diet and Nutrition. Ms. Henningsen has deep roots in the fields of ethnobotanyand herbal medicine. After receiving both her Bachelor of Science in Botany and Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology, Ms. Henningsen went on to complete her Master of Science in Biology at Northern Arizona University where she studied the medicinal plants of the area, focusing on their traditional uses by the 13 Native American tribes in the region. She has also worked as a research assistant with the nonprofit organization the Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association, completing a field guide to the native plants of Arizona amongst other projects.
Ms. Henningsen has extended this work into the field of complementary and alternative medicine. She is a certified and practicing consulting herbalist, and is the proprietor of an herbal health and healing company. She has been researching, using, and teaching about medicinal plants for more than 10 years. Ms. Henningsen is also a certified yoga instructor and utilizes yoga therapy as an alternative healing technique.