How is yoga effective in enhancing the wellbeing of young people?
Gymnastics, martial arts, swimming, dance…there are so many choices available for physical, movement-based extracurricular classes for young people. What makes yoga different? And what are the benefits for young people?
Practising yoga from an early age builds a strong foundation of self-worth, love, respect, kindness and compassion; essential qualities for long term wellbeing. Young people don’t often come to yoga with the hang-ups, hurts and injuries that adults have to contend with. A young person’s body is often more open and receptive – as is the heart, mind and spirit. Yoga equips children with self-care tools to navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease.
Moving mindfully is one of the most effective ways to enhance mindful awareness. Teaching children mindfulness through yoga encourages self-regulation: learning to observe their thoughts and emotions and responding with consideration, rather than reacting to them. Through encouraging awareness, children notice how they feel as they learn to connect to their inner world and the wisdom of their bodies. Children begin to understand that they do not have to be controlled by their thoughts and they have powerful yoga tools such as breath techniques and mantras at their disposal to change the way they feel. Evidence based research from Harvard University has shown yoga to increase self-regulation of pupil behaviour by 81% and the ability to focus on the teacher by 80%.
Whilst yoga is a form of physical exercise, there are very distinct differences from exercise classes. Through controlled breathing and various simple and complex postures, yoga improves flexibility, releases mental and physical tensions and boosts energy. Yoga is emotionally balancing: through diaphragmatic breathing children learn how to tap into their parasympathetic nervous system; teaching them how they can make themselves feel calm and relaxed and putting them in the optimal state for learning.
Yoga provides a much needed mental break for young people. Many sensorial stimuli are constantly bombarding their brains, which consequently process a heavy load of information without getting enough rest. Yoga gives them time away from social media, academic pressures, schedules, expectations and competitive sports and allows them just to experience ‘being’ rather than doing. Yoga has been proven to calm and relax: calmingkids.org found a 58% increase in the ability to fall asleep easily at night.
Yoga gives children are given the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate their own uniqueness through learning to connect to their mind and body and their peers. Yoga is non-competitive and all-inclusive; it is for everyone, whether they enjoy sport or not. Physically, yoga nurtures freedom of movement to help build flexibility and strength; mentally and emotionally, concentration and self-confidence are improved. Children are given a positive, nurturing space to explore being in their bodies and learn to appreciate the endless variety of things our bodies can do for us: breathe, balance, twist, bend, jump, play and relax. Yoga helps children become in tune with themselves, develop skills to self-regulate and create calm, connected, happy, confident young people.