Yoga teaches children to prioritize their well-being
Anamda Sly has witnessed children “literally transform” before her eyes— and for the Ottawa-based yoga instructor, those are some of the most rewarding parts of her profession.
In her classes, children “develop increased self-confidence, increased self-esteem and leadership abilities,” says Sly, the owner of Heart Sounds Yoga. “They are building a tool kit for life.”
Yoga —Sanskrit for ‘union’—has been popular in North America for balancing the mind, body and spirit since the 1960s and continues to be, says Sly. “One 2023 Canadian statistic says that about 21 percent of Canadians practice yoga,” says Sly, whose program offers yoga in pre-schools, schools and community centres as well as private yoga classes (virtual or in-person) for children and families and Yoga for Children Teacher Training. One quickly growing demographic is children.
“[Yoga] used to be thought of as a weird thing that weird parents do,” says Sebastian Peralta, children’s yoga teacher with Heart Sounds Yoga. “But now, with more and more adults doing yoga at home, kids are seeing how awesome yoga is and how much fun it can be.”
Teaching yoga to children is full of wonder and joy, says Amanda DeGrace, CEO of New Edinburgh-based Little Lotus Yoga. “Watching through a child’s eyes as they discover the world of yoga is a magical experience.”
The demand for children’s yoga has grown since DeGrace opened her studio 18 years ago. There are many reasons why yoga’s gotten so popular. It’s accessible—“There is yoga for everybody,” says DeGrace, who specializes in prenatal, postnatal and children’s yoga classes, as well as yoga teacher training programs. “Yoga is about what feels best for you and your body. You don’t have to have a specific fitness level to begin yoga, you don’t need specific equipment or to wear specific clothes. Yoga is about what feels good for you in that moment of your life.”
Yoga is a great way to get or stay fit, stretch and relax. Physical benefits include strength-building, stretching, toning, creating muscular balance and increased vitality. DeGrace says that for children, yoga can be great for coordination and gross motor development. Mentally and emotionally, yoga teaches kids to be comfortable in and with their bodies; self-regulation; self-confidence; lifelong meditation skills and increases focus and attention, she says.
The demand for children’s yoga continues to grow as more research is done, leading more school programs to incorporate yoga. DeGrace is supportive of this move. Anywhere—a program at school, at a yoga studio, at home on YouTube or with friends at the park—”a child can feel supported and introduced to yoga is a fantastic environment,” she says.
It has been popular in the last few years for schools to hire children’s yoga teachers to help children deal better with stress and stay focused and happy, says Sly, who has 22 years of teaching experience. “Children in elementary school have a lot of educational demands and need that focus and calmness to move through all the steps required during a school day,” she says. “Some children have shared with me the stress they experience with knowing there are several assignments coming up before finishing the one that they are working on. They are always looking ahead in assignments which makes it more difficult to be fully in the moment. There is a lot more multi-tasking required of students to be flexible and fully present.” Yoga helps with this by decreasing anxiety and increasing concentration and memory, adds Sly.
“Yoga gives kids the tools to stay happy, healthy, relaxed and centered,” says Sly. “Kids are like sponges and learn quickly.” Yoga classes encourage kids to make the extra effort that will make them feel they are conquering their own limitations. They learn and accept that their body needs care and nourishment to keep it in good shape. How they look after their body affects their capacities and experiences.”
Family yoga introduces yoga in a supportive and safe environment that promotes exploration and also allows adults to set a good example, says DeGrace. “Family yoga shows kids that the adults are taking their own self-care seriously as well,” says Peralta. “This can really cement the idea of self-care in an individual at any age”— with the benefit of bringing the family together to share an activity and have fun, he says.
It doesn’t need to take a lot of yoga to reap the benefits. “Just five minutes of moving your body in a way that feels nourishing is of great value,” says DeGrace.
While Sly suggests tailoring the practice to the age of the child, DeGrace recommends following the child’s lead. “When we create a rigid yoga schedule, this can start to feel like another demand in our already structured schedule,” she says, “and your child may start to resent their yoga practice. Invite them to explore, to be curious, and follow their lead. Yoga will meet you where you are at.”
Mythbusters: The yoga edition
You need to be thin The yoga industry has made a lot of money with the promotion of young, beautiful, slim people doing yoga, says Sly. “But everyone can do yoga unless there is a medical contraindication.”
Yoga is a religion “Yoga can be a spiritual practice,” says Sly. “Yoga allows you to know yourself more deeply with awareness and compassion.”
You need to be flexible Everyone has a certain degree of flexibility and this can be increased with regular yoga practice, says Sly.
It’s time consuming With regular practice, yoga becomes part of one’s lifestyle, says Sly.
Thinking of signing your child up for yoga?
Gauge interest Try some yoga poses at home with your child to see how serious/interested your child is, says Peralta.
Find a studio See if there are any children’s yoga teachers or studios in your area, Peralta says.
Try a drop in “Most classes will welcome you for a drop in so you can try a class before committing longer term,” says DeGrace.
Find the right fit Find a space, teacher and style of yoga that resonates with you best at that time in your life, DeGrace says.
Pick out a fun new yoga mat Although no equipment is needed (many studios have mats on hand), a new yoga mat that your child picks out can add some fun to their new yoga experience, DeGrace says.
Did you know?
Children can start yoga as soon as they are old enough to move.
“Yoga for children is about playfulness, experimenting with what feels best for each of our individual selves and learning the power of tuning into our minds and bodies to listen to what we each individually need to thrive.”
Basic poses for kids
Warrior 2 builds strength, confidence and focus while also energizing. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace
Supine Butterfly is a great posture for relaxation while relieving tension in the low back and hips. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace
Downward Facing Dog builds strength while relieving tension and stress. It also helps improve circulation. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace
Tree pose is a great posture for challenging our balance. It also aids in concentration and focus. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace
Reverse Table builds core strength while improving balance and posture. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace
Partner Yoga is a fun way to try new yoga postures as a family. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace
Bow Pose challenges your full body as you build strength and stimulate digestion. Photo Credit Amanda DeGrace