Yoga for Kids Improves Focus, Reduces Stress
Kids get stressed, too. But stress management isn’t taught in schools. That’s what led Jessica Vincent to create a yoga program designed specifically for kids.
The 4-H Yoga for Kids program has spread to nine states from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.
The ancient practice is popular among adults, but now kids of all ages are getting in on it as a foundation of healthy living.
This brand of yoga, true to 4-H tradition, is expressive and loud. There is focus on breathing and stillness, but kids are also invited to have fun and make animal noises if they want. How handy that some yoga poses are named after animals?
A 4-H instructor for Pulaski County, Erica Williams, says that yoga is different than most extracurricular activities and students’ progress is fun to watch.
“It’s not competitive,” Williams says. “So you’re not necessarily concerned with what your neighbor’s doing. If they can do the pose or if they’re amazing at the poses or not, you’re focusing on yourself.”
Competition is great for developing children, but it’s good to have areas where they don’t have to worry about winning or losing. Williams works with an after-school group and kids tend to be hyper and excited when they leave school, meaning the last thing they want to do is homework.
That’s where a large part of the program’s value is found. Yoga relaxes kids and allows them to focus.
“It really just came about as something to just get the kids to focus and pay attention. And it works,” Williams says. “It’s been really crazy since then. Our health professor for the state goes around the country training people in 4-H Yoga for Kids.”
A few simple poses are practiced during the sessions and kids choose which ones they are comfortable doing. But the activity is what Williams says helps get the kids focused. After they use up some energy with yoga, they are often ready to sit down and do homework.
Studies show that yoga can help adults and children manage stress, improve balance and even quicken reflexes. A review of literature in the spring 2008 issue of “Pediatric Physical Therapy” written by Mary Lou Galantino, Robyn Galbavy and Lauren Quinn examined the ways that yoga can benefit children.
“Yoga seems to be a multitasking modality that treats physical impairments and psychosocial issues such as stress, anxiety or hyperactivity,” the article says.
The article also suggests that there may be benefits to yoga practice for children with disabilities.
Kids are given a choice of music for Williams’ sessions. She says she enjoys the calming instrumental music typically associated with yoga, but the kids dance to the beat of their own drum.
“We make it fun,” Williams says. “I let them pick out the music. We might be listening to some Michael Jackson and that’s totally OK. I want it to be something they enjoy.”
The extension service sells a video called “Yoga Breaks” that teaches the program to anyone interested in trying the program. Its low-cost and safe nature makes it perfect for parents and teachers with limited resources. Just remember that for the kids to get on board, it needs to be fun.
For more information on the 4-H Yoga for Kids program and instructions for how to join, contact your local county extension office. A list with contact information is available at UAEX.edu/Counties.