Without hesitation, you’d take your child to the emergency room for a broken arm, the dentist for a cavity, the pediatrician for a sore throat....
Om with me, baby
If yoga brings balance, confidence, strength and — most important — calm to the whirling lives of busy adults, could it cool down fighting siblings? Squelch toddler tantrums? Smooth the tempestuous moods of teens and adolescents?
Miraculously … yes!
Moving and breathing mindfully, connecting body and brain, can indeed help with whatever mood swings are inevitably going on in your home. And that’s just one small part of a larger picture.
Health professionals and seasoned yogis alike are finding that there are many health benefits available to a child practicing yoga — beyond basic athleticism and temper control.
Yoga is becoming utilized more often in pediatrics. Pediatric physical therapists use it because it increases strength, flexibility, body awareness and motor planning in kids.
— Dr. Betsy Schwartz
Medical basis for benefit
Dr. Betsy Schwartz, a pediatric endocrinologist at Park Nicollet Clinic in St. Louis Park, said pediatric physical therapists at the clinic are using yoga in their practices because it increases strength, flexibility, body awareness and motor planning in kids. Occupational therapists use it, too.
“Yoga is becoming utilized more often in pediatrics,” Schwartz said. “Because it is fun and non-competitive, it’s an appealing option for getting a sedentary child to become more active.”
Furthermore, Schwartz said, yoga is beneficial in medical settings because it offers a lot of “midline crossing.”
Crossing the body’s midline — an imaginary line down the center of the body — means reaching across the body with arms and legs in some way, such as sitting cross-legged on the floor or being able to draw a horizontal line across a page without having to switch hands in the middle. It’s a key component in child developmental because along with it comes bilateral coordination (both sides of the body working together).
Barry Beck of Minnesota Vision Therapy Center (MVTC) also believes in using yoga-like moves in medical settings.
In the therapeutic treatment of children, MVTC uses movements similar to yoga, if not the actual poses.
“Body work and balance is important for visual development because it gives the child feedback as to not only where they physically are in space, but where other objects are as well,” Beck said. “Knowing that I have two sides to my body — and to be able to cross the midline and move freely — is a big part of the visual development picture.”
Proper visual development, of course, is crucial in children because it’s connected to so many aspects of their lives — schoolwork, coordination, emotional perspective and much more.
Adjusting for different ages
Kaye Standke, a Minneapolis-based yoga instructor and school counselor said yoga’s most dramatic benefits can be loosely broken down by age: For toddlers, she sees yoga as a first step toward positive body awareness, instilling a sense of health and wellbeing. School-age children gain balance, focus, clarity, self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Teens gain much-needed self-esteem.
Standke teaches yoga at Sunshine Montessori School in Minneapolis and at Twin Cities-based Blooma.
“I enjoy teaching kids because they are natural yogis!” she said. “They listen to their bodies and do what feels good. They bring such a free-spirited, enthusiastic energy to the practice.”
It is our birthright to be flexible, happy and free. I noticed people were losing these traits as adults and I wanted to teach kids to keep alive the smile, love and compassion that we are born with. — Jessica Rosenberg
Making it fun
To some, yoga may seem like a stuffy form of exercise. Stretching and stillness — what non-enthusiasts often imagine yoga to be — seem too sedated for the exuberance of youth.
Why not ramp it up with something like Zumba? Especially for kids, right?
Enter Jessica Rosenberg, a Twin Cities yoga instructor, wellness speaker and the mastermind behind The Adventures of Super Stretch — a colorful kids’ yoga program taught at local studios throughout the Twin Cities.
In addition to a popular — FREE — Super Stretch yoga app, the program also features flash cards, a relaxation and visualization CD, interactive online yoga experiences, coloring pages, a workbook, a storybook and teacher training resources.
Sarah Deziel, a Minneapolis mother of two, loves the program.
“We have taken numerous in-person Super Stretch classes. We have the app. And we have the flashcards in a bowl — right in the living room,” she said. “The kids will be playing with friends and will take turns drawing a card and teaching each other yoga.”
The beauty of the Super Stretch “world” is that it draws kids in with its fun, tech-savvy spin.
Each yoga pose is represented by a character — Hani the silly monkey, Diver the dolphin and so on. The flip side of the colorful character flashcards — and the animation on the app — is a real kid, demonstrating the yoga pose in a beautifully imperfect way.
Super Stretch isn’t about getting it “just right.” It’s about learning to love yoga, finding ways to calm down and appreciating the art of movement.
The Super Stretch app gets 6,000 downloads per month and was named a Best App for Kids by Appolicious.
Wellness and beyond
With obesity, juvenile diabetes, ADHD and chronic stress on the rise, Rosenberg created her Super Stretch program to give parents, educators and health practitioners a way to help kids achieve optimal wellness.
“My inspiration is childlike wonderment. Things should be awesome!” Rosenberg said. “It is our birthright to be flexible, happy and free. I noticed people were losing these traits as adults and I wanted to teach kids to keep alive the smile, love and compassion that we are born with.”
Happiness and health? We all want that for our children. An added bonus for the yoga-going parent? Introducing your child to yoga gives you a common interest and, perhaps — for your child — a new understanding of why you need to hit the mat.
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