ParentCanada Magazine May 2010

Last year Sam Merkur enrolled her four year-old son, Miles, in an Iyengar yoga class hoping the centuries-old Indian form of stretching would benefit him in the same ways it had helped her. “I wanted yoga to help maintain his natural flexibility,” says Sam, 38. “I love the physical benefits I feel when I practise, and I knew Miles would love that ‘body rush’ too.”

The benefits of yoga go far beyond a physical rush. Doctors in the United States have found yoga can help people suffering from asthma, chronic back pain, arthritis and obsessive compulsive disorder. At the Children’s Hospital in Denver in 2004, doctors measured the effect of yoga on adolescent psychiatric patients. Participating teens and their parents reported improved outlook and behaviour.

Children’s classes differ from adult classes in many ways. “The energy level is different. Kids’ Be Flexible: Yoga Isn't Just For Parentsenergy is more carefree, and they often burst out with comments,” says Temmi Ungerman Sears, who has been teaching yoga since 1986, and teaching children since 1997. “Yoga for kids can teach life skills that may serve them well as they grow up.”

Sam is pleased with how Miles, now five, is progressing in his classes. “Definitely the benefits are physical and mental,” she says. “Miles learns new postures and ways to move his body unlike in a gymnastics or karate class. As well, he learns how to rest and restore his body, which brings him into a state of relaxation that all young children need in my opinion.”

Temmi Ungerman Sears, founder of Yogabuds in Toronto, notes the following benefits of yoga for kids:

BETTER POSTURE
Many children lug heavy backpacks, which make them slouch. Yoga opens the chest, lifts the spinal muscles and rib cage and rolls the shoulder blades back, which helps realign the body.

IMPROVED SELF-ESTEEM
Even if children don’t have academic or athletic prowess, they can succeed in a yoga class. Shy kids may blossom with a new confidence because they can do what they’re being asked to do in an environment where they’re not being judged.

BETTER FOCUS
Yoga requires kids to pay attention, and they do so more readily when there are games involved, such as Simon Says or singing in Sanskrit.

EXPANDED CREATIVITY
By using poses with names that kids can relate to, such as dog, cat, tree, lion, cobra and snake, yoga becomes a creative enterprise. Children can also be paired up and pretend to be a lump of clay and a potter. The potter then ‘molds’ the other student into a pose.

REDUCED STRESS LEVELS
Some students are nervous before taking a test at school, but they say that doing their yoga breathing before starting the test relaxes them.

FINDING A CLASS
To find a reputable children’s class, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s important to send children to a properly qualified and experienced teacher to prevent them from getting injured.

FIND OUT:

* the teacher’s certification
* how many years they have been practising and teaching yoga
* whether they get ongoing training from more experienced teachers
* whether their classes are compassionate or competitive