Life Lessons on the Mat: How Yoga Can Help Your Kids

September 27, 2017 by in category Live Well tagged as with 0 and 0

Why Yoga?

Solutions for difficult challenges don’t have to be complex. Sometimes a simple solution can make the biggest difference.

Anxiety, depression and suicide rates among children continue to rise. There’s not a single solution for these multi-faceted, complex problems. There is however, an important piece of the solution puzzle that can make a tremendous impact: yoga. But yoga doesn’t just help with anxiety, depression and suicide; it also helps kids with autism, ADHD, arthritis or pain-related conditions. For all kids, with or without a diagnosis, yoga can help them to build stamina and strength and learn resiliency and mindfulness.

We’re passionate about giving kids the best resources possible to help them live the healthiest lives possible. Our yoga classes, taught by licensed therapists who are also certified yoga instructors, are one of those resources.

Yoga is About Union

Whether doing yoga as a child or an adult, the meaning of yoga remains the same. The term yoga is derived from “yoke,” which means “union.” Yoga is the “union” or harmony between mind, body and spirit. A true yoga practice should incorporate all of these areas, regardless of age.

Yoga is perfect for children of all ages and ability levels. But what if a child has a physical disability that impairs movement? Can they still do yoga? Absolutely! Remember, yoga is the union between mind, body and spirit. There is no rule that your body has to look or behave a certain way in order to do yoga. Yoga truly is for everyone! In some cases, we may use different props (foam blocks, a chair, a cushion, etc.) to help the child participate. The biggest thing we look for in working with children with disabilities is their unique personal strengths and what type of learner they are. Once we determine their strengths, we can structure the class in a way that helps them be successful, regardless of ability.

What Makes Our Yoga Practice Unique

During our classes, we strive to help each child participate, feel included and supported, and take the strategies they learn on the mat and apply them in their life off the mat. During each class we teach the children a new breathing technique that they can use at home, at school, during a conflict or at times when they need a strategy to calm their body.

After learning a new breathing technique, we focus on a new pose that flows with the other poses they’ve learned in previous weeks. We provide visual pictures of every pose we teach as a reference for our more visual learners, and some classes even include coloring the pose.

We end each class with a guided meditation/relaxation practice, and a final resting pose where the children have the opportunity to rest for three to five minutes on their mat. Does this mean they all remain still and quiet for the three to five minutes of rest? For some, yes. For others, this is a perfect opportunity for them to practice recognizing when their body is having a difficult time settling down and then use a strategy they have learned to help them relax their body. It’s been amazing to watch how, with each class, their ability to self-regulate improves.

The goal is to create an environment where students don’t just learn, but teach. At the end of class, family members are invited to participate and the children become the “teachers.” They teach family members the breathing techniques and yoga poses they learned that week in class. This is one of my favorite moments in class. The children are always so excited to show off what they have learned. They feel empowered.

From the Mat to Everyday Life

In a previous group, the application of yoga principles came in handy during end-of-year testing at school. Without any prompting from us, a couple of students came back and reported that they used the breathing techniques we taught them to help ease their test-taking anxiety. One of the students said, “I was really nervous to take my test and then I remembered ‘fist breathing!’ I did it before my test and it helped me be able to focus.”

Also during that time, another student in the class was directly affected by a tragic event in his community that made it difficult for him to sleep. He was often restless and uneasy. His mother was concerned initially because he didn’t want to “talk about it,” but then she noticed him practicing his yoga poses and breathing to help himself calm down. Once he was able to calm his body, he was better able to talk through and process what had happened. It’s a perfect example of what it means to take yoga off the mat and into daily life.

Lessons Learned

What do the kids take away from these classes?

  • Yoga is fun!
  • Yoga is challenging and empowering. I love to see a child’s face when they finally nail a pose they’ve been working on. Crow pose is always a favorite and I love to see the smiles on their faces when they stick it for the first time.
  • Yoga promotes self-discovery and resiliency. When we fall out of a difficult yoga pose, we learn to get back up again. When a pose is difficult and our muscles are burning, we learn to breathe through the sensation. One of the kids in my class said it best. “We learn that it’s not going to be that way forever.”
  • Yoga is beneficial in increasing body awareness, strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Yoga is a stress reliever. Anxiety and depression are on the rise among children and adolescents. The World Health Organization in 2012 reported that worldwide, 20 percent of adolescents, in any given year, experienced a mental health problem, most commonly depression or anxiety. Yoga has been proven to facilitate slower and deeper respirations, reduce blood pressure and slow heart rate. It has also been found effective in reducing the release of GABA, a hormone linked to depression and anxiety.
  • Yoga is a low-cost, low-risk intervention for treating individuals with or without a disability. Yoga has been used as a complimentary alternative therapy in treating children with anxiety, depression, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, pain-related conditions and arthritis, among other conditions.

I believe children are innately more mindful and connected to the present moment than we are as adults. In fact, I think there is a lot we can learn from children about what it means to truly be present. When I work with children of all ability levels, I am constantly reminded of this. Children remind me to slow down and focus on the simple joys of life. Because of this, children really respond well to yoga and mindfulness practices.

Join Our Next Class

For more information on the Therapeutic Kids Yoga program at Primary Children’s Hospital, including upcoming group dates, times and locations, please contact Michelle Amussen at (801) 840-4370. The 8-week program is run several times throughout the year.

Michelle Amussen
Michelle is an occupational therapist at Primary Children’s Hospital. She is also a 200-hour certified yoga instructor and has received specialized training in leading trauma sensitive yoga classes through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource center in addition to yoga for at risk youth, yoga for special needs children, and yoga for teens.

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