The sounds of “ohm” and “Namaste” are filling Gymboree classes, after school centers, and yoga studios. But the sounds and poses are not being made by your typical yoga enthusiasts (stressed-out power moms and Hollywood yogis). Today, terms like “Downward Facing Dog” and “the Lotus” have become a part of many kids’ daily vocabulary.
“The yoga-for-kids trend is huge, especially in metropolitan areas – perhaps because they are packed with yoga mommies whose pressurized, overscheduled children badly need calming down,” says Candace Morano, a certified yoga teacher & educational kinesiologist based in New York. “Today’s children are dealing with major issues – from obesity to everyday stresses such as homework, sports, and after school activities. Studies have even shown that the current economy is not only stressing out adults but kids are also affected by the recession. Of course, it’s not that kids are worried about Wall Street or foreclosures; they’re just soaking up the tension around them. All this stress and worry can overwhelm little minds and bodies.”
According to the 2009 Stress in America survey administered by the American Psychological Association, stress levels among children are significantly higher than they were a year ago. Many parents are taking note of yoga’s benefits and the positive effect it can have on kids, helping them to alleviate stress in addition to improving their attitudes about body image. Yoga has become a constructive outlet for kids of all ages, allowing them to release stress and tension in a controlled yet fun environment.
Candace continues, “Yoga is truly holistic. Children get physical, emotional and mental benefits from it. Sporty ones can improve their performance. Not-so-sporty children can find a flexibility they didn’t know they had. Yoga also has great benefits for children with special needs. It can help them to calm down, feel better and sleep better. In addition, the physical benefits include flexibility, motor skills, and coordination.”
Candace has been teaching yoga to children as young as infants in addition to adults for the past 8 years. “Establishing a healthy lifestyle at an early age is very important,” says Candace. “Through practicing yoga, children not only improve their strength and flexibility, they also learn to develop discipline in their bodies while having fun in a non-competitive environment,” she continues. With an academic and professional background in social work, Candace incorporates her expertise in working with adults and children with her knowledge and passion for yoga.
In addition to teaching yoga to kids, Candace has also established classes for adults and parents of students with special needs. As these parents often don’t have the opportunity to invest much time in themselves, Candace uses techniques of yoga and stress reduction to teach them ways to find a balance in their lives. Parents are also afforded the opportunity to educate themselves on ways to incorporate these techniques they are taught into their lives at home with their children.
Can Yoga Benefit Kids?
According to Candace, yoga can benefit children in many of the same ways it benefits adults, improving an overall sense of well being and balance while reducing anxiety and stress. “Children who practice yoga will find it easier to calm themselves in stressful situations by using controlled breathing exercises and simple poses,” says Candace. Teens may find these techniques useful before academic exams, important social events or athletic competitions.
Movements practiced in yoga can also assist with the learning capabilities of children. “Through incorporating yoga techniques with educational kinesiology, children’s ability to learn can also be enhanced,” according to Candace. “As we engage in specific movements, our bodies send messages through our nerves connecting to our brain, providing a clearer and more open flow of knowledge, breaking down barriers put up by stress.” This can be especially useful for children who suffer from learning disabilities.
As stress among kids continues to increase, parents may be able to notice warning signs through behavioral changes they exhibit including: a reduced appetite, trouble sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, and disciplinary issues at school. These symptoms of stress can be alleviated by incorporating yoga into their lives. Below, Candace offers her top breathing exercises and yoga poses for children:
Yoga Techniques for Kids
* Lotus pose: Rest your palms on your thighs with thumb and first finger together. Close your eyes and begin to breathe deeply through your nose. With your eyes closed, picture any thoughts that arise as if they were like clouds passing in the sky. Now bring your attention back to your breath and imagine it moving throughout your body. Imagine it is your favorite color and watch the color spread to every part of your body as you breathe deeper each time.
Benefits: Concentration, focus, empowerment, confidence and peace.
o Breathe: Imagine you have a straw or physically hold one in your hand. Take the straw if you have it and place it in your mouth and start to breathe air into your body through the straw. If you do not have a straw, make the shape you would if you had a straw in your mouth as if you were drinking something and breathe through your mouth. Feel the coolness around your lips and hear the steadiness of your breath as you breathe in. Exhale the same way. Feel your body and mind letting go as you release your breath.
* Cat’s stretch pose: Start on hands and knees. Imagine you are a curious kitty. You round your spine drawing chin into chest and feel your back full of space as you reach it to the sky. Arch your spine letting your heart open as you bring your head and tail closer together. Feel your lower back sink toward the floor. Feel your chest widen as you breathe deeply. Flow between rounding and arching with ten in and out breaths.
Benefits: Continues to develop spinal movements, improves flexibility of back, neck and shoulders strengthening wrists, arms, and abdominal muscles.
o Engage in your surroundings: Smile at someone and notice how your body relaxes and your mental outlook shifts. Remember that simple generosity comes back ten fold and connects us back to our hearts.
* Tree Pose: Feel your feet and legs root into the earth. Feel your spine rise tall from your feet. Take one foot off the floor and make your tree branch as you place that foot onto your standing leg gazing ahead on one fixed point. Bring your hands into prayer position at the midline of your body and breathe from your center outward. Hold for 5-7 breaths and bring your foot down and prepare for the other side.
Benefits: Balance, concentration, and strengthens legs.
o Connect to your heart: Remember something or someone you are grateful for and send them a loving prayer or blessing. See the joy on their face as your prayer or blessing arrives. Remember that these very simple but profound experiences make our life beautiful and expansive.
* Superman’s pose: Lie on your belly and breathe your belly into the floor. Draw your belly in and feel it become firm. As you breathe in, raise one leg and the opposite arm off the floor. Exhale and lower, switch sides. Now, after repeating on opposite side, lift both legs off the floor at the same time while keeping your belly firm and use your arms and chest as you press them into the floor to help lift your legs higher. As you continue breathing in and out, lift arms, head, chest and legs off floor as you feel your hip bones press down and keep belly firm.
Benefits: Helps stimulate organs, strengthens abdomen, back, arms and legs, stretches chest, improves circulation, and connects to center.
o Breathe: Inhale through your nostrils. Give your breath a color. Envision and feel your breath moving down to your toes. Exhale and again envision your breath moving upward from your toes, through your pelvic floor and continuing up the spinal column and out the crown of your head. Do this 3 times slowly and feel calm, grounded and centered.
* Child’s or mouse pose: Begin by kneeling with big toes touching, heels apart. Let your knees widen apart to create more space for your belly. As you breathe in stretch your hips to your heels and bring your hands to the floor. Exhale as you move your hands out away from your hips until you can rest your head down with your arms along side or stretched out in front of your body.
Benefits: Improves fatigue, concentration, stretches lower back, and creates a sense of privacy and feeling safe within one’s self.
o Visualization: Imagine a rose. Put all your worries into the rose. Inhale through your nostrils keeping your attention on the rose. As you exhale, watch the rose petals explode and disintegrate the limitations that are created by our unwavering mind. Picture a blank canvas to create affirming statements or mantras, such as: “I fully embrace and accept the beauty and challenges this day brings.”
Meet Candace Morano
Candace Morano is a certified yoga teacher & educational kinesiologist based in New York. For the past seven years, she has brought together the teachings of yoga, kinesiology, psychotherapy, and aromatherapy to transform the lives of the adult, children, and disabled clients with whom she works.
Combining her degree as a social worker with yoga and educational kinesiologist, Candace began to work privately with children with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome and Autism. For three years, she taught the yoga program at the Cooke Center for Learning, working with a body of students with a wide range of special needs. Candace also works with adults. She has taught programs to the parents and teachers of the Learning Spring School and the Rebecca School both based in NYC, incorporating yoga, educational kinesiology, and stress reduction techniques. Candace’s practice incorporates the use of medicinal oils for injuries and aromatherapy in the private classes she runs throughout New York City. www.explorevidyayoga.com