Ask The Doctors

Yoga can help kids connect to their bodies

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Dear Doctor: What do you think about yoga for children? We’re having trouble keeping three kids busy without their usual play dates and activities, and our 8-year-old has been saying that she wants to try doing yoga.

Dear Reader: We are enthusiastic supporters of yoga for kids. Just as for adults, yoga can improve children’s physical and mental health. The gentle and sustained poses help with flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, breathing and breath control. Yoga is great for improving focus and concentration, building self-confidence and reducing stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) experience significant improvement in their symptoms when regular yoga practice is added to their existing treatment.

Yoga has found its way into school settings, but with in-class learning on hold, we now need to bring it into our homes. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources. YouTube has a number of very good channels stocked with yoga videos just for kids. One that we like a lot is Cosmic Yoga, a top-rated series with close to 900,000 subscribers. App stores are also loaded with a variety of kids’ yoga classes. If you’re unsure about which to choose, enter the name of the class or app into your search engine, and you’ll find reviews and opinions to guide you.

The key to yoga for kids is for it to be fun, a tiny bit challenging and stress-free. You’re not looking for the hour-plus classes that adults are used to, with complex poses held for long periods of time. Instead, kids’ yoga is about movement, imagination and playfulness. Yoga poses come with built-in imagery — lions, dogs, warriors, trees, frogs and butterflies, to name just a few — which lets kids connect to the exercise on multiple levels. Children really take to the breathing exercises, with blowing and huffing and puffing that lets them add all kinds of sounds. They enjoy a challenge, too. Balance poses, which can start with a few seconds and gradually build from there, are a great way for them to build their skills and feel a sense of achievement.

We doubt that they’ll notice it’s happening, but yoga is a creative and fun way to introduce mindfulness through play. These are stressful times for everyone, our children included. The mix of vivid imagery, deliberate movement and controlled breathing can help children cope with a world suddenly gone sideways. And, thanks to the proliferation of screen-sharing platforms like Zoom, playmates who have been separated can do yoga together.

We’ve been concentrating on the kids so far, but we encourage the adults in the house to get involved, as well. Definitely let the kids have some sessions all to themselves. But when moms, dads, older siblings and grandparents take part, those 20 or 30 minutes of yoga can become a source of family bonding and unity. Plus, kids are competitive. They’ll be tickled pink — and won’t let you live it down — when their flexible bodies easily achieve poses that have Mom and Dad gasping and groaning. Their delight will be a victory for everyone.

 

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health.

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