Today I am exited to have pediatric occupational therapist Jaime Spencer here to share all about the benefits of yoga for kids as we continue our series on the therapeutic benefits of recreational activities!
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THE BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR RECREATION
The use of yoga as a recreational activity for children and adults can be extremely beneficial. Did you know that yoga means “to join”? I was surprised to learn that but it makes sense! I personally started doing yoga for exercise and stress reduction about ten years ago. I noticed a change in my strength, muscle tone and flexibility. Since then, I became such a fan of yoga that I even started teaching it for a while. As an occupational therapist, I use yoga with my students to increase strength, balance, and flexibility. It can even increase attention and reduce hyperactivity! Yoga is a great way to join people together. It also helps you to align or “join” all of your body’s systems together. Yoga can be beneficial to your cardiovascular health, your digestive system, and your social-emotional well-being, not to mention your musculoskeletal system! There is a lot you can accomplish with just a 20-30 minute yoga session.
WHO SHOULD DO YOGA?
Yoga can be beneficial to any child or adult. That’s because there are so many benefits to yoga and so many different kinds of yoga available. There truly is something for everyone! I often suggest yoga as a recreational activity for both special needs and “typical” students. I love the fact that it is non-competitive. You are simply asked to do your personal best and to try to improve your own performance each session. I have also suggested yoga many times to the parents of typical adolescents who don’t seem to “fit in” in typical sport teams. This can be due to lack of physical stamina, coordination, or even social skills.
There are many different kinds of yoga classes for children and adolescents. Some of them are quiet and relaxing; participants are not encouraged to talk. This can be a relief to a child who has difficulty socializing. Still, with consistent attendance, children begin to get to know the other children in their class. They can see that they are not the only child who has difficulty with this pose or that position. It is easier to make friends because there is no aura of competition. Other classes include games and encourage laughing and group poses, where children work together to form a pose. This can also be a wonderful way to work on socialization while getting some exercise in. Certain instructors encourage children to make animal noises while doing the “cat/cow” pose or the “cobra”. The children are able to laugh and have fun as they work on building their strength and endurance. For children with a significant amount of anxiety, you can practice beforehand by playing Yoga on the Wii, getting a kids’ yoga DVD out of the library, or finding a short session on Youtube. Yoga is something you can do as a family in the living room. Sometimes it is the fear of the unknown that makes a new activity so scary.
GROSS MOTOR BENEFITS
Yoga allows a person to build their strength and endurance by using their own body. Poses focus on overall strength, balance, and flexibility as children twist, bend, breathe, and hold the positions. Another benefit of yoga as a recreational activity is that each pose has an easy, medium and difficult version. Children can start with the easiest version of each pose and continue with ”easy” for as long as they want. As they begin to feel more confident, they can try the “medium” version of the pose. However, even if they stay with the “easy” version of each pose forever, they are still reaping the benefits of building strength, coordination, and stability in their body. It’s a win-win situation. Holding the poses and switching from pose to pose can also help to build muscle tone, and increase body awareness and eye-contact.
FINE MOTOR BENEFITS
Children need to develop certain gross motor skills before precise fine motor skills and dexterity can kick in. Trunk stability and core strength play an important part in fine motor development. This means children have to be able to keep their trunk steady and strong when trying to accomplish something with their arms and hands. Poses such as “downward dog” or “cobra” encourage trunk stability and weight bearing into the shoulders, which helps a child with fine motor skills down the road. Many poses also require children to balance some of their weight on their hands to hold the pose or to hold themselves up. This helps to strengthen the muscles of arms, forearms and hands. Balancing your weight on flattened palms strengthens the “intrinsic muscles” of the hands. These are the tiny muscles inside your palms that a child needs for writing, lacing a shoe, or using a fork.
There have been numerous studies on the benefits of yoga with children with behavioral issues. Evidence shows that yoga can lead to a significant reduction in behavioral problems. This includes withdrawn behaviors, attention issues, and maladaptive behaviors such as irritability, lethargy, hyperactivity, and noncompliance (Chan, A.S., Cheung, M., and Sze, S.L.). Studies done following a classroom full of children who participated in daily yoga for 16 weeks as part of their morning routine also showed a reduction in negative or off-task behaviors (Koenig, K., Buckley-Reen, A., & Garg, A.). This is why yoga is often recommended for children with low self-esteem, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. With this in mind, yoga could be considered as an alternative (or at least a supplement) to medication. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?
DIGESTIVE HEALTH BENEFITS
In addition to improving the health of your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, yoga can be useful for children and adults with digestive and gastrointestinal issues. Studies have shown a decrease in gastrointestinal symptoms after just a few weeks of daily yoga exercises (Boyajin, P.). In addition to lowering stress levels, which are often associated with gastrointestinal issues, the movements of the poses have positive effects on the digestive organs of the body. The twisting and flexing movements help the digestive organs to secrete fluids, break down fiber, and absorb nutrients. It also increases “peristalsis”. This is the “pushing” movement of your organs sending the waste in your body along so you can relieve it. No more constipation!
FINDING A YOGA CLASS FOR YOUR CHILD
It is important to find a yoga class that meets the needs of your child. If you or your child have medical complications, you should contact your physician to make sure that participation in a yoga class is safe. I find yogis (people who do yoga regularly) often have calm and warm personalities. They have this innate ability to let things “roll off” their backs. When looking around for a yoga class for your child, tell the owner or yoga instructor what you are looking for. Tell them what you hope your child will gain from the activity (increase strength, make a new friend, etc.) and what their needs are (physical modeling, directions repeated, etc). Most yogis are only too happy to help a parent and a child to start learning the art of yoga. They love yoga and they want you to love it too!
I hope this post has convinced you to give yoga a try. Remember there is a class for everyone. Namaste!
~Miss Jaime, O.T.
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Jaime Spencer is a pediatric Occupational Therapist with fifteen years’ experience in Long Island, New York. She currently works in a public school with students Kindergarten to 5th grade. She also has ten years’ experience working in a sensory gym with preschool-age children.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Utica College of Syracuse University and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Adelphi University. She is also certified in Assistive Technology from California State University Northridge.
Jaime Spencer is the author of the Occupational Therapy blog www.MissJaimeOT.com.
Previous posts in this series on Mama OT:
Therapeutic Benefits of Swimming
Therapeutic Benefits of Horseback Riding
Therapeutic Benefits of Playing at the Park
Therapeutic Benefits of Hiking
Therapeutic Benefits of Rock Climbing
Therapeutic Benefits of Exploring Nature (from an OT perspective)
Therapeutic Benefits of Playing with Giant Bubbles
Therapeutic Benefits of Bowling
Additional posts coming up in this series! (in no particular order):
Therapeutic Benefits of Bike Riding
Therapeutic Benefits of Dance
Therapeutic Benefits of Gymnastics
Therapeutic Benefits of Running
Therapeutic Benefits of Surfing
Therapeutic Benefits of Exploring Nature (from a Speech Therapy perspective)
Boyajian, P. Yoga for the Child with Special Needs. The Exceptional Parent, 34.6, (June 2004): 26-30.
Chan, A. S., Cheung, M., & Sze, S. L. (2008). Effect of mind/body training on children with behavioral and learning problems: A randomized controlled study. In B. N.DeLuca (Ed.), Mind–body and relaxation research focus (pp. 165–193). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science. Retrieved from www.cuhkinrc.com/attachments/File/Ch_8-Chan-PC.pdf
Goldberg, L. (2004). Creative relaxation: A yoga-based program for regular and exceptional student education. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 14, 68–78. Retrieved fromwww.relaxationnow.net/articles/exceptionaled.html
Khalsa, S. B. S., Hickey-Schultz, L., Cohen, D., Steiner, N., & Cope, S. (2011). Evaluation of the mental health benefits of yoga in a secondary school: A preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of Behavioral Health Services Research, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11414-011-9249-8
Kuttner L, Chambers CT, Hardial J: A randomized trial of yoga for adolescents with irritable bowel syndrome . Pain Res Manag 11 217-223, 2006.
Koenig, K., Buckley-Reen, A., & Garg, A. (2012). Efficacy of the Get Ready to Learn Yoga Program Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pretest–Posttest Control Group Design. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 66, 538-546.
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