School-based yoga programs are sweeping the nation, and studies show that students of all ages are reaping major benefits.
Of course, you may be thinking, “These kids need to learn math, not downward-facing dog!”
But by investing even 30 minutes a week in yoga for kids, you are:
- Teaching vital life skills
- Helping children feel calm
- Improving behavior and academics
- Building an inclusive classroom environment
- Increasing teaching time
As children feel less stressed and more confident, calm, and focused, your classroom becomes the optimal environment for learning. So, practicing downward-facing dog doesn’t take away from time that could be spent learning math. It actually enhances your students’ ability and willingness to learn!
Let’s look at seven benefits of yoga instruction for kids.
Benefit #1: Reduces stress and teaches self-regulation
In today’s hurry-up world, yoga provides kids with a much-needed opportunity to slow down. The practice of yoga is calming and soothing. It also releases endorphins that boost mood while decreasing stress and anxiety.
When kids (and adults) are stressed, it manifests physically through tension, usually in the lower back or neck. As yoga relieves tension in the body, it also releases stress in the mind.
These already awesome benefits are linked to self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to recognize and manage your thoughts and emotions. Through yoga, children “listen inward” to their minds and bodies.
In this way, children learn to reflect on, recognize, and manage their emotions. Yoga also teaches calming techniques like deep breathing. When children can acknowledge and calm their emotions, they are able to respond effectively rather than reacting negatively.
So, if a child recognizes that she’s feeling frustrated about an assignment, she can take deep breaths, self-soothe, and find a healthy way to handle the situation (e.g. asking for help instead of giving up or throwing a tantrum).
Benefit #2: Sharpens focus and concentration
As they practice poses, children are encouraged to clear their minds and focus on the effort the pose requires. To achieve the pose or stay balanced, children must maintain a singular focus.
This ability to focus can translate to other areas of life, like academics. Children learn to focus on their classwork, homework, or tests. Studies note that this improved concentration leads to improved academic performance.
Benefit #3: Enhances self-esteem
Self-esteem, or confidence, is one of the most important life skills. Confident people are more motivated, less anxious, more willing and able to tackle challenges and solve problems, more successful academically, and happier overall.
But too often, confidence seems unteachable. We aren’t sure how to instill it in our children or students—or even sure if we’ve got it ourselves. Luckily, research shows that yoga improves self-esteem in children.
In kids’ yoga, children can move at their own pace. They do what feels natural and comfortable to them. It’s not about competing with other children, it’s about personal improvement through practice. As children learn to touch their toes or master increasingly advanced poses, their confidence grows.
Strengthening the mind-body connection, getting active, and increasing the flow of endorphins also leads to positive feelings and improved self-esteem. A child who can conquer the warrior pose may feel empowered to conquer the world—or at least that challenging science project.
Benefit #4: Teaches mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ability to be aware and present in—well, the present. I’ve mentioned that yoga strengthens the mind-body connection and helps children become aware of their emotions. All of this is linked to mindfulness.
With mindfulness, children feel aligned, calm, and happy. They feel peaceful and aware of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. They’re able to act with compassion and courage, and they aren’t weighed down with worries about the past or the future.
Research indicates that mindfulness benefits general health and the ability to deal with illness. It provides resilience and is a buffer against bullying, depression, addiction, and more.
Benefit #5: Leads to improved behavior and academic performance
Now that you know the other benefits of yoga, it isn’t surprising that it’s linked to improved behavior and academic performance.
It improves cognitive functioning, memory, concentration, awareness, mood, and focus while reducing stress and anxiety. It teaches children to cope with big emotions in healthier ways. Ultimately, this translates to better behavior and performance in school.
A child who is angry, anxious, or unfocused isn’t ready to learn. When children feel less stressed, more confident, and can tap into and manage their emotions, learning comes much easier. And they’re far less likely to impulsively act on negative emotions.
In a move that many saw as “pretty out there,” a school in Baltimore replaced detention with meditation. Children spend time in a “Mindful Moment Room,” a well-lit space strewn with yoga mats and infused with essential oils. The children, many of them homeless or from high-crime neighborhoods, practice stretching and deep breathing.
Since making the meditation room available, the school has seen far fewer referrals and ZERO suspensions. Dacari, a third grader who uses the Mindful Moment Room, says, “When [children] leave the mindfulness room, they’re peaceful and quiet and ready to do their work.”
Benefit #6: Helps children experiencing trauma
As with the children at the Baltimore school, the practice of yoga and mindfulness can especially benefit children with a history of trauma.
In various studies:
- Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds who participated in mindfulness programs reported decreased stress, which allowed them to focus on/improve in school.
- Homeless middle school students who took a mindfulness course reported using mindfulness in school and experiencing greater well-being, resulting in improved academics and greater quality of life.
- Urban male youth who participated in similar programs experienced less stress, anxiety, and negative coping. They were able to manage academic stress and perform better in school.
Yoga benefits all children. But children who come from high-stress environments where they may feel unsafe or in a constant state of high-alert especially need to practice calming, learn self-soothing techniques, and find healthy ways to cope with big emotions. Practicing yoga won’t magically solve every problem. However, it can help level the playing field by putting these students in a headspace where learning and achievement are possible.
Benefit #7: Helps students with special needs
Students with special needs also benefit from the practice of yoga. In particular, studies have shown that yoga is helpful for children with autism and ADHD.
Yoga reduces symptoms like aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity. It also helps address poor motor coordination, weak self-regulation, and heightened anxiety. Yoga can play to the strengths of children with special needs while reducing feelings of stress.
Special needs children who practice yoga say that they feel more focused and can pay attention to tasks at school.
The research is clear: Yoga instruction teaches children FAR more than just yoga. It improves physical and mental health, teaching vital social-emotional skills. And for children from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have special needs, yoga can help level the playing field.
Together, these benefits build a classroom environment that fosters learning. After all, teaching math is much easier in a classroom full of happy, confident children who know how to manage emotions and stress, stay present in the moment, and focus on the task at hand.
So, break out the yoga mats, strike a pose, and start experiencing the wonderful benefits of yoga in your classroom or school.
If you’re searching for child-friendly yoga cards for kids with simple instructions, these posters are perfect for any classroom. Find them here on TPT. They are perfect for brain breaks, PE instruction, or a cool down corner.