WASHINGTON — If you’re looking for a cool, calming activity for the kids this summer, skip the movie and grab a mat instead.
Yoga has become increasingly popular among children. According to a survey from the National Institutes of Health, 1.7 million American youth practiced yoga in 2012 (that’s up 429,000 from 2007). Research has shown that yoga can improve mental and physical health in children, and because of this, more schools are introducing elements of the ancient practice in their classrooms.
“One of the main benefits is that it increases their focus and concentration … holding those yoga poses really helps them get that laser focus,” said Teresa Anne Power, an internationally recognized children’s yoga expert and author of “The ABCs of Yoga for Kids.”
Yoga also helps strengthen fine and gross motor skills in children, while increasing body awareness and self-control.
Want to introduce your little ones to yoga? Power says there’s no better time than the summer, since the activity can be done indoors on hot days, in the backyard on cooler nights and even on the beach during a family vacation. Here are her top tips for familiarizing your family with yoga:
You’re never too young for yoga
Breeze through any yoga studio’s schedule and you’ll likely come across baby yoga classes, designed specifically for parents and their new bundles, up to 6 months old. These classes benefit the adults, mostly, but begin to introduce basic poses to kids.
Power says the best time to start teaching kids poses that they can execute without assistance is around the age of 3. By then, most kids are in preschool and are used to following instructions from adults.
No need to stock up on equipment
One of the best things about doing yoga with kids is that it’s a free activity. There is no need to sign up for a class, and no equipment is required. Power says a mat is nice because it sets up a personal space for kids, but it’s not necessary.
“They can go outside, they can be on a carpet and do the poses. Kids don’t mind getting down on the floor and doing a pose,” she said.
Think of it less like a class and more like a game
Don’t expect your little students to jump into an hour of vinyasa flow. Power says yoga should be playful, and even structured more like a game.
“When they’re doing the cat pose, they can meow like cats. Or when they do the downward dog pose, they can bark like dogs, so it makes it fun and easier for them to stay in the poses,” she said.
“For young kids, you want them to have fun so that they start to enjoy the practice.”
Remember to keep it short: you don’t want your kids to burn out or lose interest.
Pick from the more popular poses
In addition to downward dog and cat pose, Power says some other good ones for kids are the cobra pose and bow pose, which she calls “rocking horse” for her young audience.
If your little yogis are outside, have them mimic their surroundings with tree pose. Getting ready for dinner? Before they set the table, encourage them to twist into table pose.
“There’s a myriad of poses that they can do, but they don’t have to do them in a structured routine like adults do. They can just pick a few poses and start to do them,” Power said.
Get the whole family involved
Power says yoga is a great way to bond — even if you can only spare a few minutes. The whole family can squeeze in a few poses in the morning before the chaos of the day, in the afternoon when the kids get home from camp, and even outside after dinner as a way to decompress.
“Just to get outside in nature and focus on their breath, listen to the wind, it’s a nice calming thing for kids to do,” Power said.