These Science-Backed Benefits of Yoga for Kids prove that it’s never too early to start your children on a daily yoga practice – the earlier the better!
For a long time, the general image of yoga was of elderly men and women in their yoga pants, stretching in an open garden, guided by an instructor. Well, things have changed drastically over the years, and today yoga is something practiced by everyone – seniors, middle-agers, youngsters – there’s even something called baby yoga now!
Although yoga originated in India over 5 centuries ago, today it’s spread across the globe as everyone has realized the benefits of a yoga practice. There are many types of yoga to choose from – Bikram, Iyengar, Kundalini, Ashtanga as well as more modern ones like Hot Yoga and Yin Yoga. There are also yoga styles for specific groups of people like pregnant women or postpartum women.
Each type of yoga has its own style and benefits, but today, we’re going to talk about the benefits of yoga for kids.
When can kids start doing yoga?
Yes, we did mention baby yoga in the beginning and while that’s fine, we recommend starting when your child is old enough to understand simple instructions. For most kids, this is sometime between the ages of two and four.
If you’re worried about starting yoga so early, don’t be! Since they’re still growing, children’s bodies are more malleable than adults. Their bones are softer, and the ligaments and tendons are more elastic than those of adults. In a nutshell, children are more flexible, and they can get into the poses more easily.
What’s more, a study by Harvard Health found that yoga improved both physical and mental health in children aged 6 to 12. There are many more science-backed benefits of yoga for kids, as we’ll detail below.
12 Science-Backed Benefits of Yoga for Kids
1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Do kids have stress? Yes, they do! Especially since COVID-19; a report in JAMA Pediatrics shows that anxiety levels in kids have doubled since the start of the pandemic. This is where stress relief methods like yoga enter the picture. A study of second and third-grade students found that a 10-week yoga program helped in reducing cortisol levels and improving overall behavior.
Yoga is a connection between the mind and body, which is why breath is the foundation of the practice. As kids breathe and move through the poses, it calms their nervous system and soothes their minds. When kids learn to practice the poses on their own, they are equipping themselves with a stress management system for life.
2. Improves Focus and Attention Span
It is a well-known fact by now that increased screen time in kids leads to lower attention spans, and this has only gone downhill since the pandemic, according to this study. Most of our kids were attending school via screens, and this has only made a bad situation worse.
One of the main benefits of yoga for kids is improving their ability to focus on a task at a time. The National Association of School Psychologists as well as a teacher survey by Cosmic Kids found that children showed a definite improvement in concentration after a few weeks of practicing yoga. This is because when they enter a pose, kids are completely focused on holding it correctly, as well as breathing the right way.
3. Boosts Academic Performance
This comes as a direct effect the previous benefits of yoga for kids – lower anxiety and improved concentration. Besides this, yoga also improves discipline and self-control, which helps children stick to a subject long enough to master it.
An International Journal of Yoga study of 800 adolescents found that students who practiced yoga for 7 weeks performed better academically. Another study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics examined 11-grade and 12-grade students who practiced yoga 2-3 times a week for 10 weeks. It was found that the children’s test scores improved, especially among low-stress students.
4. Improves Balance, Coordination and Flexibility
Well, this is probably one of the most obvious benefits of yoga for kids! Young children can be clumsy, as they are still learning to coordinate the movement of their body parts properly. Better coordination means improved stability, fewer falls and better posture.
A study in the International Journal of Yoga examined 6 to 8-year-olds who practiced yoga twice a week for 12 weeks. The results found that the children were significantly improved when it came to balance, flexibility and strength.
5. Builds Strength
Have you heard people commenting that today’s generation is not as hardy or sturdy as the older ones? This isn’t just one of those ‘good old days’ cliche – it’s true! A study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport studied over 300 1o-year-olds and found that while their height and weight were stable, their strength and endurance had come down.
A big reason for this is the lack of enough physical movement, which is why yoga is a great choice for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends yoga for improving performance in sports like football or swimming.
Many yoga poses build strength in different parts of the body, without needing any extra equipment like dumbbells. A study in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology found that a 12-week yoga program helped pre-teen children improve their physical strength.
6. Relieves Constipation
Constipation is a common problem in children, especially toddlers. The Journal of Pediatrics says that almost half of all school-going kids have some kind of gastrointestinal symptom every week. One of the benefits of yoga for kids is that it helps relieve constipation as well as other digestive troubles.
A 2017 study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that a yoga program was beneficial in reducing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Certain yoga poses apply mild pressure to the organs of the digestive tract, relieving gas and bloating as well as in regularizing bowel movements. Most of these poses include twisting and folding movements, all of which encourage stools to move through the system.
7. Improves Sleep
If your child finds it hard to settle down at bedtime, it may be a good idea to introduce a few yoga poses into their bedtime routine. Slow yoga poses accompanied by deep breathing can instantly calm them down and get them ready for bed.
This has been proved by a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, which found that when children were introduced to mindfulness techniques like yoga and deep breathing before bed, they slept 74 minutes more per night, on average. Another study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that yoga significantly improves sleep quality in children with intellectual disabilities.
8. Encourages Body Positivity
Body image problems are occurring at a younger age these days, especially among girls. The Mental Health Foundation reports that body image worries affect 35% of 13 to 19-year-olds. In girls, this went up to 46%, compared to boys who were not as worried. Body image was a problem so big that 57% of children had even considered limiting food intake.
One of the lesser-known benefits of yoga for kids is body positivity. As children practice various yoga poses, they become more aware of how wonderful their bodies are, and how regular practice makes them more flexible and strong. This study found that when young adults practiced yoga regularly, they spoke more positively about their bodies than before. Even without drastic visible differences to their bodies, they felt better about themselves.
9. Promotes Self Regulation
Self-regulation helps children manage their behavior and emotions, and respond appropriately to situations. This is an important skill to learn, right from an early age, since children go through many emotions in a single day. Yoga can greatly help with this.
A 2021 study in the Education and Science Journal found that when children took a 12-week yoga program involving physical poses, breathing exercises and meditation, they had better impulse control, attention span and memory. Another study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that a mindful yoga intervention for school children improved attention, delayed gratification and inhibitory control.
10. Promotes Healthy Eating
A common refrain among parents is that kids eat too much junk food, and it’s really hard to get them to choose healthier foods. Yoga makes this easier, according to the Project EAT study. The study found that regular yoga practice increased the consumption of fruits and vegetables. It also decreased the consumption of sugary drinks and snacks while increasing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
You can read more about the relationship between yoga and healthy eating in this post here.
11. Boosts Self-confidence
Not all the benefits of yoga for kids are physical; many are emotional too. The Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care found that after regular yoga practice, adolescents were found to have improved self-esteem and emotional regulation.
As kids practice yoga, they can notice small improvements like better balance, flexibility or strength. This encourages them and makes them believe that they can achieve great things through regular effort – a lesson they can apply to all areas of their lives.
12. Helps with Medical Conditions
Yoga can help kids with multiple symptoms, especially for behavioral disorders. A study in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that practicing yoga daily helped kids with autism, by helping them stay calm and reducing their anxiety and social withdrawal.
When it comes to ADHD, the American Academy of Pediatrics believes that yoga can help manage symptoms and improve attention, focus and academic performance. Another study by Bethel University found that when children with Down Syndrome went through a four-week yoga program, they experienced improvements in stability, mobility and strength.
The Global Pediatric Health Journal reports that a year-long yoga education program conducted for 450 chronic asthmatic children resulted in much better asthma control and reduced drug intake.
How to introduce kids to Yoga?
The Indian Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing kids above the age of 5 to yoga through games, songs and other forms of play. Here are a few more tips to ensure you get the most benefits of yoga for kids:
- Plan a schedule that works for your family, like once or twice a week, and stick to it
- Start with easy yoga asanas, not going beyond 1 minute per pose
- Keep the complete practice to 10 minutes for young kids and not more than 20 minutes for older kids
- Show kids the pose first, and then let them try it out
- Encourage correct form so they don’t injure themselves
- Make it fun, like meowing when doing the cat pose
- Use props like yoga blocks, yoga cards etc
Contraindications for Kids Doing Yoga
Kids with the following conditions should avoid certain poses:
- Epilepsy – Avoid quick breathing like Kapalbhati
- Heart disease – Stay away from inverted poses
- Back problems – Avoid deep back bends or forward bends
- Migraines – Avoid poses that put pressure to the head
- Respiratory issues – Stay away from breathing exercises
In general, kids who are ill should avoid any kind of exercise, and children under 13 should not do any head-stands or hand-stands. Before starting a yoga practice for your kids, make sure your child is in top physical condition. If your kids have any underlying medical condition, it’s always best to speak to your doctor first.
- International Journal of Yoga
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Harvard Health
- Indian Academy of Pediatrics
- National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)