Yoga is becoming increasingly popular for children of all ages and improved performance at school is just one of the many benefits, says Jenny Keane, a 30-year-old yoga teacher from Clontarf in Dublin.
She herself discovered yoga at a time in her life some years ago when she was particularly stressed.
“We’re all so busy these days. We spend our lives running from A to B and forget to take time out to relax,” she says. “I found myself caught up in that stress and a simple yoga class calmed me down.”
So impressed was Jenny, that she decided to study yoga. “I can honestly say it changed my life.” Now she teaches adults and kids of all ages at a variety of locations around Dublin.
Children get stressed too
She says children pick up on adult stress. “Children feel what we feel,” says Jenny. “I also think they feel pressure in school to be academically focused with an emphasis on reading, writing and mathematical skills, instead of play and sociability, which is what they need at a young age.”
The perfect antidote she says is yoga. “I have children of all ages coming to my classes. In fact, they can start as young as 2 or 3 years old and the benefits are immediate.”
Yoga improves fitness and flexibility and after a day spent sitting in a classroom, it allows a child to stretch out the tension in their body and feel more relaxed as result.
“They also become more in-tune with their bodies,” says Jenny. “And this improves their physical confidence.”
It’s not just adults that find their breathing suffers when they’re stressed. Children are just as vulnerable to this.
“By learning how to breath at the right pace, kids automatically feel more relaxed, energised and able to cope,” says Jenny.
“I’ve seen young children suffering from panic attacks come to my class and it helps them hugely,” says Jenny. “They learn techniques to calm their breathing and their minds so they know what to do when they are stressed out.
By providing a child with coping techniques for occasions when they are stressed, we automatically improve their confidence, says Jenny. “I’ve seen children come to me clearly stressed out and clearly lacking in confidence. After just a few weeks however they start to lose their inhibitions and appear to be more comfortable in themselves.”
Meditation as medicine
Yoga provides not just physical, but mental benefits. Children attending yoga classes typically experience improved concentration and generally appear more at ease in themselves.
“It benefits them in school too as they are better able to concentrate on their studies,” says Jenny adding that an increasing number of schools are adding it to the curriculum for this reason.
Expression of emotion
Yoga gives children the chance to express their emotions in a safe, comfortable environment says Jenny.
“They’re automatically more in touch with their emotions than adults, and the classes help them to keep this connection, which will benefit them all their life.”
Bonding with family members
Jenny also runs family yoga classes which she says are beneficial to both adults and children as it strengthens their bond.
“I often see a mother and father and their children attend one of my classes and it’s just a bonding activity, they clearly have a lot of fun.”
A great introduction to yoga for life
Whatever we do in childhood stays with us. And whether or not a child continues with yoga as he or she gets older is not important says Jenny.
”Even if they come to one or two classes and then loose interest, the memory of that class will stay with them for years to come,” says Jenny. “They may hate it at first but then decide to take it up at a different stage in their life and find they really like it. It’s easer for them to do this because they know what to expect.”
Interaction with nature/art
Jenny also teaches yoga classes for children that combine art and interaction with nature.
“I often do one of these classes at a child's birthday party,” she explains. “I hold a scavenger hunt in natural surroundings or I use art materials to create a mandala.
“The children love both activities which are fun and improve their concentration and then they also enjoy the yoga. They work really well together and are a perfect antidote to the stressed out, technology-driven lives we’re all caught up in these days.”