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Physical Health|04 June 2022

Yoga and Meditation for children

Written by Varuna Shunglu
Varuna Shunglu is an author, lawyer, health counselor and meditation teacher. She consults with Schools to create wellness curriculums and has worked with over 10,000+ kids in the last 8 years. Degrees : BA(Hons), LLB, Msc Yogic Science, Teacher trainer World Yoga Federation and Yoga Alliance International.

Got children on your hands with too much energy at ungodly hours? Are the little ones recovering from covid? Do they tend to fall sick often? Well, we got you! There has never been a greater need to initiate children into yoga and meditation than today in this pandemic plagued world. 

Gen Z has had to cope with a myriad of emotions and upheavals these last three years, so the need for this ancient science has been long coming. It can feel like a challenge getting your children in the zone but gradually, as yoga and meditation are becoming ‘cool’, many children have started showing off their moves.  

Growing incidence of meditation

The Journal of Child and Family Studies noted that the rate of 17-year-olds who meditate almost doubled between 2012 and 2017. It greatly helped improve their self-control, empathy and compassion. Imagine a world where children are so in tune with themselves that they comfort you when you have a bad day. They reassure you by telling you – ‘it’s all going to be okay.’

Even globally, schools have begun to incorporate meditation within their curriculum. This holistic outlook has multiple benefits that help children cope with anxiety.

Making decisions  and building resilience through yoga

Imagine your child struggling with a problem, whether it’s your toddler struggling to stack blocks or your adolescent child refusing to discuss their personal life. Your instinct is to help them solve the problem, and when you see them frustrated with the process, you feel helpless as parents.

If you create a system where you help your child build natural resilience, they will be able to meet these moments of frustration with a calm and problem-solving mindset instead of one where they avoid the obstacle. Every experience approached mindfully during their growing years can teach children a valuable lesson. Mindfulness encourages them to look for solutions and approach situations creatively and sensitively.

Young children today are discovering the world at a faster rate. Research shows that including mindfulness and meditation in their schedules yields tremendous results as they learn to make decisions themselves. 

Social and emotional challenges faced by children

Let’s discuss the hurdles children face and the results of a yogic intervention. Children between 0-7 years old have lesser anxiety, yet they face a world where they grapple with these new feelings. Their immune system begins developing in this period. They need support, understanding and a safe space to express their feelings. You must teach them how to deal with these emotions through fun games and exercises. Even 5-6-year-old children raise their hands in class when asked, “how many of you tend to feel angry?” 

On the other hand, 8-18-year-old children can often feel overwhelmed due to: 

  1. Strong negative emotions
  2. Self-esteem challenges  
  3. Other identity, sexuality challenges
  4. Self-control
  5. Peer pressure
  6. Inner balance
  7. Focus and concentration
  8. Physical health 
  9. Stress

Benefits of yoga and meditation

Through yoga and meditation, children learn to cope with intense emotions, accept themselves, build self-reliance and confidence, control their movement and balance, and have a deeper respect for their bodies. 

Results show that almost 23% of Gen Z is now engaging in mindfulness and meditation practices, and 16% are investing time in breathwork. These techniques have led to a whopping 120% increase in productivity.

Physical well-being through yoga and meditation

A 2017 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that the role of meditation and mindfulness practices tailored to children’s needs might be exceedingly important for their physical well-being, in addition to relieving stress, balancing hormones and calming their nervous system. 

Gastrointestinal issues, allergies, headaches, colds, coughs, circulatory system function and overall immune function improve with regular yoga and meditation. It takes three months to a year of regular practice to build inner strength that creates a healthy mind-body connection. The mind can influence physical health, and by sheer consistency, children can reap benefits that armour them to face the world.

Do’s and Don’ts 

The phenomenon of mindfulness and meditation is not new. The ancients practised them, we have books on them, and even social media and the news is full of information and meditation techniques for children. However, children must practise it in a systematic and age-appropriate manner. Otherwise, it could be boring and even harmful to them. 

Here are some precautions to be followed in meditation and yoga for children:

1. Children below the age of seven must refrain from deep bending postures and advanced asanas, as their bodies are still very tender.

2. Children should also practice particular yoga movements to combat excessive screen time, constant social media engagement, sitting for long hours, and to work on issues like eye sight and shoulder pain.

3. Children below the age of seven should not perform exercises where they have to hold their breath. They can build their lung capacity over a few years after turning eight.

4. You must encourage a daily combination of asana practice, breathwork and meditation for kids to counter the burnout and fatigue they experience through engaging with technology and an unbalanced lifestyle.

Researched techniques of yoga and meditation for children

Here are a few ways in which you can make yoga and meditation for kids fun:

1. Box breathing

Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and then hold again for 4 counts.

They can stretch their hands, making a box in front of themselves. Tell them to place all their worries in the box and toss it away. This makes the process tangible and leaves them feeling relaxed and light. They can practise 5-7 rounds of this. 

2. Practice gratitude techniques

This is a powerful practice to cultivate a positive mindset. 

Tell your child to share three things they’re grateful for every night before bedtime, and you do the same with them.

This simple practice can boost their happy hormones, increase their sense of contentment, and give them a greater sense of self.

3. Nature movements

Ask your child to observe their natural surroundings and tell you their favourite animals, insects, and trees. Create fun sequences and stories around them. For example, you could take them on an imaginary jungle safari – let them practise the tree pose, the lion pose, the elephant pose, and the tortoise pose. Finish the sequences off by making them lie down in Shavasana or the sleeping pose for complete body relaxation. Being fully absorbed in the movement process is liberating for their minds and improves their flexibility, strength, and concentration levels.

4. Bhramari pranayama 

If your child has an exam or has difficulty sitting for long periods, the bhramari pranayama practice can help them calm down. Bhramari Pranayam involves shutting your ears and making a high-pitched bee sound 3-4 times.

Any age group can follow the above practices. 

A lifelong support system

Yoga and meditation are simple and can become lifelong disciplines. Children can always use them to cope with difficult situations, as well as as a tool to direct their energy positively. 

Cumulatively, 15-20 mins of daily practice can change how your children perceive themselves and the world around them. 

Treat the practice of meditation and yoga for children like a game, something fun that they can do by themselves, with their friends, or with you. Compliment their technique to make them feel good about themselves. A little fun and yoga magic can go a long way!

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.