We all know the stress children are under is higher now than ever before. A recent study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy noted children are assigned more homework, sometimes upwards of three times the amount recommended by education leaders.
Combine that with after-school activities and dizzying social calendars and some children start begging for a way to let off some steam.
“I know yoga relieves stress in children because I witness the transition firsthand in my 30-to-45-minute class sessions,” said Darci Janzen, founder of Yoga Bliss Studio in Edmond. “With a blend of yoga postures, breath work, relaxation and craft work, each child’s mind and body are reset chemically, emotionally, physically and mentally.”
Once kids learn basic asanas or yoga postures, they are able to practice yoga anytime, not just in the yoga studio. And by using this relaxation coping strategy, a child could keep this practice in their back pocket to carry throughout their lives.
Local mom and yoga studio owner Betina Wills agrees yoga can pack big benefits for children. Her Oklahoma City studio, This Land Yoga, offers classes just for kids.
“I believe yoga relieves stress in children by helping them connect with their bodies and their breath,” she said. “It also creates a safe environment for play and exploration without any competition.”
Here, the young participants began the class sitting in a circle and using their feet to pass a ball to each other. Then, with everyone sitting cross-legged and with eyes closed, Wills began: “Think about the very best thing that happened to you today or this week… something that happened and how it made you feel. Start to think of someone you know and something you can do for that person. Keep thinking about the good thing you are going to do for that person, then count to 30. When you are ready, open your eyes.”
Next was a fun activity, similar to Statues in the Garden (also known as Red Light, Green Light,) called Yogis in the Garden. The children freeze in an asana (yoga pose) of their choice. In the corner of the studio, one child was in an amazing downward dog, another displayed a mighty warrior pose, others were in plank or cow.
Besides the benefit of de-stressing, yoga offers other merits like increased strength, increased flexibility, better athletic performance, increased muscle tone, improved cardiovascular and circulatory health and is even beneficial to the lymphatic system.
“I would recommend yoga to a child who is experiencing anxiety, for them to use as a coping mechanism, to help ground them and keep them more focused,” said Heartsong Turnbull, a licensed professional counselor at the University of Oklahoma Child Studies Center. “A lot of times, with anxiety and other disorders, kids’ thoughts are taking over, they worry about something that happened in the past or will happen in the future. If they are doing something with their body such as yoga, it grounds them and brings them into the present moment.”
Wills agreed she sees kids in her classes slow down, breathe deeply and visualize positive things. Janzen emphasized yoga students need not be perfect; it’s not about perfection.
“Remember to be forgiving and have a sense of humor, keep a smile on your face,” Janzen said. “When you practice yoga, you will have good days and bad days, and just give it the best that you can give.”
Janzen believes it’s important to bring humor and light-heartedness to the classes she provides for kids.
“We are windy trees, just like the trees in Oklahoma,” she said in class as her kids took tree pose, mimicking windy trees before settling into the tree asana, standing on one leg.
Perhaps the most kid-friendly method of all when Janzen’s teaching is the colorful set of fairy wings she wears. She puts them on to become ‘The Kidz Yoga Fairy.’
“In my Children’s Yoga Teacher Training School, I got coined the Yoga Fairy because my demonstration for graduation included a fairy wand and cut-out stars for the kids to use as their drishti (focal point). And years later, here I am!”
She dons the wings every weekday in the classes for ages 3 to 7 and Saturdays for ages 3 to 12.
As with any physical activity, safety is important in yoga. Yoga teachers often include “body/pose checks” to see if the body is in alignment while doing a yoga pose.
“Remember, we want to do poses on both sides so our bodies are balanced,” Janzen reminded her class. There is humor too.
“Do you feel that muscle pull in this yoga pose? Is it in your ‘hamburgers?’” she said instead of “hamstrings.” Giggles rippled throughout the class.
In addition to classes just for kids, Janzen offers family yoga where moms and dads are invited to practice yoga with their children. Local mom Ann Canton takes the class with her daughter.
“I like that we can all work out as a family,” Canton said. “Darci speaks about living a yoga lifestyle, which is important.”
Two girls in Janzen’s class explained what they enjoy about yoga, further solidifying the work Wills and Janzen do is making a difference in the lives of kids.
“Yoga makes me happy and I like how I sit, move and play here,” said 5-year-old Juliana C. after one of Janzen’s classes.
Sydney N., an 11-year-old student, agreed.
“I like that you can be open and connect with yourself,” Sydney explained. “It kind of relaxes me. If I am stressed out about something, I will go into my room and do some simple yoga poses.”
Yoga classes end with the shavasana, the final relaxation pose at the end of any yoga practice.
“I have a bottle of ‘Magic Mist,’ filtered water and lavender essential oil, that I sprinkle on the children during shavasana,” Janzen said. “They love it!”
Finally the class closes with saying the familiar “namaste,” often translated from Sanskrit as “the light within me bows to the light within you.” Janzen reminds the students of the meaning, saying, “We are all equal.”
Here are some yoga classes for kids in the Oklahoma City metro:
- Eight-session series available for ages 7-12
- Family yoga classes for ages 8-15
- Kids yoga and family yoga classes for age 3 and up