10 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga For Kids
Yoga can have many of the same benefits for kids as it can for adults.
It’s a holistic mind–body practice which is often used for physical and mental health. And is now commonly looked upon as an enjoyable way to get both physically and mentally fit.
As such, it’s a popular form of exercise throughout the world with many classes available to people of all ages.
In this article I want to delve into the scientific research behind yoga for kids and determine it really has benefits for your children’s physical and mental wellbeing.
A Little on the History of Yoga
Yoga is an ancient tradition which has been around for thousands of years.
It is a practice which is thought to have originated in India around 1,900 years B.C.
It originally stemmed from the Vedas – the Indian holy texts. As well as yoga, three major religions came from those texts – Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Then at around 200-400AD, a sage named Patanjali created the Yoga Sutras. The “eight limbs” of yoga he came up with are still central to much of yoga teaching today and they discuss posture, breathing, meditation and correct living.
For many centuries after this, yoga was largely about meditation and challenging practices. Poses, such as standing on one leg for weeks to show your dedication, were a predominant feature. Ouch!
For a long time there were only 14 yoga asanas or postures.
The major popularity of yoga didn’t really start until the early 1900s in Mysore, India – after which it was taken to the West.
Now there are over 100 postures and it is a popular form of exercise, regardless of your religion or where you live.
Now we’ll move on to the scientifically proven benefits of yoga for kids and learn just how yoga can help children’s minds and bodies develop.
The Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga For Kids
Benefits of Yoga for kids – Improves Their Attention
The world we live in is full of distractions.
Screens are everywhere – phones, tablets, TVs, games consoles – the list goes on…
So there’s a lot competing for the attention of our children’s developing minds and there is now widespread worry that this abundance of media devices are reducing their attention spans.
Yoga, however, has been found to be one way to increase children’s attention spans.
One study, carried out by Nilsoge et al., looked at healthy students between the ages of 8 and 14.
They got 40 students to practise yoga for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for a whole year.
This practise involved a variety of postures as well as yogic breathing and 5 minutes of relaxation at the end.
They then compared the performance of these children with others who had not taking the yoga training.
They found that the yoga children had better attention spans and performed better at visual attention and verbal memory tasks.
Yoga has also been found to reduce the symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
In this study, 40 children diagnosed with ADHD were separated into two groups of 20. One of the groups was given 16 sessions of yoga while the other was given non-therapy sessions.
A significant difference in attention was reported between the two groups, with the yoga children displaying increased attention and less fidgeting and interrupting.
The researchers wrote that this was probably due to yoga’s ability to connect the mind with the body and that it encouraged them to use their muscles in new ways.
They also wrote that yoga gave the children a way to practise calming themselves and helped them to manage their emotions.
Which brings us on to…
Yoga for Kids Improves Self Regulation
Self regulation is you child’s ability to manage their emotions to suit their current situation. It includes being able to calm themselves down when upset and be able to handle anger and frustration without an outburst.
If children are able to have better control over these emotions they will be more able to achieve goals without being side-tracked by their feelings. To read more about self regulation check out this article over at childmind.org.
Yoga has been found to help develop self regulation skills in preschool children.
Mindfulness based yoga, made part of a class’ morning routine and part of transitions, was found to help children control their impulses.
They found that the children had an increased will power through the ability to delay gratification. This took the form of not peeking or touching a wrapped toy – pretty tricky for a 4 year old when they’re told there is a special surprise waiting for them.
The children also showed the ability to restrict their outward behaviors such as mimicking the researchers pencil tapping.
Better Executive Functioning
This is closely linked to the point above as executive function is an umbrella term that includes a collection of processes that are needed for purposeful, goal-directed behavior.
These processes include things such as anticipation, goal selection, planning, starting an activity, self-regulation, flexibility in your thinking, and attention.
In one study 64 children aged between 7 and 9 were put through a series of mindfulness exercises including meditation, breathing exercises, self reflection and sensory awareness – some key concepts of yoga.
Their sessions were twice a week for 30 minutes and lasted for 12 weeks.
The study found that these exercises improved the children’s behavioural control in many different settings. The children were better at initiating tasks and monitoring how these tasks were doing.
And that the noticed improvements were greater in the children that already struggled with executive function.
Yoga has also been found to improve planning and execution times in children completing both simple and complex tasks.
So if you have or know a child who struggles with executive function then mindfulness and yoga may be something to try?
Yoga for Kids Improves Motor Skills and Aids Physical Development
This one makes sense as much of yoga involves holding tricky physical poses and balancing.
Through yoga, children will have to use different muscles in different ways and increase their core strength to be able to hold the poses correctly.
One study in Brazil looked at the benefits of yoga for kids’ physical development.
They took 16 children from the 1st grade of a public elementary school, through a 12 week intervention. The children did two 45 minute sessions of yoga each week.
They reported that the children showed improvements in agility, balance, strength and flexibility.
The improvement to balancing was down to certain yoga poses such as the airplane (Virabhadrasana C), tree (Vrksasana) and surfer (Virabhadrasana B), that require the child to stand on one foot and hold the position.
They suggested that the improvement in flexibility was down to the fact that poses such as sandwich (Paschimottanasana and Utanasana), dog (Adho Mukha), butterfly (Baddha Konasana), and snake (Bhujangasana) emphasize stretching and require the maintenance the use of different muscle groups.
This has been backed up by a study which looked at the effects of yoga on preschooler’s motor abilities.
The researchers compared 2 groups of 3-5 year old children and studied how Hatha yoga affected the children’s strength, flexibility, coordination and balance.
They found a statistically significant increase in the kids’ balancing ability and lower body strength in the children that had participated in the yoga training.
They also noted individual improvements in strength, flexibility and coordination.
Yoga for Kids has Been Shown to Improve Children’s Social Skills
Yoga has even been found to help with children’s social skills and how they interact with others.
It’s been shown that just a small period of yoga training can lead to increased feelings of well being and to children who feel more confident in social situations.
It’s also been found that yoga interventions can be great for children with behavioural and emotional difficulties.
This study looked at 107 children who participated in yoga, massage, breathing exercises and relaxation. Theses interventions consisted of twelve 45 minute sessions.
The intervention children showed improvements in self-confidence, social confidence, communication between each other and they were found to contribute more in the classroom.
Children in the intervention group were also noted by teachers to continue to use the skills learned in these sessions during the school day after the yoga training had finished.
Yoga has also been found to help children deal with conflict better.
Benefits of Yoga For Kids – For Relaxation and to Reduce Stress
This one isn’t really a surprise – it’s one of the things yoga is known for alongside helping people get fit.
What may be a surprise is that unfortunately, many children experience stress of some kind.
It could be caused by the academic pressures of modern life and the amount of tests and exams they have to take from a young age. Childline reported an 11% rise in counselling sessions to do with exam stress between 2015-2017.
It could be social pressure, in an increasingly connected world some children feel the stress so much more now that everything is measured by likes and follows.
Or it could be the changes that are taking place in their bodies and minds and not quite knowing how to deal with it.
Maybe it’s a fear of the future and growing up?
Whatever the reason, yoga for kids has been found to be one way to help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Researchers from Leipzig University in Germany looked at whether yoga could be used as stress reducing tool in 48 children from the 5th grade.
They used a combination of breathing exercises, imagination journeys and specially tweaked yoga for kids.
They found that after fifteen 60 minute sessions the children were more “emotionally balanced”. They said that children were less stressed, and feelings of hopelessness and anger were reduced.
They also wrote that “participants transferred the learned breathing techniques and self-instructions to situations beyond school, in order to relax after the lessons, to improve well-being and to control negative feelings.”
And suggested that yoga for kids would be a great way for children to reduce their stress levels.
This was backed up by another paper which examined yoga’s effects on inner-city children’s well-being.
It found that children participating in yoga reported using fewer negative behaviors in response to stress and had better emotional balance than a comparison group. Improvements in wellbeing were also reported.
Yoga has even been found to help manage children’s stress levels in postwar situations!
Children’s Yoga for Better Sleep
A big part of being healthy is having a good night’s rest!
I know I feel much better after a good sleep and yoga has been shown to help children achieve this.
One study, which ran a six week, twice weekly yoga session for children with ADHD found that yoga could actually help children sleep better.
They observed improved sleep patterns and the children themselves said that they felt more relaxed and calm and that they found it easier to drop off at night time.
This was backed up by the parents of the children in the study, who agreed and said they had also noticed that their children were getting a better night’s sleep.
Improved Academic Performance
As well as improving attention and concentration as noted above, yoga has been shown to help children perform better in tests.
208 school students, (132 boys, 76 girls) in the age range of 13 – 16 years, increased word cancellation test scores after practising yoga.
They had been undergoing yoga relaxation training for only 7 days – which consisted of repeating a verse from the yoga text, the Mandukya Karika followed by contraction of the muscles of the body as well as supine rest ( a pose where the child lay with legs apart and arms away from the sides of the body and with their eyes closed).
They were found to perform between 11 – 14% better in their test results.
Yoga has also been found to improve memory scores!
Kids’ Yoga for More Confidence and Better Self Esteem
Being a child can be tricky.
There’s a lot of changes happening and sometimes it can be difficult for them to figure out where they fit in and belong.
Self esteem can make a huge difference to a child’s success in pretty much everything they do. Because of this, it’s one of the traits I definitely want my little boy to grow up possessing.
Well, it turns out that yoga can also help children in that regard.
It’s been shown, in a study that consisted of 8 weeks of yoga exercises, meditation and controlled breathing, to improve children’s perception of themselves.
Part of this programme involved self affirmation where the students described positive things about themselves.
After the course, the children were found to feel better about themselves, have increased self esteem and that they were empowered to “be strong in the whole wide world”.
Another paper, which focused on yoga based self discovery, found that the children (aged 8-11) had increased self confidence, social confidence, and were more willing to contribute when in the classroom.
For Family Bonding
Any time you spend with your child is a great time to bond!
And if you can find something you both enjoy and that may make you healthier as well all the better!
There was a study in Sydney, Australia, that was advertised in a newspaper for parents and their children to participate together in a 6 week yoga course with sessions twice a week.
48 children, along with their parents signed up for the study.
The course involved Sahaja yoga meditation which can be easily taught to both adults and children.
The meditation involved trying to reach a place of ‘thoughtless awareness’. With the families being silent and focussing their thoughts internally.
The parents were also asked to practise twice a day at home with their kids.
The parents were asked afterwards if they thought that the sessions had improved their relationships with their child and most stated that the experience had made a positive impact.
They said that they now enjoyed more open communication and less conflict with their children.
Final Thoughts on The Scientifically Proven Benefits of Yoga For Kids
Well I think it’s fair to say that yoga has some great benefits for children!
These benefits go so far beyond just helping them to get fit. It can increase their core strength, motor skills and balance but also greatly affects other areas such as their social and emotional development as well.
It’s a real shame that children feel any kind of stress!
I’ve written before about the power of play and I really feel that there should be more of that in our education systems and less testing.
But until this changes, it’s good to know that yoga may be one way to help reduce some of these feelings as well as improve children’s concentration and focus.
And if it’s something you’re willing to do with them it can be great for a bit of bonding – plus you’ll be getting fitter as well!
If you want to give yoga a try with your child I’ve made a list of some of the best online resources so feel free to check it out!
I hope I have been successful in showing you some of scientifically proven benefits of yoga for kids. If you found this post useful or think others would like to read it then please share using the buttons below.
If you have any views on yoga for kids I’d love to hear them. Have your children ever tried it? What age did they start? Do you yourself practise yoga and have you noticed any changes in yourself? What age did you start?
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Let’s nurture those neurons!
References and Further ReadingClick here for references
- A Comparison of Preschoolers’ Motor Abilities Before and After a 6 Week Yoga Program
- A journey of self‐discovery: an intervention involving massage, yoga and relaxation for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties attending primary schools
- A journey of self‐discovery: an intervention involving massage, yoga and relaxation for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties attending primary schools
- Assessment and development of executive function (EF) during childhood
- Effect of two yoga-based relaxation techniques on memory scores and state anxiety
- Effect of yoga on children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children
- Effects of yoga on inner-city children’s well-being: A pilot study
- Enhancing Preschoolers’ Self-Regulation Via Mindful Yoga
- Evaluation of Attention and Verbal Memory in Yoga Practicing Pre-Adolescents: A Cross-Sectional Study
- Here and now: Yoga in Israeli schools
- Immediate effect of two yoga-based relaxation techniques on attention in children
- Improved performance in the Tower of London test following yoga.
- Nurturing Mindfulness in Children and Youth: Current State of Research
- Perceptions of Children Who Participated in a School Based Yoga Program
- Qualitative Evaluation of a High School Yoga Program
- Sahaja yoga meditation as a family treatment programme for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder
- The effects of yoga practice in school physical education on children’s motor abilities and social behavior
- Yoga for children in the mirror of the science: working spectrum and practice fields of the Training of Relaxation with Elements of Yoga for Children