What does yoga give my kids? Some of my favorite things: focus, confidence, and calm to ease ADHD symptoms.
by Stacey Turis
Yoga may bring to mind visions of arms and legs entangled and strange noises emanating from the mouths of strangers. The first time I heard an "Om," I giggled. I had no idea that there was a physiological reason for making that strange humming noise I had heard so many times on TV and in the movies. There is. It vibrates the vagus nerve, which calms the nervous system.
I have trained for 200 hours to be a yoga instructor, and I am thrilled that my kids and husband plop down and get their Om on whenever they want. If they have a challenge, I have a yoga exercise for them. Although the benefits of adult yoga are well known, you will be surprised at the difference it can make in children with ADHD. I have highlighted some of them, along with exercises and poses you and your child can do together.
>> Control. Breath control can help children feel more in control of their brains and bodies, which is huge for a kid with ADHD. Most of us take shallow breaths, so when we concentrate on taking nice deep breaths, the extra oxygen gives our bodies a kick in the backside. Some of the benefits include a sense of well-being, increased energy levels (the good kind), anxiety reduction, and less irritability.
My son used to hold his breath during tantrums, which resulted in a red face, bulging eyes, and an unimpressed mother. Now my kids practice deep breathing any time they feel their bodies or emotions getting away from them. It brings them back to a nice calm state. OK, calm-ish.
Deep Breathing Exercise: Take five slow, deep breaths through the nostrils, rest for five regular breaths, then take five more deep breaths. Repeat as necessary.
>> Concentration. Yoga improves concentration and attention span, while teaching focus. When kids concentrate on their breath or feel a stretch in their arms, they learn body awareness. This teaches them to keep their minds in one place, instead of all over the place. The self-control eventually spills over to the classroom and home, where they can enjoy the benefits of less stressful homework and classroom time, not getting yelled at (as much) for leaving the house key in the front door, and remembering to take home their moldy lunch box from their locker.
Mountain Pose: Stand up straight with feet together. Spread the toes and straighten the legs without locking the knees. Ground down by pushing through the feet and lift through the head, making sure to face forward, keeping your head level. Hold for 10 deep breaths.
>> Confidence. Kids gain confidence by trying new poses and developing new skills. By learning self-control and self-calming techniques, they are likely to grow confident in interacting with other children.
My daughter is a perfectionist. She would rather not try anything at all than fail at it. Once she started her yoga practice and tried new poses, falling (not failing) and succeeding, her new-found confidence led her to tackle roller-skating with her friends. Of course, she came out of the house with a pillow duct-taped around her bottom, but I still couldn't have been more proud.
Roaring Lion Pose: Kids love this pose because they get to make a funny face and roar like they own the jungle. Talk about confidence! Kneeling on the floor with their bottom resting on their calves, have them place their hands on the knees and sit up straight. Open the mouth, close the eyes, wrinkle the nose and extend the tongue as far out and down as possible. Inhale and then breathe out with a forceful ROARRRRR. Repeat five times.
>> Calmness. The routine of yoga can be calming to kids, especially when they practice the same postures and become confident doing them. Once my kids get on the mat, they are focused on their breathing and what their bodies are doing. Holding a pose is hard work, both mentally and physically, so any funny business is tough to pencil in. Start with deep breathing and then pick eight or 10 postures to practice. Once your kids get those down, replace a couple of the postures with new ones. If possible, practice the postures in the same order every time for consistency.
Child's Pose: Kneel down and sit on the feet with the knees separated. Place the forehead on the ground in front of the knees, curving the spine. Arms can extend forward or be placed back beside the body. Keep those hips down! Relax and breathe deeply for two to five minutes.
Do yourself and your kids a favor -- slot in some yoga into your life. You'll be proud when you see your mini-yogi drop down and start breathing deeply instead of holding their breath, hissy-fit style. And those skin-wings under your arms may even hit the road, too!