Yoga has proven heath benefits fir children. Picture: Supplied
Today marks International Day of Yoga, officially declared by the UN in 2014 as a day to celebrate the wonderful benefits of the mind and body practice.

Research has shown that regular yoga practice leads to better mental, physical and intellectual health and according to psychologist and author of ParentMagic, Carol Surya, the benefits are not only apparent in adults, but children too.

Surya reports that in many schools worldwide, it’s common knowledge that when children practised yoga, parents, caregivers and teachers see a variety of positive results, among them better self-esteem, improved focus and concentration, and reduced fear and anxiety.

“Whilst the physical benefits of kiddies’ yoga like building balance, co-ordination and strength are important, we see tremendous positive changes in children’s mental health too,” says Surya.

The trend of moving towards a more holistic approach to child well-being is fast becoming popular. It was recently announced that more than 370 schools in England introduced mindfulness as a subject to improve youth mental health.

Surya is also the co-founder of Wise (Wellbeing in Schools and Education), a wellness-based programme that uses meditation tools such as dance, games and yoga with vulnerable children in underprivileged schools across the Western Cape.

She lists some of the top health benefits of kiddies’ yoga, as well as her tips on how to get your child excited about doing yoga.

Health benefits of yoga for children:

On a physical level, children build balance, strength and endurance. It also helps with co-ordination, and increases aerobic and lung capacity.

Builds self-esteem and confidence.

Improved memory, increased brain plasticity, better concentration and focus.

Helps instil calm and relaxation. In fact, some yoga poses can even help your child fall asleep easier.

Builds compassion and kindness.

Reduced anxiety and stress 

Usually the sympathetic part of your nervous system takes over when stressed, but yoga brings about balance by activating the parasympathetic part (recovery) of the system which releases feelings of relaxation and calm instead. This teaches the body to more easily activate with the parasympathetic system in times of stress.

Helps children develop a more conscious connection to their bodies and the natural world around them. This is especially important in a time where being environmentally aware and conscious is vital.

“What I love is when I see children in a group doing yoga together, and they are really proud of getting the poses right,” says Surya. “This intense concentration gives them a real sense of accomplishment.”

How to get your child excited about yoga:

Make yoga fun

The best way to make things fun for kids is to turn yoga into a game or story. For example, you could do “unicorn yoga” with your little one and make all poses unicorn poses (for example, “tree pose” becomes a unicorn balancing on one leg).

Get involved

Kids are naturally curious and if they see you doing yoga, they are more inclined to want to join in. It’s also something fun to do together.

Make yoga cards

Download printable yoga cards off the internet or make your own. Get your child to choose three cards each day or take turns with their siblings to choose. There are some great themed yoga cards available. You can even incorporate themes that your child might be learning at school. In this way you can learn and practise yoga at the same time.