The Greater Seattle area offers many opportunities for the practice of yoga, with a handful of programs, studios and organizations that cater to children and families. Brittnie Rosen’s children, Minha and Esme, have practiced yoga for some time. Aged 7 and 4, they attend classes at Wallingford’s Aditi Yoga & Wellness, , where their mom works.
If Esme had one word to associate with yoga, it would be “calm.” For Minha the word might be community: “I really like when my friend Ahna is at yoga too, then I feel really good.”
Recent research indicates that practicing yoga for as little as 10 minutes a day over eight weeks can lower anxiety in children ages 8 to 10. And experts at Seattle Children’s Hospital stress that practicing yoga helps improve stamina and flexibility. Yoga is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which considers it safe, effective, and a good way to improve “emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral health conditions.”
Aditi Yoga & Wellness and Seattle Kids Yoga (SKY) offer classes for children and families and training for yoga teachers who want to work with kids. Aditi instructors Andrea Hildebrandt and Maggie Pleas both completed their training through SKY.
Hildebrandt has practiced yoga for more than 20 years and has a background in non-traditional K-12 education. Learning to teach kids felt like a natural fit.
“Yoga is about the connection with your body and your breath,” says Hildebrandt. “The hope is that, out in the world, when students encounter a stressful situation, they can connect with their breath and transition through whatever is hard.”
There’s a lot to support that hope. A study published in the Journal of Psychology Research and Behavior Management found that “age-appropriate yoga and mindfulness programs may contribute to the development of critical skills in children.” Some of those critical skills include the ability to self-regulate and focus. Other research shows that yoga can help improve kids’ balance, strength, and ability to reduce tension.
Making it interesting and engaging
Hildebrandt, who currently teaches yoga for kids ages 9 to 13, recommends making yoga fun for younger kids by telling stories and incorporating props such as small stuffed animals into the practice. She offers a choose-your-own-adventure style of yoga, during which she encourages kids to exercise autonomy over their experience. Of course, she checks in with them regularly during class.
Yoga has even found its way into classrooms. Studies show it improves children’s performance in school and behavior in class and helps to reduce kids’ anxiety and stress. For kids with ADHD, yoga may help improve symptoms like inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
Yoga in schools
In addition to teaching children’s yoga at Aditi, Maggie Pleas teaches yoga classes for Seattle Public Schools. She leads after-school yoga classes for kindergarten, first, and second graders.
“People of any age can practice yoga. There are so many aspects to yoga, not just the physical poses,” Pleas says. “There’s breathwork and mindfulness. My favorite pose to teach children is savasana. At the end of class, it’s interesting to see how much kids relax.
“I encourage them to listen to the music, pretend to take a nap,” she adds, “and sometimes I offer a forehead or foot massage to those who want one.”
Let them decide
She has had fun developing and planning her classes. She uses themes—anything from “Wheels on the Bus” to nocturnal animals to space—to keep younger kids engaged.
Young yogis in Pleas’ classes are encouraged to try new things, but they’re also given the autonomy to decide what works for their bodies. That, says Pleas, is a key component of any good yoga class. Pleas regularly encourages her students to check in and connect with themselves. And, above all else, she encourages, “creativity, self-reflection, and having fun.”
SKY offers resources to encourage and support children’s practice at home, including yoga cards and a yoga book for toddlers. They are also a great source of additional information about kid’s yoga in Seattle schools and studios.