Yoga is an ancient practice that has been spreading its benefits for generations. This 5000-year-old tradition from India has adapted and manifested in different ways in all types of cultures. And it’s no secret that yoga has many health benefits–both for our physical and mental health. But yoga is specifically helpful for kids impacted by chronic illness.
“Yoga requires syncing your breath with your movement, which sharpens your attention to your body.” Says CoachArt coach, Antonia.
If you’re looking to understand the benefits of yoga for kids with chronic health conditions, let’s dive in.
Yoga is an inclusive activity
Yoga is a truly remarkable form of exercise because it can accommodate folks of all ability types–gentle yoga meets people where they are. It isn’t about the push to burn the most calories or to lift the most weights, it’s about connecting with oneself.
“Yoga is also an incredible form of movement for any range of physical abilities,” says CoachArt coach Antonia, “every posture can be adapted to fit an individual child’s needs, and it creates this beautiful and inclusive space. A student of mine who is blind expressed how yoga allows her to gain a better sense of her body in relation to her surroundings.”
The only thing you need for yoga is your mind and body–no matter their condition. Whether in a wheelchair or on your own feet, yoga adapts to meet everywhere where you’re at.
Gentle yoga allows children of all abilities to participate. Whether one-on-one or in a group setting, instructors can incorporate poses and movements that are appropriate for a child’s specific needs.
For example, a common “tree pose,” where you stand planted on the ground, with your arms stretched above you, can be adapted for seated positions. Nearly all positions can be adapted to include all abilities.
Common adapted seated positions include:
- Seated Tree Pose: your arms stretched above you, stretching your arm and back muscles.
- Calm Forward Fold: your head gently relaxes on your thighs, while your arms hang low
- Gentle Seated Twist: Create a wingspan with your arms, and gently turn each side facing left and right.
Yoga allows kids to do poses in a way that feels right for their bodies while improving strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility.
Yoga helps manage stress and anxiety
Stretching, poses, and a focus on breath relieves muscle tension and helps promote mindfulness in children. Mindfulness is known to both reduce stress and build resilience to the inevitable stresses that happen in life.
This focus on body and breath can help children who experience higher-than-normal stress due to chronic health conditions. Yoga helps practitioners build resilience to stress, not just simple power through.
Yoga builds muscle and promotes physical health
Yoga poses also help with physical exercise. Its poses are known to build muscle by using your own body weight, so it’s not as physically demanding as other types of exercise–though it can be.
There are modifications for nearly every pose, and even with these modifications, muscles are being strengthened. Yoga can also help with other chronic conditions like asthma and arthritis.
For kids and teens impacted by these chronic illnesses, building their physical health can also help heal and connect with the strength in their bodies.
Some other notable physical benefits of yoga include:
- increased flexibility
- increased muscle strength and tone
- improved respiration, energy, and vitality
- maintaining a balanced metabolism
- weight reduction
- cardio and circulatory health
- improved athletic performance
- protection from injury
Yoga has other mental health benefits
In addition to building resilience to stress and anxiety, yoga has several other mental health benefits.
When one practices yoga, there is a need to focus on your body and breath, this typically allows you to connect at the moment, versus thinking too much about the future or past. When we are connected in the present moment we can be calmer, have increased body awareness, and even have an overall improved mood.