Helping your Child Stress Less with Yoga

Written by: Kerry Maiorca

When an eight-year-old says he’s stressed, there’s a problem.

As a yoga teacher, I’ve heard it all from my students. People often come to yoga for physical reasons, seeking relief from chronic back pain or shoulder and neck tension, but they keep coming back to the mat because it provides a retreat, a much-needed break from the stresses and tensions of everyday life.

One of my students brought her eight-year-old son to class recently, and when I asked if there was anything I should know about him, he said, “I get really, really stressed, and when I’m stressed it’s hard for me to get unstressed.”

My jaw dropped. I’d like to think childhood is still a carefree time when play and fun are the main focus. I’d like to believe the word “stress” isn’t even in a child’s vocabulary, but this conversation with a young yogi brought me back to reality. From longer school days to more intense extracurricular activity schedules, there’s a reason stress is no longer an adults-only problem.

The negative consequences of persistent stress

When a true stressor is present, the body’s fight-or-flight response takes over to safely avoid the threat of danger; the fight-or-flight response is what makes you run from an attacking animal or jump out of the way of an oncoming car without having to think about it.

The problem is that the fight-or-flight response and the corresponding chemicals you release when you experience stress should be a short-term fix to a pressing problem. When children are chronically overscheduled, parents are overworked and families forever rush from one activity to the next, the body’s stress response never has a chance to turn off, and stress becomes persistent.

Learning to self-regulate behavior

As parents, none of us want our child to become the eight-year-old who gets “really, really stressed,” yet it can be hard to know how to break the cycle.

Yoga can teach children (and adults!) the tools they need to self-regulate behavior on physical, mental and emotional levels. Self-regulation is the skill of self-control, the ability to recognize and meet your needs from moment to moment.

When a child comes home from school, the pent-up energy and worries from the day often manifest either in the child bouncing off the walls or wanting to veg out in front of the television. If the child is equipped with tools from yoga class, he/she may choose alternate ways of releasing that energy. Kids who practice yoga may use a few deep breaths, a tree pose or the practice of conscious relaxation to release the pressure and tension that has built up during the day.

Yoga for the whole family

Children and adults desperately need to schedule relaxation, but who has the time? The good news is that a little goes a long way, so it’s easier than you think to make time for simple yoga in daily life.

Start with a family yoga class to learn the basics, then schedule a time to practice together at home. Instead of zoning out in front of the television to unwind at night, move the coffee table aside and take a 10-minute family yoga break. Kids are natural yogis, so they’ll love the chance to breathe deeply, unplug and relax with you. When you model self-regulation for your children, when you practice breaking free from the cycle of stress, your whole family will benefit!

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Posted on November 08, 2012 at 10:22 AM