Teenage years aren’t for the faint of heart. During this time, there are many physical and energetic changes that cause imbalances. Reactions to external stimuli may be heightened, and teens require rest from day-to-day demands. Relaxation and restorative asana poses are most effective for rebalancing frazzled teens; and tuning in to yoga media, as well as positive, uplifting music, helps them utilize their technologies as a bridge to a more nurturing lifestyle. At the end of the day, knowing where they are and simply being there for them is everything!
From a yogic perspective, the breath is regarded as Prana, or the “vital force.” The breath is what governs our mental and emotional well-beings, having the capability to quiet our rage and soothe our nerves.
In the CALMING KIDS curriculum, we train instructors to teach breathing exercises to children and teens. On numerous reported occasions, these lessons have resulted in a decrease of bullying and violence — such as when children stop to take a deep breath and check-in when frustrated, rather than lashing out at others. It’s the deep breath that acts as a momentary reprieve, or gap, to recenter the self.
For this deep breath to be most effective, it must be executed properly:
Sit or stand with a tall spine, and imagine your lungs as balloons that expand and collapse as you inhale and exhale through your nose. Visualize the expansion of the balloon as the air fills your lungs, traveling through your chest, waist, abdomen, and back during inhalation — and then visualize the inward softening of your body as the air leaves it upon exhalation.
There are numerous techniques for teaching children the importance of breathing and how to breathe effectively. To learn how to teach mindful breathing to children, enroll in our CALMING KIDS Teacher Training
Pilgrimage CD by MC Yogi offers Yoga Music with the styles of world beat, hip-hop, Bollywood, reggae, dancehall, house and dub music.
“I’m just a working class mystic,” shrugs the enviably laid back MC Yogi, grinning a little as he adjusts his trademark fedora, kicks up his Adidas and cranks the volume on “Give Love,” an instantly addictive track off his stunning dance-floor grenade of a new record, Pilgrimage. You may have heard his 2008 debut, Elephant Power, a certified phenom that still hovers near the top of the world music charts. The album’s extraordinary success earned Yogi invitations to play in clubs and yoga festivals all over the world.
Bullying is much more common than most people realize: around a quarter of children are bullied at school, and around a third of adults experience bullying in the workplace. Bullying has an incredibly strong impact on children in particular, because it’s happening at a time when they’re particularly vulnerable to the psychological problems it can cause. For kids who are being bullied, or who are vulnerable in other ways, practicing yoga regularly can provide some important benefits.
Exercise in general improves mental and physical health, not only because of improved fitness, but also because regular physical activity helps strengthen the body-mind connection and helps people feel good about their bodies. The emphasis that yoga places on strength, flexibility, and coordination is especially beneficial for improving body image, self-confidence, and self-esteem, which are all things that most children and teens struggle with, and are things that bullied children are even more in need of.
Yoga is also an excellent stress-buster; while many people believe that children don’t get severely stressed the way adults can, unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Children are more than capable of suffering from high levels of stress; it’s just that their stress results from different causes. And when people of all ages are bullied, they suffer from a wide range of physical problems as well as psychological ones: high stress levels, which contributed to headaches, stomach aches and digestive problems, muscle pain, anxiety, impaired immune function, and weight loss or gain.
How Can Yoga Help Vulnerable Kids?
Exercise is important for both mental and physical health, and regular exercise can also be an important part of building healthy self-esteem as well as a healthy lifestyle. All kinds of exercise can provide these benefits, even if they don’t have a cardiovascular component, but when it comes to yoga, regular practice is of special benefit to the mind, body, and spirit.
One of the most important benefits of yoga is that it’s a non-competitive type of exercise, which means it’s great for encouraging children and teens to practice yoga not to win, but just because it feels good to do it. When you practice yoga there’s no winning or losing, and no measuring yourself against other people; there’s just the satisfaction of getting stronger, of achieving new poses, of relieving stress and stretching muscles.
The opportunity to take part in activities that don’t focus on winning or losing is hugely important for kids; for children who are being bullied, it’s even more so, because of the severe psychological effects that bullying can have. Poor self-esteem, low confidence, poor body image, anxiety, fearfulness, depression, and social isolation can also result from bullying; the unique qualities of yoga can help mitigate those effects and give bullied kids a chance to relieve stress and improve the way they feel about themselves.
There’s an increasingly large body of scientific evidence showing that yoga can help improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. It’s so beneficial that many therapists recommend yoga to their patients; some even undergo therapeutic yoga training and directly incorporate the exercise into therapy sessions. The deep state of relaxation that practicing yoga induces is a type of relaxation that you can’t achieve through normal activities like socializing or spending quiet time alone, and helps promote benefits like reduced stress and tension, better mental clarity, better quality of sleep.
When kids practice yoga regularly, they also develop an improved ability to handle stressful situations; that means kids who are vulnerable to bullying are better able to cope with it when it happens, and may be less susceptible to the psychological trauma that bullying can cause.
Yet another benefit of regular yoga practice is that it provides relief from thinking about those stressful situations. When practicing yoga it’s necessary to concentrate not on thinking, but on what your body is doing, about which muscles to contract, about maintaining breathing and balance. Yoga may not be an intense cardiovascular exercise but it is both physically and mentally demanding, requiring that the practitioner focus all their attention on their body. When a child is practicing yoga, they’re not worrying about bullying, about being stressed or anxious; they’re just focused on the pose and on their body. Each session gives the child a much-needed chance to relax, and over time, the accumulated benefits of stress reduction, physical strength, and mental resilience help them thrive.
Recent findings across the globe on the beneficial effects of yoga have led this practice to be embraced by adults and children alike. Yoga is used to provide pain relief for migraines and backache, to relieve stress and to increase vitality. It is also considered a complementary therapy for illnesses such as atherosclerosis, breast cancer and many mental conditions (such as anxiety, depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), with powerful stress- and fatigue-fighting effects. Yoga is also used with children, to help increase concentration and decrease bullying; learning the art of pranayamic breathing enables little ones to remain focused and positive in the most difficult of times. Studies have also shown that yoga can be used with children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
ADHD: A Condition Affecting Millions of Children
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US, approximately 11 per cent of children aged between four and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD since 2011, with numbers increasing as the years progress. The average ADHD diagnosis is made when a child is seven, and boys are more likely than girls to be affected (13.2% of boys vs 5.6% of girls). Children with ADHD display an array of symptoms, including frequent forgetfulness, squirming or fidgeting, talking a lot, finding it hard to resist temptation, having trouble with turn-taking, etc. This can lead to difficulties in relationships with others, both at home and in a school/social setting. Despite a plethora of studies, the precise causes of/risk factors for ADHD are unknown, though research suggests that the condition is related to genetics. Additional risk factors can include premature delivery, low birth weight and the use of alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy. There are three types of ADHD patients: those who are mainly hyperactive, those who find it difficult to concentrate, and those who display a combination of these qualities. Treatment is varied and can include medication, therapy or a combination of these approaches. Recent studies have shown that yoga can also have an important role to play in soothing many of ADHD’s most difficult symptoms.
Yoga Helps Kids with ADHD: The Findings
A 2013 study published in the journal, ISRN Pediatrics, found that yoga improved school performance in a group of children with diagnosed ADHD. The study involved 69 participants, who took part in a program called Climb-Up, which involved yoga, meditation and play therapy. Parents and teachers were then asked to assess the behavior of the children using the Vanderbilt questionnaire for ADHD. The researchers found that 46% of children improved significantly in terms of their behavior (according to their teachers) and 92% improved (according to their parents). The authors concluded that yoga could form part of cost-effective programs to tackle ADHD at schools.
Another study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders sought to study the effect of yoga on 19 school-aged boys with ADHD, who were on medication. The kids took part in either 20 sessions of yoga or in control activities. Researchers found a significant improvement in behavior of children in the yoga group, and those who practiced yoga at home in addition to taking part in the program, showed an even greater level of improvement.
A third study published by German scientists separated a group of 19 children into two groups: one took part in regular yoga sessions and the other performed traditional exercise routines. The study found that those in the yoga group once again displayed significantly reduced symptoms. They were found to improve in behavior and in the ability to concentrate.
The exact mechanisms that make yoga so successful at dealing with ADHD are unknown, though it is suspected that it may be related to yoga’s powerful ability to augment concentration and reduce cortisol (stress hormone levels) through a combination of pranayamic breathing, asanas and meditation. Yoga enhances our ability to be ‘in the here and now’, a skill which is so vitally needed in particular by ADHD sufferers with concentration difficulties. Yoga also enhances the mind’s ability to control thoughts, feelings and actions, thereby enabling children and adults alike to prevent conflicting thoughts and desires from disturbing their concentration and tranquility. Yoga has the unique ability to teach us how to concentrate and relax at the same time… it encourages a way of living that children can embrace and flourish through for the rest of their lives.
This is an interview with Dee Marie, MA, CYT who has been practicing yoga therapy in clinical settings since 1986 and instructing classes for students comprised of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. In the middle of a professional dance career she suffered a freak accident, after which she was forced to look for therapies to help counteract the news: “You will never walk again.” Therefore she decided to train in classical yoga therapy with Sri Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute starting in 1990, received a master’s degree from New York University in Exercise Therapy, Child and Motor Development in 1993, and studied with Mukunda Stiles in Structural Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda from 2003 to the present. Today, she is able to dance, ski, and hike in Boulder, Colo.
Rob Schware: What motivated you to start Calming Kids (CK): Creating a Non-Violent World? Where were you in your life at the time?
In 2004, I attended the annual meeting in Denver of the American Medical Association Alliance, which is a division of the American Medical Association that implements community-based health care programs addressing aspects of the nation’s well-being. The alarming rise of bullying in the schools was the focus of the meeting, which inspired me to address bullying with an educationally-based yoga program during the school-day curriculum to teach ahimsa — nonviolence to self and others. In 2004, yoga was not as mainstream in the schools as it is today.
Is there evidence that what you are teaching kids works?
Yes. I set up a pilot study to determine if yoga would result in a decrease in bullying. And it did. I spent four years gathering information while teaching 4th and 5th grade students during the school day. The students were surveyed before and after my instruction period. Statistical evaluation of the questionnaires addressed topics related to bullying as well as interpersonal relationships, stress management, and concentration abilities, and showed a dramatic decrease in violent behavior. I also interviewed the teachers and the principal to determine the effectiveness of the program. They enthusiastically endorsed the changes observed in the students.
The CK curriculum was created after the first year of research, because our pilot study [indicated] that children taught to relax, self-regulate, communicate, and have compassion for others could dramatically increase their abilities to manage their anger.
Is it an adult idea that kids should practice yoga?
No. There is a huge need for this type of education for kids. With the constant advancement in technology, kids and teens are continually bombarded with external stimuli. But their communication skills are often lacking, self-awareness is difficult, and relaxation/centering techniques are nonexistent. Therefore, Calming Kids: Creating a Non-Violent World definitely works for kids and teens.
Students of all ages love yoga. It is fun and very relaxing. The CK system teaches children how to balance their lives and how to communicate effectively. Students do not ask for asanas (yoga postures); they do ask for relaxation, concentration or conflict resolution scenarios. It is the lifestyle of yoga that sparks their interest. Yoga is an enjoyable way to learn self-reflection, introspection, and relaxation, which most children greatly appreciate. It helps them to counterbalance their reaction to the busy world they live in.
Nowadays, everyone is teaching “kids yoga.” Please compare and contrast what you teach with the way it’s being taught by more-recently trained instructors.
Many of the current children’s yoga approaches become just another movement experience in childlike form — “Be a tree, jump like a frog, stand like a flamingo.” All of this has its place, and children respond joyfully to the animal imagery of yoga asana. Addressing the physical body is a way into the energetic and emotional bodies, but what about the student who cannot walk, has a special need, or just came back from soccer practice, or the teen who does not like to sweat? How do we reach this population? Calming Kids yoga looks at a deeper aspect of managing one’s life by giving techniques not only with exercise, but with a traditional approach to yoga education by teaching practices for the body, the breath, the mind, and nonviolent communication strategies.
Yoga used to be a practice to prepare the body for meditation. What is it you are teaching kids? Is there anything spiritual about your teaching or is it strictly about stretching and breathing?
The spiritual aspect of Calming Kids emphasizes to the students how to have positive social interactions with their families, peers, community and world.
CK is taught within the school-day curriculum. And it addresses more than stretching and breathing. CK explores five out of the eight classical Ashtanga limbs. Since students learn in different ways, the CK system addresses all learning styles by presenting yoga education in a variety of forms: visually, physically, orally and intellectually. The CK program introduces how the regulation of involuntary breathing will create a comfortable body and a focused mind subsequently developing compassion for oneself and others.
What is your vision for yoga with the kids you are trying to serve? What would you like to see happen?
To have yoga education mainstream in every school nationally by 2020, in order to offer school-age students an alternative to sex and guns as communication techniques. I want the schools to teach ahimsa (nonviolence to self and others). And this would certainly not be an exercise system, but rather the ability to relax and communicate effectively in stressful situations. To take a few moments to breathe, center, reflect, and gather one’s thoughts before reacting in a violent manner.
What continues to motivate you?
I live in one of the largest yoga-populated cities in America: Boulder, Colo. Yet there are still so many individuals here — children, teens, young adults, seniors, families, brain-injury survivors, wheelchair-bound students — who cry out for the knowledge to calm down, relax, focus, release, and communicate effectively. What motivates me is helping to address these cries, to help those who want to learn a lifestyle of freedom within their body and mind. I am continually motivated to help the youth who have nowhere else to turn in order to learn svadhyaya (self-study) and ahimsa (nonviolence to self and others). There is clearly an intense need to offer solutions in response to the loud cries because of the number of shootings we have in Colorado.
I’m interested in your thoughts on service, and the types of service that come from a yoga practice. What kind of service opportunity does a yoga practice offer to a teacher in a place like Boulder?
Typically we start our journey into yoga for self-satisfaction and balance, and after many years of practice we attain a comfortable, confident, balanced attitude within our own lives. We can then turn to helping others who are struggling. Yoga is for everyone. When we say, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” it means that if we are ready to serve in any situation, the opportunity will present itself.
Besides training youth providers and children nationally, Calming Kids is developing an online Children’s Yoga and Bully-Proofing Training for elementary-age youth professionals, as well as, a Spanish version of our CK Training Manual.
Are you a yoga instructor giving back to underserved or un-served populations? Email email@example.com if you’re interested in being interviewed for this series. Thank you for all you do in the name of service!
Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Coping with Trauma, a collection of simple but effective yoga practices developed by Suzanne Manafort and Dr. Daniel Libby through practical and clinical experience working with veterans coping with PTSD and other psycho-emotional stress. While benefiting trauma patients safely and comfortably, the practices can be used by anyone dealing with stress.
The Give Back Yoga Foundation is making this manual available free to veterans and VA hospitals. It is also available on the GBYF website, if you would like to purchase the book and support free distribution to veterans. This practice guide includes a supplement (poster-size) of the yoga practices.
Join us at the Yoga Service Conference at Omega June 7-9th http://yogaservicecouncil.org/?page_id=5
SAVE (Stop America’s Violence Everywhere) Colorado representative, Dee Marie has been a Masters Certified Yoga Therapist for 28 years. She’s worked with kids and adults from all walks of life and has dedicated her practice to preventing violence in schools. Designed for educators, health care providers, all youth facilitators, yoga teachers and parents, the Calming Kids Yoga teacher training teaches adults how to implement an award winning yoga curriculum that reduces bullying, improves anger management, concentration and relaxation in pre-school through high school age students.
Through four years of research in conjunction with American Medical Association, Boulder County Medical Society Alliance, Harvard University, and Boulder’s Heatherwood Elementary, Calming Kids proved that a 4.5 hour exposure to yoga over a period of two weeks has been shown to result in up to a 93% decrease in aggressive behavior in 4th and 5th grade children as well as improved concentration and relaxation. Since its conception, teachers from Cherry Creek, St. Vrain, Denver, Summit County, Boulder and Ouray School Districts have participated in the Calming Kids training and have been joined by educators throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Canada.
Yoga in schools is not a new concept—it’s often incorporated into PE curriculum as a form of exercise. Though staying physically fit is indeed a benefit of yoga, the Calming Kids program initiates yoga as a way to reduce violence and anxiety in schools and improve concentration. Boulder Valley School District has engaged Dee Marie to create a district wide curriculum for middle and high school Physical Education and health teachers for 2013.
The mission of Calming Kids is “to train and certify educational and healthcare professionals how to teach yoga in the school systems and clinics.” CK addresses and manages childhood obesity, stress, self-abuse, bullying and violent behavior with a comprehensive, nondenominational, classically-based yoga program in the school and healthcare systems. The methods include yoga psychology, breathing practices, concentration techniques, exercise postures, conflict resolution skits to control violence and aggression, and increase concentration. CK targets preschool through high school students, with emphasis on not harming oneself or others, learning to respect personal space and high-level concentration practices to enhance academics and encourage non-violent behavior.
Dee Marie, a Boulder resident and yoga therapist for 20 years, as well as Colorado’s Stop America’s Violence Everywhere representative, created the classical yoga program and booklet under the American Medical Alliance that specifically targets the issues of violence and bullying in schools. Ms. Marie performed a study of 4th and 5th graders in Boulder County, showing a 93% decrease in hitting in school, 68% decrease in feeling angry for no reason, a 57% increase in the ability to control anger, and an overall improved ability to sleep, in only six 45-minute sessions.
The CK program received the Ester Long Award from the Colorado Medical Society Alliance for innovative community health programs in 2005. In 2006, CK received the Health Awareness Promotion Award from the national division of the American Medical Association Alliance.
The CK program has been incorporated into academic curriculums in Boulder, Lyons, Denver, and Summit County, Colorado, as well as in Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware. Dee Marie’s program is also gaining attention globally, with many requests from various other countries with bullying issues such as Canada, Columbia, and Europe.
Jes Lucero currently offers the CK Yoga program to all ages of children; pre-school through high school.
Parents are always looking for new ways to enhance their children’s intelligence and discipline.However they need to make sure that it’s not boring! Yoga is the perfect solution to this problem.
Read on if you’re in this predicament:
Children often have a hard time being quiet in the classroom. Since yoga is a very silent activity, it can help them to learn that being quiet does not have to mean being bored. If they become comfortable with silence outside of the classroom, they may not be as likely to chat during a lesson in school.
Howard Gardner is famous for his theory of multiple intelligences, and yoga can help children to better understand some of the theory’s concepts. For example, children who are well versed in achieving the delicate movements that yoga requires will be working on their body/movement/kinesthetic intelligence. Additionally, children who are introduced to yoga as a spiritual and/or reflective movement will be working on their intrapersonal intelligence skills. They will be communicating with themselves and learning more about themselves as a result of the quiet, reflective moments that yoga provides to them. Children can see that intelligence does not come in a “one size fits all” package. Learning
Anyone who has practiced yoga certainly knows that it is no easy task. Yoga requires paying careful attention to the structure of the poses, since the poses are at the heart of a yoga session. By taking part in a session or series of classes, children will quickly learn how important it is to pay attention to the
exact movements that the instructor is doing. The instructor will most likely walk around and help them to achieve these poses. Such precision can help children in school. As a result of yoga, they may wind up paying more attention to the exact way in which the art teacher uses a technique or the math teacher
solves a problem. Not
Chances are, children are not going to get every single yoga move correct the first time that they do it. One of the wonderfully motivating aspects about yoga is that instructors are generally very patient and focused on helping their students week after week. As long as the child is actually trying, the instructor is going to provide constructive feedback in a non-judgmental way. Yoga is a way for children to realize that they do not have to be perfect, but if they keep trying with a lot of effort, they can completely succeed in certain disciplines. Clearly, yoga has a number of benefits for children, two of which are increasing the child’s understanding and potential for intelligence and determination. These two qualities are important for children to learn about, since they can absolutely and directly affect the success and levels of achievement that the child has in the educational setting.
Milo Hunting writes about parenting, fitness & finance.