Channel That Energy! Top 3 Benefits of Yoga for Toddlers
It all started one Thursday during the hottest month of the summer. I spent the first part of my morning debating with my toddler over what she wanted for breakfast.
“What do you want?”
This debate was followed by a series of potty training fiascoes. To top it all off, she decided to stick a pony bead up her nose, which I was fortunate enough to be able to extract without the assistance of a medical professional. It was time for some yoga. Was it possible to find my center with this bead-obsessed, halfway potty-trained toddler running around?
I did yoga faithfully throughout college and during my first pregnancy, and I can’t say enough about its physical and emotional benefits for women and expecting mothers. However, ever since I became a work-at-home mom when my daughter turned one, I found it more and more difficult to work yoga into my daily routine. I assumed it would be impossible to do while my daughter was awake, so up to this point I had reserved yoga sessions for naptimes. Since business calls had prevented my usual naptime yoga routine on this particular day, I figured I’d give it a shot, despite the fact my daughter was a basket case.
And then something amazing happened. As I sat on my yoga mat listening to Ravi Shankar and trying to focus on my breath, I felt a little body sit down next to me. I turned my head to see my one-and-a-half year old sitting in an almost-perfect lotus pose.
I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. My daughter not only followed along with me throughout my entire yoga routine, but she also did most of the poses, as well as the breathing exercises. At the end of the session she laid down with me in the corpse pose for a whole thirty seconds. Then she stood up, walked into her room, and started playing with her toys quietly and contentedly.
This day was the beginning of a great new trend for both my daughter and me. I realized my own fitness routine, which included yoga as well as other types of exercise, didn’t have to exclude my children. As a matter of fact, I recognized the same benefits of yoga in my daughter as I did in myself. I decided to do some research on yoga for toddlers, thinking I had made a new discovery.
It turned out the benefits of yoga for toddlers had already been well recognized, and for good reason. I was able to find several resources to aid me in practicing yoga with my daughter, and over the last two years, we have both benefited immensely from our “mommy and me” yoga sessions.
Here are a few of the most obvious benefits I’ve noticed, as well as some of our favorite yoga poses:
1. Healthy Energy
Like all toddlers, my daughter had no shortage of energy, and although yoga practice didn’t necessarily reduce her energy, it helped to channel it in a healthy direction. Studies have shown yoga is particularly beneficial for older children with emotional disabilities, as noted in this article published in Pediatric Nursing.
As noted by Helen Garabedian in her excellent book, Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers, yoga is also a great way for toddlers to relieve stress and tension. When I noticed my daughter was starting to become frantic or anxious during the day, we would stop for a mini-yoga session to help relieve stress and refocus her energy in a positive direction. Although my daughter wasn’t prone to tantrums, I did use Chapter Eight of Garabedian’s book, titled Tantrum Taming Yoga, on a frequent basis to help relieve stress or refocus my daughter’s attention when she was upset or frustrated. Like many of the poses in the book, several of the exercises in Chapter Eight can be done in the car and don’t require a lot of room.
For example, the Lion’s Breath pose, which was a great way to get my daughter to breathe deeply during stressful situations, can be done anywhere and is a great way to relieve frustration and tension. To do Lion’s Breath, have your toddler inhale deeply, then exhale in a “roar” with her mouth wide open and tongue out. I felt a little silly doing this pose at first, but it really helped my daughter to literally expel stress and catch her breath.
Of course, as Garabedian notes in the Introduction to her book, learning how to deal with toddler stress also relieves stress for parents. I found my daughter’s frustration was easier to deal with after we started doing yoga together. I knew I could work through stressful moments with her, and that knowledge was comforting and increased my own confidence as a parent.
2. Physical Challenge
My daughter has always been very physically active, and yoga provided a new challenge that didn’t require any extra equipment. Poses like the lotus pose and downward dog helped her maintain that amazing toddler flexibility, while other more challenging poses, like tree pose and donkey pose, helped develop her balance and coordination. My daughter was obsessed with the tree pose, which involves standing on one leg, the other foot resting on the side of the supporting leg’s shin. She worked at it for a few weeks until she finally could do the pose without my support, and she was proud as could be! I saw a significant increase in confidence as a result of her newfound physical capabilities.
Doing yoga with toddlers may not be the Zen-like experience you find in adult classes, but it sure is fun. Once I was able to accept the fact our mommy-and-me yoga sessions were not going to be as quiet and calm as I was used to, I started to see yoga as a way to improve my daughter’s emotional and physical wellbeing, as well as an opportunity to develop her imagination. Yoga poses like lion’s breath, cat-and-cow, and downward dog are perfect for the imaginative toddler. Garabedian recommends integrating finger plays and songs into your toddler’s yoga routine in order to maintain their interest and also reinforce concepts like counting, letters and animal sounds.
Now that my daughter is older, she really has become my little workout buddy. We kept up our yoga routine throughout my second pregnancy, and now she’s become a fitness enthusiast. I’m convinced our mommy-and-me yoga sessions had a positive impact on her desire for an active lifestyle.
Now that I’ve seen the physical and emotional benefits of yoga for toddlers, I’ve started my second daughter at an early age. For an 11-month-old, her downward dog is phenomenal.