Yoga in the United States
Yoga is a form of exercise that comes from India and is reputed to be at least four-thousand years old. The original Indian yoga was deeply related to spiritual practice, and included heavy doses of prayer, chanting, devotional singing, and seated meditation. The type of yoga practiced most commonly in the U.S. in the 21st century, however, bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced long centuries ago in India. What we think of as yoga here in the U.S. first showed up in the early 1920’s and was considered a novelty. Slowly, decade by decade, the practice of yoga has gained in both notoriety and acceptance. By the 1960s most Americans had heard of yoga. In the 1970’s yoga became a fad, and in the 1980s and 90s, yoga studios began cropping up in every major city in the country.
Yoga Goes Mainstream
By the 2000s, yoga seemed to be everywhere, and today, yoga has most definitely arrived. Virtually everyone has heard of yoga, knows someone who does yoga, or has even tried a class or two themselves.
Almost every professional sports team in the U.S. now includes some form of yoga in their training routines. From football to baseball, from basketball to hockey, fitness experts recognize, accept, and utilize yoga as an effective complement to strength, conditioning, and skill-specific workouts. Scientific research has long since documented the power of yoga to increase physical awareness, flexibility, balance, strength, and overall coordination. Minus the spiritual components that were part and parcel of the traditional yoga practiced in India in ancient times, yoga-as-exercise classes can be found in YMCAs, community centers, health clubs, and in the curriculum at major universities all across the country. Most recently, a new trend has emerged: yoga for youth.
Yoga for Kids, Yoga in Schools
About ten years ago, yoga teachers began offering classes for kids. If it can help adults, they asked, then why can’t it help children, too? Yoga teachers soon realized that in addition to the physical benefits of yoga previously documented by scientists, the yoga/meditation techniques researched and developed in the 1970’s by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, known as “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR), could also help kids. Kids are under increasing pressure to perform well in school. Some kids have college on their minds as early as elementary school. Just as big-picture life problems cause stress for adults, big-picture concerns such as thinking about getting into college likewise cause stress in kids. With these facts in mind, it wasn’t long before programs such as YogaKids, GoGrounded, and NextGenerationYoga emerged, specializing in teaching not only the physical benefits of yoga to children and adolescents, but also the stress-reducing techniques as well.
Benefits of Yoga for Children and Adolescents
According to the teachers of the Atlanta Yoga Movement, yoga helps elementary, middle, and high school kids in four main areas:
Physical: In addition to strength, flexibility, and balance, yoga teaches young kids that they are in control of their bodies. Learning yoga at a young age also teaches kids healthy habits, which in turn helps become healthy adults.
Psychological/Emotional: At its most basic level, the ability to successfully perform challenging yoga postures builds a child’s self-esteem. Because of its meditative aspects, yoga also helps to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression.
Academic: Research shows that by reducing stress, yoga can improve test scores, attendance rates, graduation rates, and overall academic performance.
Social: By fostering an inclusive environment and practicing partner poses which encourage positive feedback and collaboration, yoga teaches fundamental kindness between kids, which has the net effect of reducing negative social practices such as bullying.
Yoga for Youth: The Bottom Line
It’s not news that 21st century kids suffer from a wide range of problems we used to think were reserved for adults. In addition to stress brought on by increasing academic demands, which now begin as early as elementary school, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that our children are suffering an epidemic of obesity. Our youth are in dire need of ways to stay healthy, happy and fit – and yoga can help. According to yoga teachers around the country, there’s one important fact missing from all the information provided above: kids of all ages – including adolescents – really love doing yoga.
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.