How does Yoga and Mindfulness benefit Kids?
Yoga and Mindfulness have both been proven, on an individual level, and by research, to have a positive effect on health and mental health. It has been practices for THOUSANDS of years. The ancient Yogis would have lived quite a different life to how we do today, but one thing they truly recognised, was that yoga helps you feel goooooood!
Yoga is a "spiritual science of practical living", and simply provides a framework of method and structure, to help one move through life with as much ease as possible. Not just about movement, Yoga incorporates a wide range of practices, from breathing techniques, to meditation, to focus and awareness. The over all approach of 'Yoga' is actually made up of what is known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. With movement just being one of eight! So true Yoga accesses the mind, body, breath and spirit, to provide a holistic approach to navigating through life. The practice of Yoga can keep us strong, steady and flexible, not just in the body, but the mind too!
'Mindfulness' itself is actually a slightly modern concept, which has been developed a little by the western world. In its very raw original form, Mindfulness actually began its journey in Buddhism, thousands of years ago. Many of the wonderful practices in Buddhist philosophy, helped monks along a pathway to 'enlightenment', which generally helped them to feel pretty good and at ease in life. Much of this involved meditation, focus, attention, compassion training, loving kindness, acceptance training and much more. It was modern day society that extracted a few of these practices, and formed the approach of Mindfulness, in order to help everyday people experience more feeling of peace, who might not consider themselves 'Buddhist'. Today, mindfulness is practiced all over the world, regardless of faith, religion, gender, ethnicity, simply as a way of managing our minds, and the stress of life.
How and Why?
Over the past decade more and more research is proving that practices such as Yoga and Mindfulness, help the brain to function well, reduce stress in the brain AND even reverse the damage of stress and trauma on the brain. When we are stressed, our brain is less able to function to its optimum capacity. When we experience stress and strong emotion, it can literally take over the brain, dominate, and even hinder other areas of the brain doing their jobs properly! This can be frustrating, and confusing. Emotion of course is a vital part of being human, and gives us essence and vibrancy for life. When understood, cultivated and managed in the right way, we are able to be with our emotions, and even with our stress, without it fully taking over. This applies to children as well as adults, as children can start experiencing 'stress' and strong emotion at a very young age. Both Yoga and Mindfulness are great life long tools that help humans to manage emotion and life stress, that can be easily woven into everyday life, by anyone.
The impact of stress on the brain is huge. It literally inhibits our brain from working properly. The diagram below shows 3 vital areas of the brain. The Amygdala is our emotion centre, primarily 'fear'/ stress. When activated (which could be intense stress, trauma, anxiety, fear etc), it dominates and blocks the pre-frontal cortex from activating properly, and also inhibits the Hippocampus functioning. The pre-frontal cortex PFC is our logical, rational and decision making centre, very important for day to day life! The Hippocampus lays down memories in the brain, and will create associations. Therefore, when stressed, we can be full of emotion/ stress/ anxst, and literally not thinking clearly, and struggling to recall memories. Mindfulness and Yoga has been proven to soften the activity of the Amygdala, and therefore support the PFC to do its job effectively, and allow the hippocampus to function well. AMAZING!
Next time your in a moment of stress, panic of fear, take a moment to remind yourself that your Amygdala is in overdrive!! Take a step back, take some slow breaths, allow your Pre-Frontal Cortex to step back into action!