In a society of high stakes soccer games and after-school swim practices, yoga is rapidly gaining favor as both an alternative and a complement to traditional kids sports.
"Yoga is proving to be great for both competitive and non-competitive children," said Nancy Wile, the founder of Yoga to Go. "Because it helps strengthen the body and reduce anxiety, it's ideal for developing bodies."
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It is yoga's wide range of benefits that is making it increasingly popular with all types of adults—ranging from professional athletes to sedentary white collar workers—as well as children.
Physically, yoga enhances the musculature of the body by strengthening and stretching opposing muscles. Mentally, its breathing exercises improve concentration and the ability to focus.
"It can help kids who play sports and those who don't," said Wile. "With childhood obesity on the rise, it can really help kids who aren't as inclined to play sports. But its stretching and strengthening component can be essential for athletic kids too."
Wile employs a fun-filled methodology when she teaches yoga to children. "In many of the yoga poses, kids get to pretend to be animals," she explained. "In the Cat Pose, for example, they may meow like a cat. In the Downward Facing Dog Pose, they may growl or bark. We also use games during the exercises."
Wile notes that yoga has grown increasingly popular in schools. "Schoolteachers and administrators love how the breathing and inward focus of yoga practice helps a child learn to focus his mind more effectively," she said. "Studies have shown that children who practice yoga, especially those with problems such as ADHD, are able to concentrate for longer periods of time."
Yoga is particularly good at giving kids the tools to reduce their level of stress. "There are a lot of pressures on kids today," Wile said. "When a child learns how to control her breathing and relax during her practice, she can apply that technique when she encounters challenging situations." Wile, who holds a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University, has created a DVD Yoga to Go for Kids which includes instructions for parents and teachers.
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Stay in shape in a fitness class.