February 13, 2024/Exercise & Fitness

Yoga for Kids: Benefits and 17 Poses and Exercises To Get Started

Kids’ yoga can help kiddos become more aware of their physical, mental and emotional selves

Parent and two children preforming downward dog in yoga

Yoga is one of the most common movement practices in the United States. And for good reason.

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Yoga can help you live more mindfully. It can improve mental health and self-esteem. It can strengthen your body and improve flexibility.

And it’s not just adults who can reap the benefits of practicing yoga. Yoga can also have big health benefits for kids.

“Yoga is a great way for kids to relax, connect with themselves, and start to better understand their bodies and their emotions,” says yoga instructor Valerie Williams, RYT 200.

How do kids benefit from yoga? And how can you get started with a kids’ yoga practice? Let’s dive in.

Benefits of kids’ yoga

Some people may immediately picture yoga as a physical practice — contorting your body into pretzel-esque shapes or bending so deeply that your nose touches your knees. But physical postures are but one tool used in yoga practices. 

In essence, yoga is a practice that strives to bring balance to your mind and body. That includes poses, sure, but also breathing and relaxing meditation.

And that trifecta of physical movement, breathing and mindfulness can bring on physical and emotional benefits in adults and kids alike.

Williams says the benefits that she sees when teaching yoga to kids include:

  • Improved emotional regulation.
  • Better awareness of their thoughts, feelings and actions.
  • Improved behavior.
  • Improved concentration.
  • Improved physical fitness.
  • Improvements in connecting with others.

Similar results have been suggested by researchers, with one study showing that second- and third-graders enrolled in a 10-week yoga class showed less stress. They also had improved social interactions, attention spans, coping skills, confidence, academic performance and mood.

When is the right age for kids to start yoga?

Anytime is the right time for kids (and adults) to start getting into yoga. That’s because yoga can be modified to work for just about anyone — regardless of their age or ability.

“Even as toddlers, kids can start to learn about using their breath to help them relax. They can start to understand that when they reach their arms up over their heads, they can feel a stretch,” Williams explains. “Breathing and intentional movement are yoga concepts that even little kids can learn from.”

Yoga poses for kids

Williams shares some of her favorite poses to try with kids and why she finds them to be beneficial.

Note: As you begin a yoga journey with little kids, it’s important to remind them that yoga poses should never hurt. Let them know that it’s safe for them to push their bodies to feel a bit of a stretch, but not more.

Child’s pose

Ages: Toddlers and older.

How to do it:

  • Kneel on the ground with your knees together and your bottom resting on your heels.
  • Hinge forward at your hips, letting your belly rest on your thighs.
  • Reach your arms straight in front of you, with your elbows touching your ears. Your hands and forehead should touch the floor.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.

Top benefit: Relaxation.

“I recommend child’s pose for everyone, from preschoolers to older adults,” Williams says. “Child’s pose can help to bring you comfort and help you find calm.”

Why?

Deep forward bending activates the nerves in your lower back that trigger your parasympathetic nervous system to take over. That’s your body’s “rest and restore” mode.

"When we press our thighs against our belly, it can help to activate our parasympathetic nervous system, shutting off our fight-or-flight response. When we exit fight or flight, that's when the ‘rest and restore’ part of our nervous system takes over,” Williams explains. “So, in a way, poses like child’s pose can help our bodies to physically and emotionally heal and recover.”

Cobra

Ages: Toddlers and older.

How to do it:

  • Lie flat on the ground on your belly.
  • Place your palms flat on the floor under your shoulders.
  • Slowly lift your head and upper body off the floor, by pushing into your palms, bending your back and pushing your heart forward. Keep your elbows at your sides.
  • Straighten your arms as far as you can without pain, and without lifting your pelvis from the ground.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.

Benefits: Emotional opening. Back strengthening. Flexibility.

“I like poses with a lot of back bends for older kids because these kinds of movements can teach us to open up our hearts,” Williams notes. “Emotions like compassion, trust and forgiveness are held in the heart. So, doing poses where we’re pushing our chests forward and arching our backs, we can encourage more loving emotions.”

Star pose

Ages: Toddlers and older.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall with your legs more than hip distance apart.
  • Spread both arms straight out to your sides at shoulder level.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.

Top benefit: Confidence.

“Star pose is one of my favorites for little kids,” Williams shares. “Confidence can be hard for kids, and poses like star pose encourage them to take up space and bring on feelings of confidence in themselves. It’s like claiming your place in the world.”

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Downward-facing dog

Ages: Toddlers and older.

How to do it:

  • Kneel on the ground with your feet about hip distance apart.
  • Plant your hands in front of you, just under your shoulders.
  • Tuck your toes to touch the ground.
  • Send your hips up and back.
  • Allow your head to dangle down so you’re looking between your legs.
  • Your body will look something like an upside-down “V.”
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.

Benefits: Inversion. Relaxation. Stretching.

Downward-facing dog is a staple of many yoga practices. It can help encourage strengthening, stretching and flexibility. It’s also a restorative pose because being upside down (inverted) can promote blood flow, which can work to both energize and calm your body.

Tree pose

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall with your feet together and your hands at your sides.
  • Look straight ahead.
  • Bring the bottom of one foot to the side of your ankle of your other leg. Maintain your balance.
  • If that’s easy, try to bring that foot to the middle of your other calf, knee or upper thigh and maintain your balance.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Repeat on the other foot.

Benefits: Balance. Concentration.

“Balancing poses are great for older kids because being balanced physically can help bring balance mentally,” Williams points out. “Kids are learning about their place in the world. And sometimes they can get kind of off-center. It can be hard to balance school and home and sports and all the things that kids are doing and learning. So, I think practicing a lot of balancing poses is really good for older kids.”

Warrior 1

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall.
  • Move one leg back so your legs are wide apart.
  • Point your front foot forward and rotate your back foot out about 45 degrees.
  • Bend your front knee 90 degrees, and sink your weight low.
  • Raise both your arms straight up overhead. Keep your gaze straight in front of you.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Benefits: Confidence. Strengthening.

“Warrior 1 is all about claiming space, building confidence and building strength,” Williams says. “It can help kids feel strong and powerful.”

Warrior 2

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall with your legs wide and your toes pointing forward.
  • Rotate one foot out 90 degrees. This is your front foot.
  • Bend your front knee 90 degrees. Keep your other knee straight (but not buckled). Sink your weight low.
  • Don’t rotate your upper body toward that front foot.
  • Lift your arms straight out to your sides, in line with your shoulders.
  • Turn your head to move your gaze toward your front foot, keeping your chin parallel to the ground.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Benefits: Confidence. Strengthening.

“Warrior 2 can be a tougher pose to hold, and kids might start to feel their muscles start to shake a bit or get warm,” Williams notes. “Those sensations can help to bring more awareness to all that their bodies are capable of. They might think, ‘Oh, I feel strong here.’

Warrior 3

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall with your legs together.
  • Take a big step backward with one leg, keeping your toes pointing ahead of you.
  • Bring your palms together in front of your heart.
  • Keep your front leg straight as you slowly and carefully lift your back leg while lowering your upper body. Maintain your balance on your front leg.
  • Lower as far as you can, with the goal of your back (raised) leg being parallel to the ground. Your body should look something like a capital “T.”
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Benefits: Balance. Strengthening.

“I also like doing this pose with kids as a partner exercise,” Williams suggests. “As the child balances on one leg, a friend or caregiver can hold their hands to help keep them steady.”

Ragdoll

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Stand tall with your legs spread wide.
  • Stack your forearms one on top of the other, holding your elbows with the opposite hand.
  • Hinge at your waist, allowing gravity to lower your head and upper body as far as is comfortable. Your gaze should be between your legs.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply. (Don’t stay too long, as prolonged periods upside down can cause dizziness or lightheadedness).

Benefits: Relaxation. Release. Stretch.

Like other inverted positions, ragdoll encourages blood flow. Having your head pointed down can also help to calm the mind and relieve stress. Ragdoll is also good for releasing tension in tight hamstrings and relieving pressure in your back.

Partner boat pose

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Partners sit on the floor facing each other.
  • Bring the soles of your feet to touch the soles of your partner’s feet.
  • Hold your partner’s hands.
  • Press one foot into your partner’s foot and lift them up, about chest-high.
  • Do the same with your other foot.
  • Balance on your bottom, using your partner’s hands to help you keep balance.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.

Benefits: Trust. Connection. Confidence. Core strength. Fun!

“At its core, yoga is about connection — connection between your body, mind and spirit,” Williams shares. “So, partner poses can also help kids connect with each other and learn to hold space with other people and work together.”

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Partner seated twist

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Both partners sit up tall back-to-back.
  • Cross your legs (crisscross-applesauce-style).
  • Each partner reaches behind them with the same arm (left or right) and holds their partner’s knee.
  • Look over your shoulder, keeping your back straight and your chin parallel to the floor.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Benefits: Connection. Flexibility.

“We hold a lot of tension in our spines, and most of our day-to-day movements don’t encourage twisting our back. Twisting is a great exercise for kids and adults alike,” Williams adds.

Back-to-back chair pose

Ages: Elementary school and older.

How to do it:

  • Partners start by standing tall, back-to-back.
  • Interlace arms with your partner at the elbows.
  • Both partners press their back to each other for balance and stability.
  • Slowly bend at the knees and sink your bottoms low, like you’re sitting on an invisible chair.
  • Bend your knees up to 90 degrees, or as far as you can go without pain.
  • Hold for several seconds and breathe deeply.

Benefits: Connection. Confidence. Strength.

“Chair pose can be a challenging pose, so when you’re able to do it, it’s a big confidence boost,” Williams points out. “Partner chair pose encourages kids to literally hold each other up, which builds connection and trust. It’s like, ‘We’re in this tough thing together.’

Yoga breathing and mindfulness exercises for kids

Remember that yoga isn’t just about the physical movements we make; it’s also rooted in creating balance between your body and your mind.

Yoga practitioners do this by using their breath and encouraging mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being “in the moment” — focusing on the here and now, not the past or the future, but what you’re experiencing in the present.

“Most kids aren’t going to sit and meditate for a half hour. But having them practice taking just a minute out of their day to pause and focus on their breath can be incredibly beneficial,” Williams recommends.

“When we can slow down and be mindful, we start to become fully present in the moment. And when we can do that, we are able to discover thoughts, emotions and perceptions and start to understand them. This can prevent a child from shifting towards negative behavior, or a rash decision, simply because they couldn't process how they felt in that moment. “

Williams shares a few ways she likes to practice breathing and mindfulness with kids.

Yoga breathing

When practicing yoga poses (or anytime, really), using standard yoga breath can be restorative and calming.

Try this:

  • Inhale through your nose.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, making the exhale last longer than your inhale.
  • Repeat several times.

Busy bee breath

Williams suggests “busy bee breath” to help give kids a spurt of energy when they’re feeling sluggish or unfocused.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Take a big inhale through your nose.
  • On the exhale, purse your lips together and breath out, making a humming sound, like you’re pronouncing the letter “M.” Try to exhale until your lungs are completely empty.
  • Repeat several times.

Box breath

Box breath or equal-part breath, can help you focus and relax. Or, as Williams says, “come back to center.”

Here’s how to do it:

  • Breathe in through your nose for three seconds.
  • Hold your breath for three seconds.
  • Breathe out through your mouth for three seconds.
  • Hold your breath for three seconds.
  • Repeat this cycle several times.

Five senses

Kids can easily get distracted by all that’s happening around them (happens with us, grownups, too, right?). And when we’re distracted, it’s hard to notice what you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. You’re not in the moment, you’re way out in left field somewhere.

Kids can start learning to get back to reality with a simple meditation technique called the five senses. You can prompt them to use each of their senses to encourage them to get in touch with their surroundings and live in the moment.

  1. Name something you can see.
  2. Tell me what you hear.
  3. What does the floor, or your shirt, or this thing in your hand feel like?
  4. Can you taste anything in your mouth right now?
  5. What can you smell right now?

“Using the five senses technique gives kids (or adults) a chance to slow down and notice the subtle things,” Williams shares. “And with practice that can help them notice those subtle feelings and subtle movements when they come up. Eventually, they can use this technique to manage bigger emotions and challenges as they come up.”

Affirmations

Williams suggests teaching kids to use simple affirmations to build self-esteem and self-awareness. Researchers say self-affirmation can improve learning, health and relationships.

Help your child develop a positive affirmation they can say to themselves at times of self-doubt. That might be something like:

  • I am strong.
  • I am kind.
  • I am not my emotions.
  • I am unstoppable.
  • Stop. Breathe. Reset.

Yoga is a lifelong practice that, especially when started early, can be hugely beneficial to kids throughout their lives. Namaste.

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