In the noughties Merlins and Hermiones from leafy London suburbs started practising yoga at primary school – another obscure hobby to add to an exotic list of after-school pursuits like free jazz and felting.
Since then, yoga’s appeal’s increased alongside people’s burgeoning commitments and frantic lifestyles. Nowadays, there’s a clas to suit everyone: pregnant mums -http://www.yogayousanctuary.co.uk/news-events/, toddlers, teens, pensioners https://yogabears.uk/ http://hot-yoga-wirral.co.uk/teenyoga/ and families https://www.revive.yoga/kids-family-yoga-wirral/.
It is easy to see how adults benefit – an hour of peace, contemplation and relaxation for busy Mums, stressed executives or a frazzled students. Yoga’s physical and mental health benefits are well documented but what does a preschooler have to worry about? Surely the fun of being five is that you can go at life full pelt and hang the consequences?
There’s increasing research to highlight yoga’s benefits to children. One study – Perceived Benefits of Yoga among Urban School Students: A Qualitative Analysis, Wang and Hagins https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2016/8725654/abs/) found yoga helped children ‘relax and reduce stress’ during a school day consisting of ‘loud people, stressful situations, and constant moving’ giving them ‘some mental space for themselves’ to ‘feel relaxed throughout the school day and…their lives outside of school’.
Dr Caroline Wetherall, a Liverpool-based clinical psychologist, co-created NHS recommended anxiety reduction app, Chill Panda, with games producers Onteca. She agrees yoga techniques can help teach children anxiety management: “Working as a clinical psychologist, I’d recognised that whilst there are tools for measuring and managing anxiety in adults, there is nothing comparable for younger children. Digital tools like Chill Panda have a positive role to play in the development of better anxiety prevention and early diagnosis tools for children.”
Whilst developing the app children used storytelling, drawing and discussion at workshops. They explored how animals and humans react to stress and anxiety and talked about the effects of anxiety on our bodies, learning to recognise how their bodies felt when anxious and when relaxed.
Chill Panda features a chilled out panda and his wise friend. Children can play games featuring the panda, monitor their own heart rate and learn simple breathing/ relaxation exercises and yoga poses – panda yoga or ‘Poga’. Focusing on our bodies, self, recognising changes/feelings and learning to process them/move on is a core element of yoga. Surely the younger you learn these techniques the more likely you are to carry them into adult life?
Hannah, a qualified yoga teacher working on Chill Panda’s Poga, agrees: “I became involved with Chill Panda to help with the theoretical development and exploration of yoga in the app. The aim of the ‘Poga’ segment is to positively engage children in the practice of yoga, focusing on breathing, maintaining concentration and stillness. Through gentle sequences of asanas – or poses – tension is released in the physical body allowing children to focus on their breath and relax their minds.’
By Jaine Pickering
To download Chill Panda visit http://chillpanda.co.uk/