SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Yoga is about enhancing balance and focus, about moving energy and quieting the monkey mind, says Karen Mandell, a yoga teacher at South Orange-Maplewood Adult School Children's Summer Program. She teaches students ages 7 - 13 the benefits--both physical and mental--of the practice of yoga.
The "monkey mind" is a meditative term for obsessive thinking. "These are thoughts that come over and over again on top of each other, the way a monkey swings from branch to branch without stopping," she told me. And while watching a monkey in action is an experience that can bring joy, the mind racing from thought to thought can produce anxiety. Kids often have fears that reflect real circumstances that may happen to them, such as bodily injury and natural disaster. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1.8 million children ages 3-17 suffer from anxiety.
"We help break that chain of thought overload so that kids can be more mindful and attentive to our present moment," she said. "For kids, this is huge. These patterns are developed early on in all of us and we can build these kids ability to focus and be mindful."
A study done at one public school in the Bronx showed that children who participated in a 17-minute yoga class each morning, five days a week for 16 weeks, exhibited significantly fewer behavioral problems than students who followed a standard morning routine. There are many other advantages for children who practice yoga:
● Helps to bring balance to the mind and body
● Increases strength and flexibility
● Increases awareness of the senses and overall body awareness
● Instills confidence with new challenges and new experiences
● Teaches techniques that help build focus and attention
● Builds coordination and balance
● Builds breathing awareness
● Builds self-esteem and teaches about self- love
● Anatomy lessons!
● Encourages teamwork with a non-competitive alternative to traditional “sports”
● Teaches respect, compassion and sharing
● Builds an awareness of nature and the environment
● Builds emotional strength
● Teaches relaxation techniques
● Teaches how to find a sense of calmness and self control
Mandell says that her students tell her of the benefits of her class all the time, including using breathing techniques to help sleep, not getting upset with siblings and feeling peace and relation.
"Parents have told me that their kids often share what they've learned and teach them about the breath and poses," she says. "One girl told me today that it helped her to take deep breaths when her little brother was getting on her nerves so she didn't yell at him."
The Yoga for Kids class is part of the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School Children's Summer Program. For more information, call 973-378-7620, or visit their website: http://www.ssreg.com
Recommended reading for kids: Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda by Dr. Lauren Alderfer.