YOGA has long been used to relieve stress and improve posture. Now the benefits of the 5,000-year-old discipline are being used by schools in Britain.
By 2007, child yoga specialists YogaBugs estimates that at least 100,000 children will take part in classes at schools, nurseries and health clubs each week, double the number practising yoga last year.
Fenella Lindsell, founder of YogaBugs, which teaches stretches to children from the age of two-and-a-half to 12, said: "It improves children’s coordination and balance, builds strength and stamina and promotes healthy sleeping patterns.
"Yoga is also valuable for pre-teen children who go through an enormous amount of physical, mental and emotional changes," she said.
A spokesperson for The Yoga Show, being held at the Olympia centre in London, said this year they were holding more children’s classes than ever before.
Karen Conroy, headmistress at Norfolk Lodge Nursery and Preparatory School in Barnet, North London, said teachers have found that yoga introduces "a pocket of calm" into classes, and helps children to focus. She said three and four-year-old children spend 15 minutes doing simple, deep-breathing poses immediately after returning from their lunch break.
The school has adopted an approach that puts each yoga posture to music, named June’s Yoga after founder June Rowlands. So while children are stretching into the triangle pose (Trikonasana) used in yoga, they will sing "I’m a little teapot".
Conroy said: "It is a very friendly approach to yoga, with rhymes and tunes that the children already know, such as Row, Row, Row the Boat.
They find it fun, and the teachers find it useful in helping children to concentrate in class, giving the younger children the experience of calm and control. Also, it is good physical activity for the children."
Georgie Wolfinden, a wellbeing expert, said children benefit from yoga as it contrasts from the competitive school environment.
"Children are more stressed than before and have actually forgotten the importance of how to play," she said. "Yoga gives them some space to be calm and creative as well and just be kids again." At Northbridge House School, yoga teacher Susie Paterno, who also holds children’s classes at Triyoga in north London, has found that children, who are naturally flexible, learn the poses very quickly. "Children can do all the postures without difficulty. It also helps them to sleep better and concentrate in class," she said.
Yoga for children has more emphasis on "fun" than the structured, adult version. Robin Cacco, who teaches children’s yoga at the Triyoga Centre in London, said children make animal shapes in his classes. Many of the yoga poses, such as the cobra where children lie on their stomachs, are named after animals. Paterno has found that children enjoy visualisation techniques, such as imagining a journey through a rainforest, with poses worked into the story.
But while the children believe they are going on an adventure, they are learning skills that help them cope with the more academic of school subjects.
"It helps to improve self confidence and enables children to deal with the stresses of exams and school performances," Lindsell said.
— By arrangement with The Independent