Kids these days… Between television, phones, ipads and the omnipresent internet, they are constantly plugged into images, to their social networks, and to a never ending bombardment of news and articles and videos and gifs.
Not only does the ready availability of technology encourage our young generations to sit more and move less, it means they’re widely overstimulated, their nervous systems in overload as they rapidly process and sift through new information.
So what does this mean for our kids? Beyond the physical detriment that physical inactivity can cause–including obesity and chronic health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and cancers–all of that sitting and watching and scrolling is fundamentally changing their brains. It changes the way that they think, reflect, process information, and regulate their thoughts and emotions, which can have a huge impact on their future emotional and social development, and their long-term success.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t benefits to living in a technological age, and it isn’t realistic or necessary to ban kids from the internet once and for all. However it does force us, as the adults responsible for the healthy development of our children and teens, to take a keen look at how we can support their well-being in this current environment, in the era of binge-watching and snapchat. And when we look at current research on how to support growing brains, the evidence points in the direction of mindfulness.
Mindfulness practices combat the effects of our busy, noisy, stressful lives by empowering individuals to draw attention inward, and to focus on each present moment in all its nuance, without getting carried away by anxiety or following an unproductive, distracting train of thought. In doing so, mindfulness strengthens essential neurological connections in the brain, helping to improve cognitive functions such as memory and self-regulation, while also downsizing parts of the neurological network that lend to anxiety and reactivity. For kids, whose brains are in the throes of development, mindfulness can be particularly effective, and because the brain is like a muscle, the more that kids practice mindfulness, the more benefits they get from it.
Yoga couples the brain-changing power of mindfulness with the feel-good power of movement. Through intentional breath and action, yoga builds focus and self-control, while also boosting self-efficacy and improving key physical fitness measures such as flexibility, strength, and endurance. With childhood obesity at epidemic proportions, and with schools across the country cutting recess and P.E. classes for the sake of more class time, yoga presents a promising one-size-fits-all solution for health, both inside and out.
This is even more so the case for children and teens facing chronic stress and trauma. Whereas all people face some level of stress or adversity in their daily lives, for kids and teens facing stress that overwhelm their capacity to cope, and including traumatic events such as neglect, abuse, or violence, mindfulness practices can mitigate the toxic effects of that stress on the brain. For these kids, yoga can be part of the pathway to building resiliency, and can make a huge difference in helping them reduce anxiety, focus in class, stay in school, and build self-esteem. And when practiced in the context of a supportive classroom, yoga can also foster interpersonal skills such as compassion and empathy, enriching the way that children relate to themselves and others, on and off the mat.
Breath by breath, yoga gives kids the reins over their thoughts, empowers them in how they relate to and move their body, and teaches them to start exercising control over their actions and reactions. It’s an exercise in transformative life skills, with enormous impact long-term. While it may just look like stretching to some, the reality is yoga is so much more, and the evidence is there to prove it. Yoga truly can change the arc of kids lives for the better, cultivating a healthier tomorrow. Take the first step to changing lives today.