It is not just adults who are down-dogging these days, it is also kids. And kid’s yoga is proving to be a huge hit for these young yogis.
Bent on Learning is a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance physical, emotional and cognitive abilities in New York City-based school children through yoga. With support from yoga devotee Gwyneth Paltrow and Donna Karan’s Urban Zen Foundation, Bent on Learning is bringing yoga into select New York City public schools and also offering workshops to teachers to incorporate simple yoga techniques and mindfulness training into their teaching.
With the support of some of New York City’s most accomplished and passionate yoga instructors, Bent on Learning is holding weekly classes at select NYC schools. Each class teaches yoga postures, or asanas, breath work and meditation. The program is also aligned with New York state and national physical education standards.
The organization first started as a volunteer effort in 2001, just after 9/11 in order to help children heal and manage post-traumatic stress. During the past eight years, the program has grown rapidly. It now reaches more than 1,000 students across 10 different NYC schools each week.
While this 5,000 year-old Indian tradition has been met with open arms by Westerners, most yoga classes in the country are geared to adults. But programs like Bent on Learning teach kids how to incorporate the benefits of this ancient mind-body-spirit practice into their young and very hectic lives.
Kid’s yoga not only encourages physical activity, which most Western kids don’t get enough of, but yoga’s non-competitive nature doesn’t leave kids striving to be faster or better than their classmates. In fact, it does just the opposite. Yoga engenders a sense of self-acceptance and cooperation. One important study showed that young women who did yoga displayed less symptoms associated with eating and body image disorders and they also exhibited greater appreciation for their own bodies. Given the societal pressures that young kids face to look and dress a certain way, yoga can help curb the blade of the external forces and encourage the child’s confidence and self-esteem.
Bent on Learning is also using yoga to help children stay more focused, whether it’s concentrating on their math homework, reading a book or eating dinner with their family. Yoga fosters the ability for us to be in the moment, which for many kids (and adults) can be a challenge, but over time, as the child learns how to stay in tune to their immediate surroundings, they can develop focused mental and cognitive function that will have positive effects in all aspects of their lives from school to family to their relationships.
Hopefully, over the next few years, we’ll see additional programs like Bent on Learning reaching out beyond New York so that children all over the country can receive the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of this old, but very applicable, practice.