It’s no secret that kids today face a number of new challenges that their parents might never have encountered. They’re under constant pressure to perform well in school, make friends, and fit in, all while dealing with social media presences from their peers and older kids they look up to. As a result, many children struggle with focus and concentration. But there is hope! New research suggests that there might be one solution none of us saw coming…Yoga! When you think about yoga, an image of Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph hiding behind a tree stealing Terry Crews’ Yoga routine might come to your mind. But, Yoga is really for everyone! Here’s five ways Yoga and sports can help your child pay attention and learn in the classroom:
- Yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Yoga involves physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. All of which require conscious focus and dedication. When it comes to focus, it’s often said that less is more. That may be especially true when it comes to students and focus in the classroom. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, students who are able to focus on just one thing at a time may outperform those who try to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of London and used two groups of children ages 8-9 as test subjects. The first group was asked to complete three different tasks—a word search, a verbal reasoning test, and an arithmetic test—one after the other. The second group was asked to complete all three tasks simultaneously. The results showed that the children in the first group (who completed the tasks one at a time) performed better overall than those in the second group. Yoga is a methodical art form that will help your child focus on mastering one thing at a time.
- Studies have shown that yoga can also help improve cognitive function, including attention span and memory. One study of fourth-grade students found that those who participated in a yoga program had better scores on tests of attention span than those who didn’t participate in the program. Another study found that eighth-grade students who participated in a yoga program had improved working memory compared to those who didn’t participate in the program.
- The physical postures practiced in Yoga require children to move their bodies in new ways which can help increase alertness. There are a number of reasons why this could increase alertness: Firstly, the endorphins naturally released during exercise combined with the mental effort it takes to teach your body new movements can boost your mood and energy levels, leaving you feeling more awake and alert. Also, exercising in new ways challenges your body and mind, resulting in improved coordination and concentration – both of which are essential for remaining aware and present.
- The deep breathing involved in yoga helps oxygenate the brain which can improve brain function. When we're stressed, our breathing becomes shallow and erratic. This not only makes us feel more anxious, but it also reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to our brains. Deep breathing helps to reverse this process by increasing the flow of oxygen to the brain, which in turn helps to improve cognitive function and focus. In one study, participants who underwent a four-week program of diaphragmatic breathing exercises showed significant improvements in their ability to sustain attention and focus on tasks. Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of deep abdominal breathing that engages the diaphragm muscle (and is often used in yoga). This muscle is located at the base of the lungs and is responsible for helping them expand during inhalation. While most of us breathe using only a small portion of our lung capacity, diaphragmatic breathing encourages us to use more of our lungs' capacity, resulting in slower, deeper breaths. In addition to improving focus and concentration, diaphragmatic breathing has also been shown to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels.
- Finally, the mindfulness component of yoga helps children learn how to pay attention to the present moment which is essential for concentration. Mindfulness allows children to focus on their thoughts and feelings in the here-and-now. For children, one of the simplest ways to start practicing mindfulness is by focusing on their breath, a main practice in yoga. As they inhale and exhale, they can notice the sensation of the air moving in and out of their bodies. If their mind wanders, they can gently bring it back to focus on their breath. With regular practice, children will develop a greater ability to concentrate and be more present in whatever they are doing – whether it’s schoolwork or playing with friends. In addition to improving concentration, mindfulness has a host of other benefits for children including reducing stress and anxiety levels, which can contribute to concentration abilities in the classroom.
If your child is struggling with focus or concentration at school, consider enrolling them in a yoga class or introducing them to some simple yoga poses at home! If you’re cool enough, maybe you can even join them.