The early childhood years are exciting and transformative! It is inspiring and magical to observe children as they are immersed in learning and development. These years, however, are also often challenging and confusing.
Children require a safe, nurturing, and stimulating environment to meet the developmental tasks of this time period and to grow into subsequent phases of life well-prepared.
Never has the message been clearer that our children and communities need light, safety, and structure to provide the sustenance for healthy development. Social-emotional learning, trusting relationships, and adequate amounts of physical activity, play, and exploration are critical for young children.
Self-regulation is a developmental progression toward the ability to understand and direct one’s inner life. It is the key intermediary between a child’s biology, early experiences, and later functioning. As it develops over time, self-regulation helps children to understand feelings in the self and in others, focus and direct their attention, and control reactions to stress.
Self-awareness, emotional and behavioral control, and maintenance of attention are functional aspects of self-regulation. These skills are important contributors to self-esteem, positive interpersonal relationships, and learning and success in school.
Relaxation techniques, including breathing exercises, yoga poses, and meditation practices, help to increase awareness of internal states and are critical tools for self-regulation. They can help children understand that their mind and body function together and interact; that their behavior is influenced, in part, by internal factors over which they can exert some control.
Yoga and meditation programs have increasingly emerged in communities and schools to promote self-awareness and self-control, enhance physical fitness, support academic learning, and target at-risk behavior and lifestyles.
Research on the effectiveness of yoga with children is an emerging area of scientific study. Thus far, there are many positive findings, such as improved attention and concentration, impulse control, strength, and self-esteem.
In addition, yoga has been shown to improve the structure of the body, increase flexibility, and strengthen muscles and tendons. Further, it revitalizes internal organs, purifies internal systems of toxins, nourishes brain cells, and balances the nervous system.
The practice of yoga can physiologically relax the body and lead to benefits such as decreased heart rate, respiration, and oxygen consumption, and increased alpha waves, which are associated with a calm state.
As children develop, they are increasingly exposed to new and challenging situations, and their world expands to include peer relationships and education. Expectations on caregivers to regulate the young child gradually lessen, and children are progressively held responsible for their functioning.
Self-regulation is fundamental to feel a general sense of well-being. Further, it is an important component of learning and development; without competence, difficulties emerge. As yoga teaches and practices skills that involve self-regulation, it can be a proactive approach to developing mind-body health in the early childhood years.
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*Additional references available upon request.