Updated: October 18, 2023
By Heidi Nechtman, Pretzel Kids teacher
By now you may have heard the many statistics about the rise of anxiety during the pandemic.
But there is good news here: There is now more attention on mental health and people are discussing ways to help with stress and anxiety.
And here’s more good news: Yoga is one of the most accessible and beneficial tools to relieve stress.
“People who practice yoga experience less anxiety, less depression, and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” according to Psychology Today.
For those of you who have kids with anxiety, you may wonder if they can benefit from yoga as well. And guess what? Early childhood experts say that yoga can help kids with anxiety, as well as give kids the life skills they need to be successful in school and in social situations.
According to Arizona Early Childhood, yoga helps kids with emotional regulation, concentration and discipline. When kids have these skills, they are more successful and less likely to be in anxiety-producing situations. Many schools are also starting to incorporate yoga into their curriculum or after-school programs.
So, if you’re wondering: Can yoga help kids with anxiety, the answer is yes! Read on to learn more.
Yoga for Anxiety
Yoga can help with anxiety in so many ways. Breathing techniques for kids, for instance, are integral to yoga. And, slow movements, as well as balancing and stretching, are not only good for the muscles but require focusing on the present.
In a competitive world, yoga offers acceptance and an environment without judgement. Finally, a consistent yoga practice can build your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
Yoga Poses for Anxiety
You may be wondering: Where should I start? Try introducing yoga poses for anxiety. Here are some of our top yoga poses for kids:
1. Safe inversions
Inversions literally cause us to see the world from a different perspective. This is great for kids with anxiety. Inversions also reverse the stress on neck, spine, feet and legs. For kids, be sure to choose safe inversions that do not have the potential for them to put too much weight on their necks. Some good options: downward-facing dog or legs-up-the wall.
2. Forward folds
Forward folds can help calm the nervous system by creating space in the spine. They also promote going inward.
These poses have many wonderful benefits. For starters, twisting asanas stimulate the vagus nerve, which allows the calming part of your nervous system (parasympathetic) to work more efficiently.
Calming Yoga for Kids
Child’s pose is one of our favorite calming poses for kids. This natural resting pose allows for a break – something many children can benefit from during a stressful day.
To practice Child’s pose, guide the child to start by kneeling on the ground, and then sit back on their heels. From there, lean the body forward and bring the torso upon the thighs towards the ground. The arms can rest straight in front or behind, toward the heels. The forehead and shoulders release to the floor.
Morning Yoga Routine for Anxiety
As a parent of a child with anxiety, you may already know that the three most important things to help your child are routine, routine and routine.
So, when creating a morning routine for your child, be sure to include yoga. When they can start the day with a sense of calm, each subsequent interaction and activity will be improved.
There are a few things to consider when starting a morning yoga routine. Whether you have a slow-starter or a kid who jumps out of bed, you should stick to these three rules for a morning routine:
1. Keep it Simple
Many kids and teens with anxiety have processing challenges or are perfectionists. They can easily become overstimulated or nervous about their performance if there are too many instructions. So, keep it simple…especially in the morning.
2. Make Sure it is Energizing
To wake up the body and mind, you will want your child to do a practice with a big focus on breathwork and moving all parts of the body. Leave the long-held, stretching poses for the night time.
3. Stick with Repetition
Especially for kids with anxiety, mornings can be stressful if there are unexpected changes. Keeping the morning yoga routine the same each day will allow for a smooth start to the day.
Easy yoga for kids
Yoga does not have to be hard, super stretchy or make you look like a pretzel (though we hope your child WILL look like a Pretzel Kid! Yoga can be as simple as folding forward, while slowly deepening the breath.
A Yoga Sequence for Anxiety
One of the best ways to get the energy flowing and maintain a simple, energizing and repetitive yoga routine is via Sun Salutations (or Surya Namaskar). To explain, Sun Salutations are a series of yoga poses done in one single flow while matching your breath with each individual pose.
The Sun Salute is considered to be a wholesome pose (or set of poses) as it gives a total body workout and at the same time brings a sense of calm to the mind.
The main poses that comprise a Sun Salutation include: Mountain Pose, Upward Salute, Forward Fold, Lunge, Plank, Cobra/Sphinx/Upward Facing Dog, and Downward Facing Dog. You can then repeat these poses – transitioning to each pose with your breath. Children can keep moving from one pose to the next. The set of poses repeat so there are no nerves about not knowing or constantly learning something new.
Here is a break-down of the poses in a Sun Salutation:
1. Mountain Pose
Stand tall with your hands at the sides, palms forward. Lift your head and heart to the ceiling. Feel tall and strong like a mountain.
2. Upward Salute
Inhale and lift your hands up over your head, palms inward and fingers to ceiling. Drop your shoulders away from your ears (this last part is important if you have anxiety as you may tend to lift your shoulders to your ears when in a stressful situation. Dropping your shoulders has a calming effect.)
3. Forward Fold
Bend your knees slightly and fold forward at the hip while exhaling.
Drop your hands all the way to the floor (by bending your knees) and come to a lunge by keeping one knee bent and (on the inhale) extending the other leg to the back of the mat.
On the exhale, extend the front leg back to meet the extended leg. Keep your body flat … like a plank!
Drop the knees, belly and chest to the floor and slide the elbows under the shoulders. Look forward and point hands forward and legs to the back. Lift your chest up for a back bend. (If the child knows and prefers a cobra or upward facing dog, they can do that here)
7. Downward facing dog
Bring the hands back to the shoulders, spread the fingers. On the inhale, tuck the toes and lift knees and seat off up and back away from the hands. Keep arms straight, open the heart and drop the head. Feel free to let out a deep sigh of relief!
Then walk your feet back up to the hands and roll up to Mountain Pose to start again!
A good rule for all kids is to not get too caught up in following all of the cues perfectly. Just keep moving, learning and having fun!
Bedtime Yoga Poses for Anxiety
Kids with anxiety often have a hard time getting to sleep, which can lead to tired, cranky children prone to erupting emotions.
Yoga is designed to bring children into the present moment. And this can help guide them away from constantly thinking and worrying about the past or an upcoming event.
Best Yoga Poses for Anxiety
To help stop this “monkey mind,” try these yoga poses for stress relief:
Legs up the Wall
You can start by sitting next to a wall with one side of the body pressed against the wall. From there you can rotate around, so that the shoulder moves away from the wall and the back and shoulders wind up on the floor.
Then, extend your legs up the wall toward the ceiling. You should look like a turned around letter “L”. Take a deep breath and sigh it out.
First off, bring your knees into your chest and hug them with your arms. Then release the arms to the ground, straight out from the shoulders and allow the legs to drop side to side and back and forth while your shoulders stay mostly still.
Anxiety Techniques for Kids
Practicing breathing techniques for kids regularly can help children access these tools “in the moment” when they need them.
One of our favorites is belly breath. Try this breathing exercise with your child to show them how calming it is. Start by lying on your back and then both you and your child can breathe into your bellies, filling up with air. Then empty the belly completely.
Little kids sometimes like to use a stuffed animal on their belly – and pretend to give it a ride up and down!
Meditation is another great way for kids to become centered, calm down, and even get ready for sleep. Guided meditations can also help kids and teens focus their minds away from the day’s events.
Do you want to help your child or others with breathing techniques, meditation and mindfulness? Try these 5 easy ways to teach kids to meditate! Want even more tools to help children meditate? Check out this mini-course on how to teach mindfulness and meditation to kids.
Can Yoga Help Kids with Anxiety?
As we’ve reviewed here, yoga provides many tools for children to calm down, including breathing exercises, mindfulness activities, meditation for kids, and specific yoga poses for children.
Yoga can be as simple as a breathing technique or a whole set of poses that your child knows by heart. It can help them prepare for their day, give them tools to get through difficult moments, and help them fall asleep. Perhaps the best thing: You can practice yoga almost anywhere and anytime!
Are you ready to introduce yoga for kids and teens to help with anxiety? Give it a shot!
Heidi Nechtman is a Pretzel Kids teacher in Tempe, Arizona. She’s passionate about sharing yoga with those that may not have access to it. Kids are one of those groups! She teaches littles, tweens and teens mindfulness and yoga at their level — and with lots of fun. You can learn more about Heidi here.