Kids’ yoga is fast gaining favor with parents and teachers as a tool to build inner strength and peace.

Is yoga right for your child? Or would it just be another item in an already overbooked schedule?
If you’re like many Arroyoland parents, you’re already giving your children the best of everything. Whether toddlers or teens, they enjoy every tech tool and toy that might be beneficial or fun. Their schedules are crammed with sports, art, music, dance and any activity they show interest in. Their caring parents take time to impart seeds of wisdom to help them conquer life’s inevitable stresses.
And yet, there are areas of a child’s perception that no parent, coach, tutor or teacher can penetrate. That’s because all the above-mentioned advantages occur outside the child, and many experts in education and mental health say that in this age of boundless stimulation and overbooked activity, kids need to cultivate their inner selves.
That’s where yoga comes in.
Advocates say yoga teaches children the connection between body and mind, so they can learn techniques to quiet their minds, make their bodies more flexible and alleviate stress from social or school pressures. Yoga teaches them to focus, be mindful and present in the moment, so they can stop worrying, relax, use better judgement, get along better with others and get better grades.
“Just because children have access to many special activities, and to constant digital and intellectual stimulation, does not mean they know how to pause, how to make better choices in the moment, how to connect with others in positive ways,” says Kelly Wood, a Pasadena-based children’s yoga expert. “They can say the right thing, but can they do the right thing? Not when they’re speeding ahead, always thinking what’s next, what’s next?” adds Wood, who is certified to teach in both the Pasadena and L.A. school districts and has taught more than 200,000 children over the past 20 years. Not long ago, she was teaching 1,000 students per week, she says. She’s had to cut back to about 700 students because she’s so busy teaching public school teachers to lead yoga sessions in their own classrooms.
Using a secular and science-based approach, Wood says her method instills “constructive self-reliance, and that’s one of the most important skills we can give a child. Yoga helps them to pay attention, self-regulate their emotions, build confidence in body and mind and to help others,” she says. It’s all about having a calm brain, calm body and calm heart, she explains. “You can tell a child about the benefits of those things, and he or she may pick it up intellectually. But the practice of yoga actually gives them the tools to achieve those goals.”
Yoga for children is different from yoga for adults. Although the core basics of breathing, movement and meditation are the same, children’s classes are specifically geared to young minds and bodies. Break times are more frequent and they’re child-centric, often enhanced with art, music or storytelling activities. Of course, kids have much shorter attention spans and freer imaginations than adults, so children’s yoga teachers may change the original names of postures to animal and nature names students are familiar with. They can easily imagine themselves as roaring lions, slithering snakes, fluttering butterflies or strong tree trunks rooted deep in earth. They can surf their mats in the dolphin pose, be flowers, puppies or kittens. Doing this together in groups is fun and builds an awareness that all bodies and abilities are different, and all are okay.
“Yoga for children inspires their imaginations to learn about nature and their environment,” Sherry LeBlanc, director of Yoga 4 Kids in Ontario, Canada, writes in Toronto-based Vitality magazine. “Balloon breaths, buzzing bees, panting dogs and hooting owls all prepare a child for breathing techniques used in yoga. [They] help children develop concentration, memory and the ability to integrate abstract ideas.” Experts say yoga classes designed and taught for children only are more effective than adult classes. In mixed classes, children do get special attention, but regular instruction isn’t tailored to young bodies and minds.
Local expert Wood runs a nonprofit called SCHOOL (Smiling Calm Hearts Open Our Learning). Her special area of interest is children in grades K to 6, she says, adding that achieving a calm heart will carry them through to a more fulfilled life. “In yoga practice, there is a strong connection between breathing and heart rate,” Wood says. “Learning how to breathe in a steady way impacts the heart rate so it’s more steady, and the heart influences the brain and all internal organs,” she says. “So when we talk about heart, they are learning the importance of having a calm heart, which opens up better perceptions so they can listen better, focus better, relate better to others and themselves in a more gentle way.” (Wood produced a Hi Yoga! DVD for children and parents that’s available for $9.99 at
Many experts around the country agree. Secular yoga is now integrated into thousands of private and public school curricula around the U.S. Numerous studies have found that children’s yoga promotes improved confidence, mindfulness, concentration, academic achievement and the ability to control emotions and impulses. The practice reduces children’s stress and improves classroom behavior. And yoga postures for children connect them with their physical selves and lend a kind of flexibility that fielding a soccer ball or wielding a baseball bat cannot achieve. (That’s why many of today’s top sports teams employ yoga experts to help players perform better.)
A 2016 survey by the National Institutes of Health on school-based yoga programs taught by 5,400 instructors in 940 schools nationwide found that the mind-body elements of yoga — physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and mindfulness and meditation exercises — “promote students’ mental and physical health and performance” and that some recent research shows “these practices induce changes in brain structure and function which can enhance skills, such as self-regulation and prosocial behavior.”
Sela Sevada, a certified yoga teacher at Yoga on Brand ( in Glendale, says her school attracts “kids 4 to 14, teaching flexibility and techniques to calm the mind and body through breathing control. Kids aren’t aware that they can’t focus and live in a world of distractions. They never have time to stop — but yoga teaches them how. It’s noncompetitive. It’s not about being perfect or doing anything perfectly. It’s just about learning what our bodies can do for us in so many ways.”
Santa Anita Hot Yoga teacher Nicole Schulman says her own 2½-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son are budding yogis. “They both come to class, because the owner, Kayla Stra, asked me to bring them. What’s surprising is that my 2½-year-old enjoys doing some of the poses. Kayla tells the class to do the mountain pose — stand as tall as you can, bend one leg and put the foot of that bent leg on the thigh of your straight leg. My little daughter does that.”
Curative Yoga ( in Pasadena has an instructor specifically certified in children’s yoga. “Children have great imaginations, and we can tell them to do a mouse pose or a tree pose [standing on one leg] and they can do that,” says Alicia Webb, who teaches a class for kids 4 to 10 at 10 a.m. Sundays. “We can provide them with a sense of control over their bodies and minds that they might never experience otherwise. They might decide to sit down, take a deep breath, visualize themselves inside of a little bubble, and let go of any emotions they have that they don’t like, such as anger, sadness or feeling overwhelmed.”
Yoga can also be helpful to children with physical and developmental disabilities, says Kimi Cantrell, cofounder of Rose City Yoga ( She and her business partner, Melanie Colbrunn, volunteer once a month at Pasadena’s Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, teaching yoga to children with Down syndrome.
“Teaching kids is so different than teaching grown-ups,” says Cantrell. “They aren’t judgmental, don’t have unreal expectations. They’re just present in the moment, they give it a shot, have fun and pretty soon they’re very focused. As kids we’re never taught how to breathe. We do it naturally, take it for granted, but there are so many breathing techniques that can help us deal with anxiety, stress or emotions like sadness. If we could reach all kids earlier, they’d have so much more ability to cope with the world as they grow up.”