THE BENEFITS OF PARENT-CHILD YOGA
Practicing yoga together strengthens the bond between an individual parent and child. This can be particularly important when there is more than one child in a family. For example, giving an older sibling this special time away from pesky baby brother/sister will make them feel more secure in their relationship with mum or dad. It is this secure relationship that supports our children to lead a healthy and happy life.
When children feel securely connected to us, they learn to love themselves and to love others. … [W]e give our kids roots so they can later grow wings, and … it requires a secure bond for those roots to really sink in.
(Dr. Laura Markham)
In family yoga, the parent and child meet at eye level. This opens up the possibility of learning from each other, empowering the child as well as the parent to trust in their own abilities and who they are. It can also provide the starting point for respectful conversations about problems in the parent-child relationship, and thus begin the process of repairing any rifts that may have developed – or, indeed, prevent them from deepening in the first place.
Both parent and child strengthen their body and mind through the practice of yoga asanas (postures), mindfulness exercises, and guided relaxations. Much research has been done in the field of studying the health benefits of yoga over recent years, and even a cursory internet search will attest to the many benefits of yoga in general.
Parent-child yoga is interactive and fun! In their book The Art of Roughhousing, Dr Anthony DeBenedet and Dr Larry Cohen make an impassioned and well-researched plea for why ‘good old-fashioned horseplay’ is so important and beneficial to a child’s emotional, cognitive, physical, and mental health and development. Parent-child yoga may not be quite as rambunctious as roughhousing, but it is equally interactive, physical, involving touch, requiring communication between parent and child, inviting laughter, and full of playfulness.
This doesn’t just help young brains develop – grown ups, too, reap immense benefits:
Our brains don’t stop evolving after our twenties.
Play very likely continues to catalyze neurogenesis [growth and connection of nerve cells] throughout our lives. … Dementia studies suggest that
physical play forestalls mental decline.
(Brown in DeBenedet & Cohen)
Parent-child yoga keeps the physical connection going. The older a child gets, the harder a parent may find to hug and kiss and cuddle them – or indeed for the child to ask for it. Oftentimes we may be too busy to remember, and a quick kiss goodnight is all we can muster at the end of a long day. But respectful, consensual human-to-human touch stimulates the release of the hormone Oxytocin into our body, which has been linked to reduced levels of stress and less general anxiety.
I’d even go as far as saying that touch is right up there with food and shelter as a basic human need, and science seems to support this:
Touch is the first sense to start working in the womb (around 14 weeks). From the moment we’re born, the gentle caress of a mother has multiple health benefits, such as lowering heart rate and promoting the growth of brain cell connections.
When someone hugs us, the stimulation of c-tactile afferents in our skin sends signals, via the spinal cord, to the brain’s emotion processing networks. This induces a cascade of neurochemical signals, which have proven health benefits. Some of the neurochemicals include the hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role in social bonding, slows down heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety levels. The release of endorphins in the brain’s reward pathways supports the immediate feelings of pleasure and wellbeing derived from a hug or caress.
(McGlone & Walker)
Parent-child-yoga offers the opportunity to take time out of our busy everyday lives. It allows us to decompress, to let go of our busy schedules, and to recharge our batteries. Both the parent and the child are able to give each other their undivided attention and full presence.
Parents in particular can learn from their children during their time together on the yoga mat: By nature, children tend to be more present, more ‘in the flow’ than adults. Parents can learn from their offspring and rediscover their ability to simply be in the present moment – and connect with their inner child.
Family yoga is a gift for life. It helps lay the foundation for a strong parent-child relationship – one that is based on deep connection, love, and respect for each other.
As the ever poignant Brené Brown sums it up so eloquently:
Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.
Resources / Further Reading
Andrea Helten, Yoga für dich und dein Kind: Gemeinsame Übungen für mehr Gelassenheit und eine starke Eltern-Kind-Bindung, Riva, Verlag, Berlin, 2017
Dr Anthony T DeBenedet (MD) and Dr Lawrence J Cohen (PhD), The Art of Roughhousing, Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2010
Dr Laura Markam, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, Penguin Putnam, 2012
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Paperback), Avery, 2015
Francis McGlone & Susannah Walker, Four health benefits of hugs – and why they feel so good, The Conversation, May 17. 2021, published at:
B Grace Bullock, Yoga Research Comes of Age: Scientific Review Charts the Many Health Benefits of Yoga - Part I (Original: August 25, 2016, Updated: June 18, 2018) Published at: https://www.yogauonline.com/yogau-wellness-blog/yoga-research-comes-age-new-review-charts-many-health-benefits-yoga-part-i