The positive effects of yoga and mindfulness practice for children

Many are generally aware of the healthful benefits of regular yoga asana and mindfulness practice for adults and older persons when it comes to stress reduction- but does this relationship extend to kids? The answer is an astounding YES. Many parents, caregivers, and school teachers may be unaware of the research supporting the advantages of yoga and mindfulness interventions which also support the classroom.

Yoga and mindfulness for children can bolster social and emotional development, cognitive functioning and learning capabilities, and gross motor functioning. This post will highlight research findings from empirical studies and systematic reviews- from preschool to primary school, including research findings on teachers. By the end, you should have a broader understanding of how yoga and mindfulness practices can function as tools to support children's academic learning in the school setting, social and emotional development, and body awareness.

Young children to adolescents endure numerous stressors in daily life. In the school setting it can include testing performance, social pressure, social acceptance, and the harmful effects of being the target of bullying, to the overwhelming use of social media, the widespread impact social and environmental issues, and stressors within the family system from family dynamics, abuse, neglect, poverty, and precarious living conditions. Stress-management tools are necessary for young kids to 1. build tolerance for how they respond to stressful situations and 2. employ skills to manage feelings of stress and anxiety. That's where yoga practice can come in as a complimentary tool for managing stress, anxiety, and symptoms of acute depression. 

For the general population, the primary practice and experience of yoga include forms of physical yoga asana (postures), pranayama (breathwork/breath control), and meditation/mindfulness, involving both internal sensing and control as well as physical control. Regular yoga practice can help people be more in-tune with their bodies with the focus on breathing, movement, and holding postures. Yoga practice is also a practical meansfor supporting emotional and social well-being. Research demonstrates yoga practice supports cognition and learning capabilities in children and can develop coping mechanisms for managing stress. 

Supporting self-control, reducing behavioural concerns, visual motor skills, and motor abilities

In a 32-week yoga intervention study of 122 children ages 3-5, researchers indicated children in the intervention group increased scores of total protective factor, initiative, and self-control, and noted reductions in behavioural concerns compared to the control group not receiving the intervention (Bazanno et al., 2023). Similarly for 5-year-old children, a 12-week yoga and physical activity intervention study found children in the yoga group had improvements in hyperactivity behaviour, inattention, and visual-motor-precision, thus reinforcing the considerable contributions of children's yoga for cognitive functioning and academic achievements (Jarraya et al., 2019).

Additionally, fine and gross motor functioning including balance, bilateral coordination, and body coordination approved in preschool children ages 5-6 after a 12-week intervention (Aleksić Veljković et al., 2021). Developing gross fine and gross motor skills early on during the preschool age is important as it builds the foundation for playing sports that require physical competencies ranging in body control, agility, balance, and visual motor accuracy.

Concerning hyperactivity, a 6-week study of 5-year-olds receiving school and home-based yoga practice (with a DVD/online version) found improvements in several variables including attention, distractedness, alertness, and flexibility compared to the control group. Parents of children in this study reported benefits to their child's self-regulation skills regarding self-calming behaviour (Cohen et al., 2018).

Benefits of school-based children's yoga for coping strategies and emotional regulation

A systematic review of 21 studies investigating school-based yoga interventions noted the positive effects and substantiated the implementation of children’s yoga in school for mental health (Khunti et al., 2023). A small pilot study of 24 children found yoga group participants reported positive differences in avoidance behaviour and divergent coping strategies compared to a physical activity group (Richter et al., 2016). For mindfulness-based only interventions, Portele & Jansen (2023) conducted a 6-week classroom mindfulness-based program and reported increased emotion regulation in school-aged children compared to the control group not receiving the sessions. The sessions on emotion regulation focused on creating positive feelings, gratitude, and altruism, which supports the flourishing characteristics of positive psychology from renowned psychologist and researcher Martin E. P. Seligman. 

Yoga improves symptoms of depression and anxiety in kids

A systematic review of yoga interventions for children and adolescents reported depression and anxiety symptom reduction (James-Palmers et al., 2020). This is of utmost importance to note as depression and anxiety in children and adolescents have risen and intensified during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting researchers to stress the urgency of mental health interventions (Racine et al., 2021).

A qualitative study analyzing the benefits of yoga practice and yoga for relaxation for young persons (yoga nidra) interviewed participants from an 8-week school program that included youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and mental health concerns. It found school-based yoga to help reduce stress levels, improved attention and clarity, promote relaxation and thought control during the school day, improve sleep, and was widely enjoyed from the students (Hagen et al., 2023).

Yoga and mindfulness practice has proved to be effective as a complimentary tool for treating depression and anxiety, in addition to other treatment methods, which can also include physical exercise. As youth mental health disorder rates are rising, and clinicians have recommended children’s yoga as a potential therapy tool to incorporate in the school setting (Khunti et al., 2023).

Yoga practice reduces stress levels and increases work satisfaction among teachers

Another dimension to consider regarding children's social and emotional health is the school setting: what about the school staff? How is the well-being of the teachers? Is health and wellness prioritized for school staff, or are teachers facing high demand, enduring burnout, feelings of low control, and high-stress levels? The advantages of yoga and mindfulness extend immensely to the teaching staff which extends to a favourable learning environment and even subsequent academic achievement for the students.

An 8-week yoga intervention study held twice a week for 60 minutes noted differences in coping for secondary school teachers participating in afternoon yoga sessions. Post-testing indicated psycho-physical health and resilience factors had improved, there was enhanced job satisfaction, and researchers noted reduced "mental fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and depersonalization at the end of 8 weeks of treatment. In addition, they showed significant enhancements in the perception of feelings, such as self-reliance, mental clarity, self-possession, excitement, and energy" (Latino et al., p.9, 2021).

Dose-response and helpful class tips

  • Current evidence lacks a consensus on the dose-response relationship, however, based on the current literature (which lacks robust, >12 weeks intervention studies and larger samples), randomized control trials were 20- 30 minutes in length and took place ranging in 1-4 times each week. 

  • Children's yoga is not the same as an adult yoga class; it may include games, activities, music, and posture practice that is fun imaginative, and playful. 

  • Include children of the same age as there may be a noticeable gap in interest, self-awareness, i.e. the attention span in a 6-year-old kid and 9-year-old and a 9-year-old to a preteen is big. They might not enjoy the same things. 

  • Use concise instructions and keep it simple: depending on your population and class intentions, you can choose to omit the deeper philosophical aspects of a yoga class to keep it more general and fit with teacher/school/parent expectations and requests.

  • If you’re a school teacher and do not feel comfortable leading the lessons yourself, look for local providers or inquire if another teacher is interested in teaching. If your school or youth club has limited resources, you can start with an age-appropriate video online to practice with in the classroom. 

  • Keep it fun and engaging with concrete themes such as animals, the seasons, the ocean, the forest. You can incorporate animals such as “lions breath”, “bunny breath”, or“alligator exhales” for engaging breath awareness. 

  • Use music! There is good music that incorporates physical yoga postures or use music that includes physical activities to shake out their sillies and get warmed up. 

  • A Huberman sphere is great for breath awareness and kids enjoy seeing it!

  • For mindfulness practice, you can use bubbles for breath counting thoughts or mindful concentration.

  • Not sure what postures to include? Feel free to use children’s yoga posture cards, and story books with the task of mimicking the pictures on the book with yoga postures.

  • Ensure older children are wearing comfortable clothes to move in and to avoid feeling judged or criticized.

  • Encourage the yoga session as a safe space where the participants feel comforted and supported and are encouraged to laugh, be playful. It' okay to not get the poses right! Make it clear that the yoga session is a judgment and criticizing-free zone, and where practicing compassion and empathy is valued.

Yoga and mindfulness practice offers an abundant range of positive benefits for little ones. The positive effects of yoga and mindfulness practice for children are backed by promising scientific findings that champion yoga practice for school-age children. There are little to no physical or psychological risks, it is low-cost and requires little to no equipment, and sessions are short for children, generally up to 30 minutes, and 45 minutes for older children.

Yoga can be viewed as an attractive offering for schools and a great recreational activity for children at home. Not only does it help preschool children develop vestibular systems, proprioception, and fine and gross motor function, but it also helps develop emotional regulation, may help reduce impulsivity, and help manage unwanted behavioural issues and possibly assist with attention-deficient concerns in young ones and older kids. 

Children have a right to learn about listening to their bodies and being aware of their feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Now imagine how powerful it would be if children felt empowered to manage them independently through self-regulation tools from yoga and mindfulness practices.



Aleksić Veljković, A., Katanić, B., & Masanovic, B. (2021). Effects of a 12-Weeks Yoga Intervention on Motor and Cognitive Abilities of Preschool Children. Frontiers in pediatrics, 9, 799226.

Bazzano, A. N., Sun, Y., Zu, Y., Fleckman, J. M., Blackson, E. A., Patel, T., Shorty-Belisle, A., Liederman, K. H., & Roi, C. (2023). Yoga and Mindfulness for Social-Emotional Development and Resilience in 3-5 Year-Old Children: Non-Randomized, Controlled Intervention. Psychology research and behavior management, 16, 109–118.

Cohen, S. C. L., Harvey, D. J., Shields, R. H., Shields, G. S., Rashedi, R. N., Tancredi, D. J., Angkustsiri, K., Hansen, R. L., & Schweitzer, J. B. (2018). Effects of Yoga on Attention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity in Preschool-Aged Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP, 39(3), 200–209.