A big, bouncy yoga ball is your shortcut to toned abs and better balance. But yoga balls work just as well, and in some cases even better, for children. Explore how more movement can lead to greater stillness, extra fitness, and improved attention with the use of a yoga ball.
Stealth Health and Ball Benefits
Using the ball improves all-over muscle tone. The kids are focused on controlling it and barely aware of the demands it makes on developing muscles. But balance, good posture, heart health, coordination and core stability all benefit from the extra, low-impact exercise that naturally happens on a yoga ball. Just maintaining balance uses core muscles constantly, those deep abdominal and back muscles that protect the spine and drive the arm, leg and torso moves necessary for daily life.
Watch Out for This
The slippery balls can be unwieldy for a small person and unsafe to leave around an unsupervised baby or toddler, so set up some guidelines for safe play.
- Store the ball out of reach for very young yogis and tiny gym rats.
- Help them to use the ball properly in supervised sessions, and keep it fun.
- Clear the area of all sharp objects that might damage the ball -- and make sure you have a lot of open space to work in so there are no bumps or bruises.
- Place a mat beneath the exercise area to cushion any inadvertent slips.
- Check the ball before each use to reveal any worn areas or weak seams.
Find the Right Fit
Look for balls the right size for your pint-size yogis; fit the ball to the kid. When the child sits securely on the ball, her feet should be flat on the floor and her knees should form a 90-degree angle. Yoga balls start at 45 cm up to 65 cm. Children's ball circumferences are on the smaller side so look for 45 cm for 5- to 8-year-olds.
Inflating the Ball
Keep the following in mind.
- A very inflated ball is less stable and works more muscles to maintain balance.
- A slightly deflated ball moves less under the child's weight.
- Optimum inflation is just short of fully filled -- the ball has some give but doesn't squash like a cushion.
Work on poses that incorporate the ball to vary a yoga session for kids.
- Teach them caution and proper use to minimize the chance for accidents.
- Always use a proper size ball.
- Take time to stabilize before moving into each pose.
- Go slowly, maintaining at least one secure point of connection to the ball, to avoid slipping or sliding off it.
- Very young children will need a guiding hand, or a hands-on parent as personal trainer, to help them walk forward or backward while face-down over the ball or to train them to remain balanced in a pose.
Sit on the Mountain
To do this ball-based pose, have your child take the following steps:
- Sit securely on the ball, knees at a 90-degree angle and feet hip-width apart, planted on the mat.
- Place hands on hips and bounce gently a few times to find your balance. Be still and breathe in and out twice, slowly, deeply and with attention.
- Raise both arms up overhead, palms facing each other, continue mindful yoga breathing as you bounce gently on the ball for five breaths.
- Bring palms together for "prayer hands" and stretch lightly to the right, to the left, and then sit upright.
- Release the prayer hands and lower both hands to the sides, palms up. Then bring your hands back to your hips.
- Repeat this seated mountain pose three times to open the back, stretch the intercostals, improve posture, and tone core muscles.
Another great ball-based exercise is crunchy yoga -- a classic for strengthening stomach muscles.
- Lie down on the mat with the ball at your feet. Place both heels on the yoga ball. Take a moment to anchor your feet firmly on the ball, inhaling and exhaling slowly two or three times.
- Place both hands behind your head, clasping them lightly near the base of your skull. Connect your lower back, ribs, and shoulder blades firmly to the mat. Contract your tummy by drawing your navel toward your spine.
- Maintain slow, deep yoga breaths as you raise your head to look at your feet. Hold for one inhalation and exhalation and lower your head back to the mat.
- Repeat the move, this time holding your head up for two rounds of breath. Do not pull your head up with your hands. It's okay if your shoulders come very slightly up off the mat.
- Last time -- hold for three complete yoga breaths. Focus your attention on keeping your feet steady on the ball.
- Relax. Bring your arms down to your sides and remove your feet from the yoga ball. Breathe quietly in corpse pose for about ten slow breaths.
Stretch tight hip flexors, the back, and the whole front of the body with a modified Camel pose that also improves posture.
- Lie across the ball so it supports the arch of your back and your feet are flat on the floor, barely hip-width apart.
- Feel your back connected firmly to the ball as you breathe in and out slowly several times. When your balance is stable, and your back is relaxed, contract your tummy, tightening your abs but not your shoulders or lower back.
- Raise both arms straight up in the air, parallel to each other.
- Bring your arms back and over your head and let your head and arms hang freely, without tension. Keep your feet connected to the mat and your back supported over the curve of the ball.
- Reverse the moves to release the pose.
This is a great core strengthener for kids. Core strength helps to injury-proof young athletes and encourages them to perform better in sports.
- Place the ball in the center of the mat and lay across it on your stomach.
- Bring both feet together, fully extended behind you, balancing on your toes.
- Place hands on the floor beneath your shoulders. Get centered and stable and contract the tummy.
- Walk hands forward as you roll forward on the ball. Stop when your upper thighs are resting on the ball -- your feet will be in mid-air.
- Hold this position for a slow count of five or ten and then roll back so your tummy is again on the ball and your toes touch the mat.
On the Ball
When you use a yoga ball in the classroom, reading and math gets a whole lot easier because wiggly kids expend all that distracting energy while sitting on a yoga ball instead of an unyielding, unchallenging chair. The constant minute adjustment of multiple muscles required to maintain balance engages the body and frees the mind to focus.
Teachers who replace standard chairs with yoga balls report kids are more attentive, more productive, and better behaved. The threat of losing ball-seat privileges and returning to regular chairs ensures physical activity is limited to harmless - and encouraged - light bouncing, which can actually help to calm a restless kid. If you try this at home, remember: Feet on the floor at all times and no slouching.
Buying a Ball for Kids
There's nothing delicate about a young abs cruncher or bridge poser in free flight. Yoga balls now come in puncture-proof materials that provide a longer life, even in the rough-and-tumble of a kids' class or playroom. You can find materials that minimize exposure to harmful chemicals, as well.
- Hunt for burst-resistant construction -- if something does pierce the ball, it deflates gradually so no one gets hurt.
- Weight-tested balls can handle the impact of very vigorous bouncers; some balls withstand up to 1,000 static pounds of pressure.
- Look for non-PVC, and phthalates-, chloride-, BPA- and latex-free balls, which are safer all the way around and kinder to allergies.
If you're ready to take the plunge and purchase a yoga ball for your young one, consider the following sources:
- Children's Therapy Store sells healthy child-size yoga balls for $24.95. UPS ground shipping is standard for most of the U.S. but overnight shipping is also available. Check the website to be sure you live in a delivery zone.
- Gaiam sells a 45 cm kids' balance ball for $12.00. Shipping is based on weight and total order value, with same-day and second-day service available.
- Target sells a child-size balance ball chair on casters, a step up from a ball on the floor. The plastic and vinyl chair with ball insert seat holds up to 300 pounds of pressure and sells for about $70.00 with free shipping.
The Sphere of Success
Yoga for kids is all about having fun and developing healthy habits. Whether you choose a yoga ball to promote focus, minimize a case of the wiggles, add variety, or ratchet up the challenge, matching the right ball to your young yogi changes the game. Give children a shot at success both on and off the mat with a yoga ball that both tames and directs the exuberant energy of kids.