Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - Fall 2011
|From the Downward Dog to the Tree Pose, yoga is a fun and flexible way for parents and kids to connect and grow. |
When Stacy Cacciatore began practicing yoga, she never dreamed it would turn into a family affair. But after her kids Joshua, 9, and Emily, 5, saw her doing yoga, they wanted to try it too. “We began taking family yoga classes at the YMCA, and then we started doing it at home together,” says Stacy. “We love it.” Stacy, a distance runner who lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina, says the practice has also helped her stay injury-free during training.
Yoga offers a way for kids to stay active, a key goal say experts in children’s health. Hatha yoga, one of the most common types of yoga practiced in the U.S., focuses on poses and breathing. It is generally considered safe for all ages. (Most injuries result from doing postures incorrectly or pushing yourself too hard.) There’s no question, however, about yoga’s benefits for children and adults alike. Yoga increases flexibility, improves posture and concentration, and reduces stress. It may even help prevent or manage some health conditions like high blood pressure, cancer, anxiety and depression, according to Mayo Clinic experts.
Classes in kids’ yoga are on the rise, with studios devoted to children in most major cities and special kids’ classes in many studios. Books, DVDs and flash cards on yoga for kids are popular, as is yoga in schools.
Advantages for All
Kate Hanley, a Brooklyn-based yoga teacher and founder of msmindbody.com, says it’s never too early to start kids on yoga. “Even babies benefit from Mommy and Me classes because the physical interaction is calming and grounding for them,” she says. “Preschoolers can do deep breaths and a series of poses to help them develop motor skills and body awareness.”
In young kids’ classes, instructors play up the fact that many poses are based on the movements of animals or natural elements. “Kids learn to use their bodies in different ways, whether that’s acting like a roaring lion or a tree by standing on one leg,” Hanley says.
School-age kids can use yoga to relax and to improve their ability to concentrate. Jackie Morrison, a YogaKids teacher and trainer in Fleming Island, Florida, enjoys doing yoga with her 9-year-old, Samantha. Jackie taught her Switch Breath, a simple exercise that alternates breathing between the nostrils. “Doing it calmed her when she got upset or frustrated,” Jackie says.
Samantha agrees. “Yoga helps me be flexible in running and swimming, and it helps me focus in school.”
For preteens and teenagers, “yoga has so much to offer in terms of body image and acceptance. Even if they’re not good in P.E. class, yoga helps teens get in touch with their bodies and realize they are capable of all kinds of movements,” Hanley says.
If you and your kids are yoga newbies, Morrison suggests asking friends about teachers and studios that work well with kids and mixed-age groups. “Most studios offer the first class free, so go try it out and see if you like it,” she says. Morrison recommends a beginner series for new yogis because these classes explain how to get into a pose and how it benefits your body. Morrison also suggests the “Find a Teacher” page at yogakids.com to locate a certified children’s teacher.
Once you learn the basics, try yoga at home. Hanley recommends the book Watch Me Do Yoga (Rodmell Press, 2010) by Bobby Clennell and the YogaKids DVD series (Gaiam).
For Stacy Cacciatore, yoga is an ideal way to combine family time and exercise. “I work, I have kids and fitness is important to me. I’m always looking for ways to spend quality time together. I hope our family yoga experience sets my kids up for a lifetime of enjoying fitness.”
Yoga doesn’t require a lot of gear. Loose, comfortable clothing helps, and a mat or towel is nice to teach kids about staying in their personal space, Jackie Morrison says. In her classes she uses beach towels or mats and stuffed animals as training aids. “The kids lie down and put the ‘breathing buddy’ on their bellies and watch it go up and down so they can understand the full breath. For standing poses we put the animals on the mat and stare at them to help the kids learn how to focus.” Yoga teacher Kate Hanley suggests doing yoga yourself to get your kids interested. “Show them it’s normal. My kids love it when I do yoga. My 3-year-old daughter runs circles around me and says, ‘Mommy, let’s do yoga!’”
Yoga Competitions Heat Up
For most practitioners, yoga is calming and restorative, with the side benefits of improving strength, flexibility and health. But this ancient practice has a competitive side too. USA Yoga, a nonprofit organization that promotes Yoga Asana (yoga postures) as a sport, holds competitions all over the U.S. Though the group tried -- and failed -- to gain a slot at the 2012 Olympics, USA Yoga has its eye on the 2016 games.