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Soccer practice. Tennis lessons. Little League. Ballet recitals. Play dates. Everyday of the week, the modern tot’s calendar is booked up. With the best of intentions, parents often fill their children’s schedules to the brim with countless activities aimed at improving socialization, teamwork and athleticism. While these are important fundamentals to develop, activities that emphasize qualities such as independence, stress reduction, self-awareness and the ability to “just be” are rare. Children’s yoga is a positive activity that also focuses on these important skills, while developing growing bodies in a non-competitive environment.
Despite its many benefits, the verbs of competitive exercise often include “winning,” “scoring” and “beating,” activities which can be stressful on young children. Yoga is an outlet where the objectives are simply more organic—discovering the moment, finding a pose or just stretching one’s limbs. In a world filled with frantic activities and a bombardment of interactive, educational and entertaining stimuli, these few moments of calm are hugely beneficial to a child’s overall well being.
Yoga provides children an opportunity to strengthen their mind and character, all the while, strengthening their bodies—a methodology of practice called srstikrama. Yoga also provides the physical benefits of exercise, improved self-esteem, self-discipline and respect for and cooperation with others. The cognitive aspect of exercise adds an important layer of physical and mental awareness, which is invaluable for a child to develop during adolescence.
The Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA introduced a mindfulness program to pre-schoolers in 2005, and the results seem to show that these types of programs increase memory, planning and organization. Yoga has also proven to have a positive physical and emotional effect on children with special needs such as ADD, AD/HD and autism.
When searching for a kids’ yoga studio, many factors should weigh in on the decision. Darlene D’Arezzo, founder and director of Kids Yoga Circle notes, “For starters, instructors should be registered with the Yoga Alliance, including completion of Specialty Training for Kids. A skilled children’s instructor must have an understanding of a child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, social and creative development and an understanding of the many ways in which children learn. Children have limited attention spans and are unfamiliar with such a collected form of activity that they may grow restless or bored.”
“The right kind of teacher not only engages the child in developmentally appropriate, playful ways, but also acknowledges the four basic learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile),” says D’Arezzo. Given kids’ vivid imaginations, they are more than willing to follow instructions to roar like a lion, stretch like a cat or stand tall like a tree. Since children’s yoga is more about basic discovery, instructors should act as guides rather than teachers. As guides, they can they embrace the experimental nature of teaching young students and encourage them to explore their own curiosities as they develop body awareness.
Fortunately, most big cities provide a number of options for children’s yoga, each with their own unique approach. Kids Yoga Circle not only offers workshops, special needs classes and kids’ teacher training but they also offer family weekend retreats, providing fun, relaxation and a bonding experience for the entire family. Yoga Angels currently features kids classes on their weekly schedule at The Sport’s Club LA in West LA and at Shakti Mind Body Fitness in Jamaica, West Indies. And many teachers host and facilitate kids yoga programs at Yoga Works. For the busy mom and dad, many kids yoga studios can mobilize, coming to any home, business or organization to teach individual kids and groups. A little research in your area will uncover the right studio for you and your mini yogi is sure to be a barking downward dog in no time.
Do you have a favorite studio or program that provides yoga for kids? If so, send an email with the name, address, phone number, web address and a short explanation as to why you believe it’s a special place. We will provide the complete list of recommended yoga studios? Yoga!