What do a cobra, a tree and a dog have in common? Well, if you ask the 4-year-olds in Kim Steen’s yoga class, they’ll proudly tell you – and perhaps even show you – that they’re yoga poses.
Steen teaches yoga to both kids and families at Intown Tumbling and Yoga for Kids. The energetic kids usually spend a few minutes before class releasing giggles and running around in the tumbling room in the Atlanta studio. Then they are ready to enter the light blue, cheery yoga studio. As Steen sets the tone playing soothing yoga music on her iPod, the kids unroll their yoga mats.
Yoga helps with relaxation and improves flexibility. Since ancient times, adults have turned to the Indian discipline for exercise and spirituality. In much more recent times, yoga has started to catch on with kids. It’s even an after-school activity in some Atlanta schools. Yoga studios and metro-area schools are stepping up to meet the demand.
Atlanta Parent recently joined about a dozen second- and third-graders in an after-school yoga program at Sarah Smith Elementary in Buckhead. On their kid-sized yoga mats, the yogis-in-training listened intently to co-instructor Miss Nicole and followed her lead. While on their backs, all together, the kids all raised their right legs toward the ceiling. Nicole’s ability to capture the attention of energetic kids at the end of a school day was impressive.
As founder of Atlanta Kids Yoga, Sheila Cooper puts yoga teachers such as Miss Nicole into programs such as this. There are similar 45-minute yoga classes in after-school programs at schools such as Teasley, Morningside, and Jackson elementary schools and at Kids R Kids preschool. These kids’ classes focus on flexibility, reflection and relaxation; some include song and dance.
At the end of each class, Miss Nicole places a dab of lavender oil on each student’s forehead, a closing moment that all seem to enjoy. “They really love this part,” says Cooper as the kids lay still, basking in the soothing aroma of the lavender.
“Yoga is a great activity for high-energy kids,” Nicole says. One of her students is on the autism spectrum, and yoga has proven to have calming effects for the girl.
“At first, my daughter used to have meltdowns because she was not getting the poses as easily as she should,” says Pilar Tyson, the student’s mother. “Sheila helped her learn to breathe to calm down, was very patient and continued to work with her on the poses.” Tyson believes that yoga is beneficial to all children, especially for children with challenges.
Alexander, a student at Intown Tumbling, recently celebrated his fourth birthday with a “yoga party.” He says he liked introducing his friends to yoga and even got one of his friends to sign up for regular classes. Prices for Stern’s classes vary, but parents can generally expect to pay around $160 for a nine-week session.
Steen’s class that we observed closed with a coloring project and the passing of the “thankful ball.” As they passed the ball to one another, the kids spoke of what they were grateful for that week.
Next on Steen’s to-do list: gather yoga mats for inner-city schools. Through a partnership with the Arthur Blank Foundation, free yoga sessions for elementary kids are on the horizon. At a recent yoga event at Jones Elementary, the ambitious instructor taught yoga to more than 100 kids at once.
“That was a little tough,” says Steen with a laugh.
- Kate Wallace