Kids and Yoga:

A Growing Trend

Intown Tumbling and Yoga for Kids

by Kate Wallace

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 Virginia-Highland 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 $162 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.

Yoga Books for Kids

Yoga Pretzels by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish (Barefoot Books, $14.99)
With quirky illustrations of happy humans in pretzel-like shapes, this stack of 50 flashcards offers a playful way to teach and learn yoga. Also see the related book by the Baron Baptiste, My Daddy is a Pretzel.

Yoga Games for Children by Danielle Bersma and Marjoke Visscher (Hunter House Books, $14.95)
This book is filled with breathing tips, kid-friendly postures and educational games to build a child’s self-esteem and creativity.

ABC’s of Yoga for Kids by Teresa Power (Stafford House, $19.95)
From the “doggie” pose to “shark” pose and all the animals in between, this book is made especially for the child’s imagination. Great for yoga beginners.

Atlanta Kids Yoga

Yoga for Kids: Getting Started

Ask yoga studios in your vicinity if they have options for kids and families. Here are some resources:
Intown Tumbling and Yoga for Kids is located in the Druid Hills Baptist Church at 1085 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta. 678-310-9388; intowntumbling.com.
Atlanta Kids Yoga. 8 Arc Way NE, Atlanta. 404-433-2333; atlantakidsyoga.com.
Stillness Yoga and Meditation Center. 3115 Roswell Rd. Ste. 103, Marietta. 770-337-9335; stillnessyoga.com. 
Decatur Yoga and Pilates. 431 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-4899; decaturhotyoga.com.

Next Generation Yoga, warrior one pose

Top Ways Kids Benefit from Yoga

by Jodi Komitor

Yoga, the 5,000-year-old art of fusing the body and mind, is not just transforming adults today. Because of its amazing benefits, yoga for children is spreading rapidly around the world.
As a master kids’ yoga teacher for more than 15 years, I have personally witnessed how this ancient practice continuously supports children in their classrooms, homes, sports and relationships. Here are my favorite reasons why yoga is awesome for kids.

Maintains Flexibility and Strengthens Growing Bodies
Children are born with an innate flexibility and yoga poses help to prolong this gift. Poses like Warrior One and Two help developing strength in their growing muscles and bodies. Strength and flexibility allow for fewer and less-severe injuries, especially when kids are engaged in sports, playground activity and good ol’ rough and tumble fun.

Improves Concentration
In kids’ yoga classes, some poses are fast moving while others are slow paced. This allows children to learn self-control, enhancing their focus and awareness. Moving from Flying Bird Pose (or Warrior Three) to balancing in Tree Pose takes great attention – a skill that is essential in most learning environments.

Increases Self-Esteem
When a child displays great strength, focus and flexibility in Yoga, it does wonders for their confidence. A successful Crow Pose yields poise and power, which leads them to believe in and pursue their true abilities. Yoga success grants children persistence to achieve greatness as they embark on all of life’s adventures.

Teaches Present Moment Awareness
Yoga philosophy teaches present moment awareness because when our mind is thinking about the past or future, we are missing the most valuable now. When children are engaged, focused, having fun, and following a yoga lesson, they are in the present moment. A quality children’s yoga teacher will redirect kids and teach them about this valuable tool so they can carry it throughout their life.

Cultivates a Peaceful, Relaxed State of Body and Mind
All yoga classes conclude with a quiet time, also known as Deep Relaxation. Different from napping, this is an all-time favorite for yoginis of all ages. In the “Do Nothing Pose,” children relish lying on their backs in quiet, peaceful stillness, sometimes with music and a guided visualization, foot massage, or an herbal eye pillow. Even if just for three minutes, children learn to understand the importance of this peace and can carry it with
them into their daily lives.

Gives Tools for Stress Management
Practicing yoga provides kids an immediate outlet to reduce stress in a safe and nurturing environment. It is a physical exercise that produces happy endorphins. While breathing exercises slow down the heart rate, relaxation techniques are powerful sources for calming the mind and the body. Yoga teaches non-judgment and non-competition toward oneself and others. These are all tools that a child can carry into any difficult life situation.

Sparks Creativity in Ripe Imaginations
Kids’ yoga classes often infuse themes that are fun and engaging, such as “A Trip to the Beach” or “Jungle Safari.” When children are allowed to make up their own yoga poses to fit with a theme and express their experiences throughout the class, it inspires them to be free, creative and self-expressive. Not only is this playful and fun, but it invites kids to tap into their own creativity and use their boundless imaginations without judgment.

Encourages Kind Peer and Social Interactions
Yoga teaches children that we are all the same inside, despite our outward appearance, race, and religion. We all have bodies that function, hearts that love and feelings that feel. Partner yoga poses allow children to fully understand this concept of oneness by working together. Yoga inspires kids to be kind, patient, accepting and emphatic with themselves and their peers.

Enhances Body Awareness
Yoga poses vary from balancing, strengthening, twisting, back bending and inverting. All of these poses have the ability to teach a child about their body. Yoga teaches children to listen to where in their bodies they feel a movement and express how it makes them feel when they are complete. Body awareness is an invaluable tool for all stages and ages of life.

Teaches Discipline and Responsibility
Yoga is not a destination; rather it is a journey of a lifetime, which takes discipline. Ideally, when children learn at a young age the benefit of a committed practice, it ripples out into their everyday activities, relationships and responsibilities. When they learn that yoga takes practice versus an immediate accomplishment, they learn and accept that life is a path with good days, bad days, and everything in between.
– Jodi Komitor is a pioneer in the children’s yoga industry and the author of the best-selling book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga with Kids.