Namaste to a new generation

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright finds yoga for kids is as much about becoming grounded as it is about getting up and moving

Yoga for kids helps exercise their imaginations too. Photo / Supplied
Yoga for kids helps exercise their imaginations too. Photo / Supplied

At a yoga for kids class in Milford, soft music is playing and a colourful box of toys sits in the corner as children pull out yoga mats and bolsters, forming a circle around cheerful instructor, Marie Ishida.

The teachers here are all Yoga Alliance-registered, with 500 hours of study completed at the Auckland Yoga Academy. Ishida and fellow practitioner Natalie Stettler have also trained in the Rainbow Kids Yoga Programme.

"Some of the benefits of yoga for children include enhanced relaxation," says Stettler. "The kids come out of class really mellow. They're present and focused in the classes and we encourage a group element, making sure everyone's included and everyone listens to each other.

"There's also the emotional intelligence, which comes from thinking about feelings and, of course, the physical benefits of bending, stretching and getting active," she says.

Strangely, in the United States, where yoga for kids is so popular it's taught in schools and hospitals, the American Yoga Association doesn't recommend it for children under 16.

Their reasoning is that a child's nervous and glandular systems are still growing and that the effect of yoga exercises on these systems may interfere with natural growth. The meditation and simple breathing exercises are, however, okayed by the association.

Judy Gardner, national president of Yoga Aotearoa, disagrees: "We embrace yoga for kids and think it's definitely okay. We even have assignments on this aspect in the two-year courses we run."

There are also some in America who believe it pushes children towards Hindu beliefs.

One group of parents at a Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School in California, is suing the school, saying the twice-weekly yoga classes infringe on their religious beliefs.

"For us, yoga is not about religion," says Stettler. "It encourages you to look inwards but is more about breathing than religion. No matter what age you are, you're going to feel more connected to yourself through yoga."

Curious, I visit a class, which starts with the song Fly like a Butterfly as half a dozen kids warm up by flapping their crossed legs, putting their heads in their hands as pillows, and stretching arms in the air - mimicking the movements of a butterfly.

It feels like a music and movement class as classic kids' songs, with a yoga twist, are played - such as Heads, Shoulders, Yoga Pose. There's also an element of play-acting.

The kids, aged from 5 to 7, are taught to create tree poses, warrior poses and an impressive-looking bow pose, where they lie on their tummies and hold their legs behind their backs.

Ishida takes a book out of the toybox and the children huddle around her as she tells them to imagine being some of the things in the book - such as a tree or a mouse.

"Just imagine you're a cake!" says one girl.

Ishida then takes a piece of newspaper and asks the children to imagine they are the newspaper as she scrunches it tightly, unravels it, and moves it up and down.

At first, the kids are a little confused, but soon they're interpreting the movements of the newspaper in their own delightfully inspired ways.

Next, they are given sticks and move around the room with a partner as Ishida says: "You must trust your partner. Focus, focus."

The teamwork is impressive at such a young age and they start to copy Ishida as she says "success" when a child drops the sticks. Later, she tells me it's a way to diffuse the anger they may feel at themselves when it's dropped.

They put away the sticks and form a circle for breathing exercises on their tummies, which involves blowing ping-pongs. They are told not to talk and to focus on their breathing.

Relaxation exercises follow as the children lie on their backs, heads resting on bolsters.

They're each given a coloured feather and asked to imagine they are the feathers, floating down to Earth.

The distracted energy at the beginning of the class is replaced by looks of peace as they place their bolsters back in the shelves and head out into the rush of a child's world.

On the wall as we leave is a list of "22 things happy people do differently". The list includes: seeing problems as challenges, living with gratitude, waking at the same hour each morning, and choosing friends wisely.

Another sign puts the philosophy into a child's viewpoint: "Life is like monkey bars: you have to let go, if you want to move on."

Yes, yoga for kids is about getting children up and moving, but it's also about getting them grounded and thinking about their worlds, as well as encouraging them to feel grateful. Like regular yoga, there is an element of spirituality, but from the kids' accounts, it's also just "really good fun".


Yogi youngsters

Yoga for Kids aged 3-12 is $72 a term or $8.50 for casual attendance at The Mat, 107 Kitchener Rd, Milford. Ph (09) 963 2352 or visit themat.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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