Today's Parent April 2003

Flextime
Your kids will bend over backwards with these fun yoga moves


By Diane Peters

Think yoga and your mind probably conjures up images of blissed-out grown-ups chanting "Om" in an incense-clouded room. But today yoga studios are playing host to a different kind of yogi: children. With their natural flexibility, kids catch on fast to the body-bending moves. It doesn't hurt that most yoga poses, or asanas, have fun animal names that make them easy to remember. But this ancient practice isn't just a game: Yoga is good for children - physically and mentally. That's why teachers, physical therapist and people who help kids with special needs are incorporating yoga into their work, and classes just for kids are popping up across the country.

Yoga makes kids strong and flexible, and helps burn off some of that extra energy. It also teaches them to concentrate, calm down and feel good about themselves. "The primary benefit is enhanced self-esteem. You can't do yoga and not improve at it," says Temmi Ungerman Sears, director of YogaBuds™, a family yoga studio in Toronto.

When can kids start doing yoga? Although toddlers can play at it and might want to imitate poses you do, most yoga instructors say only children five and up can really benefit from a structured class. To get them interested and keep their attention, a yoga class should be fun, perhaps incorporating music, storytelling or even crafts. If there's a teacher in your area who takes kids, make sure he or she is certified by the Yoga Alliance and has experience with children.

But before you take your little one out to a class, why not test drive a few asanas at home? If your child is motivated and you're careful, this is a great way to introduce him or her to yoga, or just to have fun being active. Here are some moves you can try together.

Downward Dog

Start on your hands and knees. Breathe in, exhale and push your bum up into the air until your legs are straight and your body takes the shape of an upside-down V. Hold it as long as you want. If you like, pretend you are puppies. Wag your tails and bark. Make sure your puppy paws press firmly into the floor.
WHAT IT DOES: gives the whole body a great stretch.

Frog

Start in a squat and put your hands on the floor in front of you. Inhale and straighten your legs, bringing your head almost to your knees. Exhale and squat down again. Do this up to ten times. If you like, start from a squat and leapfrog around the room.

WHAT IT DOES: works the heart and legs and stretches the inner thighs.


Warrior

Stand with your feet wide apart and stretch your arms out to the side. Bend your right knee until it makes a 90 degree angle, with the knee directly above the ankle. Keep your body upright and straight and look out over your right arm. Hold for three to five breaths, and then do the other side.

WHAT IT DOES: strengthens the whole body; makes you feel confident.
Lion

Kneel on the floor and put your hands on your knees. Roll your eyes up, stick out your tongue and roar. Inhale and do it again. Roar as many times as you like.

WHAT IT DOES: encourage kids to use the full capacity of their lungs; releases frustration. It's also a fun way to break up the postures.

 

Bear

Get into the dog position, but make sure your legs are gently bent. Start walking around, slow and lumbering, like you're a bear.

WHAT IT DOES: strengthens the arm and legs, and gives kids some cardiovascular exercise.

Snake

Lie on your tummy. Bring your hands right near your shoulders like you're going to do a push-up. Breathe in and, as you exhale, push your chest up, leaving your hips on the ground. Using your arms just a little bit, look up. If you want to make like a snake, make a "sssss" sound.

WHAT IT DOES: strengthens the back and opens the chest. Great for kids with asthma.

Tiny Seed

Use this posture whenever you're tired, or to end your yoga session. Kneel on the floor with your bum resting on your heels. You can have your knees right together or apart. Lower your head to the floor as you exhale and place your arms at your sides. Hold until your breath is steady.

WHAT IT DOES: calms you down; gently stretches your lower back.