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Stand like a tree, roar like a lion
By Karen Edwards
Parents of preschoolers know that the words centered and focused are about as far removed from their vocabulary as rest and relaxation. After all, preschoolers are an active lot, and, in caring for them, parents are as likely to be torn in as many different directions as their youngsters have years of age.
That's why Family Yoga – the newest class at Yoga on High, 1081 N. High St. in the Short North – is bound to score high with preschool parents.
“We used to offer a children's yoga class, but decided to discontinue it because there are so many other activities for children between six and eight years,” says Brooke Sackenheim, Yoga on High's manager. Meanwhile, a number of adults were asking about classes they could bring their preschool children to.
“We decided to trade one class for another,” Sackenheim says, “and make it a family yoga experience, something the parent and child could do together.”
The 30-minute class meets on Saturdays and is small – six to eight parent-child couples – so individual attention can be paid to each. Pairs, incidentally, can be composed of mother or father and child, and if both parents want to participate, that's fine, too.
Belly breaths, belly laughs
Instructor Carmen Cordova, a teacher by profession, leads participants first through breathing exercises - to calm and focus the children. “They do belly breathing,” says Sackenheim, who explains that everyone lies on the floor and takes turns placing their head on the other person's belly - making them physically aware of breaths and breathing.
“Then the entire class dissolves into giggles,” Sackenheim says. Next, the class practices asanas or poses – all with names that appeal to a child's imagination. “Many of the poses are named for animals, so it's not hard for children to picture what the pose is supposed to look like,” says Sackenheim.
The cat stretch and downward-facing dog are two poses the class practices. So is the lion, a sort of silent, pantomime roar that exercises face and neck muscles. In Family Yoga, those roars aren't expected to be silent, of course, so parent and child are free to unleash their inner animals.
They're also free to express their strength as trees. The tree pose envisions feet digging into the earth as roots, and uplifted arms as strong branches. “We use the same imagery for adults,” Sackenheim says.
Snakes and rabbits
After traditional poses, Cordova will sometimes ask the children to create their own poses. Past poses have included “the snake” - similar to yoga's cobra pose, but “with more wiggling,” says Sackenheim - and the “rabbit” pose. “We all crouched down and put our arms in the air to resemble ears,” she continues.
Finally, the class practices the savasana - or corpse pose - while Cordova leads the group through a guided meditation.
“We tell the class to imagine a sunshine-y spot or woods, and tell them to walk through it. Their imagination paints the picture for them,” Sackenheim says.
The same is true with the “box” meditation - where children imagine a wonderful box in front of them. They are guided to open the box, and only their imagination limits what's inside.
Aside from the obvious benefits of bringing preschoolers (and their parents) into a gentle, calm, more relaxed state, yoga offers a box full of other benefits as well.
“Yoga is a good way to increase children's motor skills and coordination,” says Sackenheim, “and for them to get in touch with their bodies.” There's a socialization element as well - and, of course, the breathing, the poses, the meditation are all basic building blocks preschoolers can use as they grow. “They're learning life skills that will always be with them,” Sackenheim says.
And that's true whether they become extroverted go-getters or introspective thinkers. Yoga allows its practitioners to practice the discipline from the inside, as well as the outside. And there is no pressure to keep up with classmates. Yoga teaches each individual to respect his or her body's limits. The only person you compete with in yoga is, well, yourself. That means yoga is likely to be safer than sports like gymnastics for very young children. Instead of pushing the body's limits, in yoga, the child learns to work with them, and let the skill evolve slowly and naturally.
If you think your preschooler might be interested in a yoga class, Sackenheim suggests you start at the library. “Check out children's books and videos on yoga – they're out there,” she says, including a book showing Babar the elephant in assorted yogic poses. Then - if they're interested - sign them up. “You can introduce yoga at any age,” says Sackenheim, “children to seniors.”
Variety of classes
Most ages, in fact, are represented at Yoga on High's numerous and varied classes. In addition to the Family Yoga classes, the studio also offers beginner classes in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga, prenatal yoga, yoga for men only, yoga for multiple sclerosis patients, and for teenagers suffering from depression.
Sackenheim says the yoga for children (ages six to eight) classes may return this spring.
Family Yoga meets once a week for six weeks and costs $35 per parent-and-child team – a small price to pay, one would think, for restoring words like focused, centered, rest, and relaxation back into your life…
For more information about family yoga or any yoga class mentioned here, contact Yoga on High, (614) 291-4444 or visit www.yogaonhigh.com