The chimes rang outside our cabin door at 6:30 a.m. "I don't want to get up," I moaned, preparing to continue my sleep. "But I do, Mommy," came a tiny voice from the other bed. It was my 3-year-old daughter, Kelsey, already sitting up, eager to join me in a morning class during our week of yoga camp at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in Buckingham, VA.
"The number of kids doing yoga has taken a leap and keeps expanding," says YogaKids video creator Marsha Wenig, who in recent years has trained hundreds of instructors to teach kids. "Yoga has gotten more mainstream, so parents feel comfortable encouraging it."
Add to that the appearance of yoga on popular TV shows like Dharma and Greg and in movies such as The Next Best Thing, in which Madonna plays a yoga teacher. "Children see music stars, actors, and sports figures practicing yoga and reaping the benefits," says Lisa Trivell, the East Hampton, NY-based author of I Can't Believe It's Yoga for Kids! and an instructor whose clients include celebrities such as Calvin Klein and Paul McCartney.
Many parents who practice yoga are sharing it with their kids. That's what happened in Kelsey's case. Before my husband and I had children, we benefited so greatly from yoga -- with calmer minds, increased energy, more strength and flexibility -- that we became certified to teach it. We figured a week at Yogaville would be a chance to make yoga a family affair.
Yoga isn't only fun, it's great for building self-esteem. "Unlike other sports, with yoga there's no chance of a child feeling bad if he can't get the ball over a net," says Kathi Kemper, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Plus, "doing yoga can help kids keep the flexibility they have naturally when they're young," says Russell Greenfield, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.
Equally important, yoga provides a great opportunity for a parent and child to connect. "When you practice yoga with your child, you can't help but deepen the bond that exists between the two of you," explains Leela Lipscombe, co-owner of the Body*Mind*Spirit yoga center in Charlottesville, VA.
When our week at camp was over, my daughter and I wanted to keep our joint yoga going. The following poses are ideal for everyone, even first-timers. Just be sure your child isn't forcing himself into unnatural positions or holding a pose longer than is comfortable.
Begin your session with this spinal twist. Sit with your left leg bent over the right. Place your left hand on the floor behind you for support. Rotate your torso toward your left shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Kneel facing each other, about a foot apart. Take hold of each other's wrists. Lean backward, arching your spine and pressing your hips forward. Drop your head back gently, so you are looking at the ceiling. Take several deep breaths while holding the pose. Gently pull each other back up to your starting position and repeat five times.
Start out on all fours and then gently sit back on your heels. As you lower your chest to your knees, bring your left arm across your body and lay it flat on the floor, palm up. Rest your head on the floor, facing right. Point your right arm toward the ceiling so that it forms an L with the left arm. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute while slowly inhaling and exhaling. Repeat the pose on the other side.
Lie flat on your belly with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders and your forearms flat on the floor (palms facing down). Position your head so that your chin is level. Drop your shoulders away from your ears. Stretch your torso forward and up while pressing your pelvis into the floor. Hold the pose while you slowly inhale and exhale eight times.
(a) Start on all fours, with your knees aligned under your hips and your hands flat on the floor underneath your shoulders. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, round your back and gently tuck your chin toward your chest. Hold this position for a few seconds.
(b) Next, inhale as you raise your head up toward the ceiling and curve your back down toward the floor. Alternate between rounding and curving five times.
Lie on your back with arms straight down at your sides, palms flat on the floor. Pressing on your elbows, lift your head up to look at your feet. Slowly arch your spine and gently drop your head back. Hold this pose while you slowly inhale and exhale eight times.
Classes. Many yoga studios offer kids' classes, and some, such as the Seattle Holistic Center and New York City's Next Generation Yoga, provide classes for families. Others will schedule family classes on request.
Retreats. Consider the family yoga retreats offered at these locations: Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Lenox, MA (800-741-7353); Sivananda Ashram, in the Catskills in New York (914-436-6492); and Ananda Seclusion Retreat in Nevada City, CA (530-292-3004). In the spring, Integral Yoga Center, which is based in Columbus, OH, sponsors a snorkeling vacation for families in the Bahamas that includes yoga for children and adults (614-252-0827).
Books and Tapes. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Yoga with Kids illustrates solo children's poses, with additional postures that pair parents and children. You can also find great child-friendly poses that adults can do with their kids in the Children's Book of Yoga and on the YogaKids video. The Yoga Kit for Kids by Imaginazium features photographs and descriptions of 24 yoga poses that are perfect for children.
Copyright © 2001 By Meryl Davids Landau. Reprinted with permission from the February issue of Child magazine.