Little Cecilia Kocan, age 5, sat perfectly still, meditating on a bus full of active, noisy children. “She needed to find a little quiet space and that’s what she did,” said her mom, Elizabeth Kocan, a yoga instructor with Sunny Skies Yoga in Virginia Beach. She introduced yoga to Cecilia, now age 9, and her brother Aidan after becoming involved in yoga and said she’s seen positive changes in her children as a result of practicing yoga. “Aidan’s strength has improved quite a bit,” Elizabeth said.
After giving birth to her children, Elizabeth decided to marry her love of yoga and kids by getting certified in both child and adult yoga and did part of her training at Oceanfront Yoga in Virginia Beach. Now she gives classes at Atma Bodha Yoga Studio near Lynnhaven Mall and offers programs in schools and to Girl Scout troops. She teaches ages three to 13. “Some parents think that their children may not have the attention span,” Elizabeth said, “but there’s a lot of movement in yoga.”
MONKEYS AND BUTTERFLIES
Yoga instructors who teach children often use creative names for yoga poses—like “polar bear,” “monkey,” and “airplane.” This helps the kids remember poses more easily. Some instructors also include storytelling when teaching children, especially the little ones.
“If we are going to do a lesson on the lifecycle, we might read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle,” Elizabeth said. “The kids can do a group pose, lying on their backs in a circle with their feet toward the center. They are the sun at the beginning of the story.”
“It’s amazing how creative the kids are,” said Elizabeth, adding that there’s never any competition during yoga. “It’s all about what you can do for yourself and what makes you feel good.”
Elizabeth introduces kids to yoga through breathing techniques, relaxation, cooperative games, and creative yoga activities. According to Sunny Skies’ website, yoga helps kids build confidence, strength, and flexibility, and enhance their physical and emotional growth in a fun, supportive environment. “And they don’t have any fear at all,” Elizabeth explained. “Kids are able to do poses that some adults can’t.”
“Kids’ yoga is very different than adult yoga,” Elizabeth explained. “Learning is different. Kids focus through play. Older children will get into sequencing where they are linking poses together, kind of like an adult class.”
The three- and four-year-olds do “butterfly” poses. “They sit down, put the soles of their feet together, bend their knees, and open their hips, like little wings,” Elizabeth said. Then they put their first two fingers together behind their heads to form antenna.”
“Yoga is the one activity that covers just about everything—strength, flexibility, coordination, and body awareness,” she continued. “Emotionally, it helps with focus, concentration, and anxiety. They do breathing activities, and the older kids will meditate.”
“‘Downward facing dog’ pose clears your head,” Elizabeth said. “Kids that are struggling with homework or life can clear their brain for a minute. Anybody can do it. There are no prerequisites.”
Elizabeth has seen positive effects from yoga reflected in her students. Kids who have had a hard time concentrating learn how to do so during yoga poses. “You have to slow down and think,” she said. “Then the kids realize what they accomplished was really difficult, and a few months later they can do really hard poses because they can access that. So when they approach life or school, they have that skill set.”
BREATHE AND FOCUS
Megan Mulvey, youth and family services librarian at Kempsville Area Library in Virginia Beach, had been a yoga practitioner for more than a decade when she decided to bring her love of yoga into her workplace.
A friend of Megan’s mentioned that she used yoga poses with kids in her early literacy storytime. Megan started formulating a plan to combine yoga and literacy. She looked for existing programs, but didn’t find many. “I was looking for something creative that might interest them. Kids don’t want to sit down,” Megan said. “Can you stretch your arms out like a butterfly? This encourages movement.”
“I brought home a bunch of yoga DVDs to get an idea of what the little ones were capable of,” she said. Her son, Henry, was four at the time. “He loved acting like the animals and challenging himself to try poses,” she said.
Megan started the first “yoga storytime” in Virginia Beach libraries last spring when she was a librarian at the Windsor Woods Area Library. They still have the program, which is also held at Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library and the Joint-Use Library. The libraries hold programs for ages kindergarten through fifth grade.
The kids really responded positively to it, Megan said. A lot of them had yoga knowledge already, she said. “Some kids came with their yoga mats, eager to show me poses they could do.”
In yoga, everybody’s pose is going to be different, Megan explained. “I encourage the kids to understand that their body moves differently from other children’s. The activity helps body awareness.” “Tree” pose is a favorite, Megan said, as well as “down dog.” “For tree pose you stand on one leg and bend your opposite leg to either have your foot meet your thigh or your shin.”
Kids have busy lives. At yoga storytime, they can “stop, breathe and focus,” Megan said. She encourages the kids to move mindfully, sit, and recite and sing a song with movement. “So many different parts of the brain are working together,” Megan said. “It enhances their awareness and helps their memory.”
IN THE MOMENT
You will not find a hot yoga class at Yoga Nook in Chesapeake, said co-owner Alejandra “Alex” Botero. Some people just can’t take the 105 degree heat, she said. And a cooler environment is more conducive to being mindful of your alignment and poses. Getting such fundamentals down is crucial in beginner yoga, Alex said. You won’t find mirrors at Yoga Nook either. “We don’t want people focusing on what they look like,” Alex said “We just want them to be present, focusing on their breath and in the moment.”
Yoga Nook just celebrated its first anniversary. Besides adult classes, kids’ classes are held on the second and third Saturdays, depending on the age group.
Christie Price was already a yoga practitioner when she saw an ad for Yoga Nook, which opened near her Hickory home. “I really liked that they offered mid-morning classes,” she said. “It’s really convenient for stay-at-home moms.” She can get her daughter on the bus and her son dropped off at preschool and then head to yoga class.
Christie’s daughter, Sydney, 9, started taking kids’ classes at Yoga Nook when they first started offering them. “She was very excited,” said Christie. “She’s always curious about the different poses. Her favorite is the ‘crow.’”
“I like yoga because it makes me feel good and happy,” Sydney said. “Yoga is fun because it is challenging and makes me feel strong. Mrs. Alex is the best teacher! She is fun and we do crafts too.”
Christie has watched her daughter grow physically stronger and “use her breathing techniques when she feels nervousness, excitement, even anxiety over a test,” she said. “Sydney practices her cleansing breaths and can regroup. It makes me feel very proud as a parent that she has those tools to use.”
Alex was a teacher when she began sharing yoga’s benefits of breathing and stretching as a coping mechanism for her students. “I wanted to help empower them,” she said. She got her yoga certification to help them more. She said she’s always included kids in her teaching. “They help keep me grounded,” she explained.
There are physical and psychological benefits with yoga, Alex explained. Parents, she said, are especially interested in the benefits that yoga can have with improving kids’ social skills.
Alex’s daughter, Laura Ortiz, 18, is a basketball player and table tennis champion who gets hip pain. Laura’s favorite yoga pose to help ease her pain is “pigeon.” Alex was heartened to find her daughter asleep in that pose recently.
OPENING THE MIND
Moms-to-be can enjoy yoga benefits too. Instructor Jamie Walski teaches a weekly prenatal class at The Space Above in Norfolk. Her blog “Learning from Labor” describes her birthing experiences and how yoga helped. “I found that zone of peace, the soothing breath, the acute awareness of the moment,” she wrote. Yoga also helps with pregnancy issues like nausea, sleeplessness, pains, swelling, and weight gain, Jamie said.
The Space Above offers a variety of adult classes, as well as a weekly Zizu Infant Yoga class called Mommy or Daddy & Me. It’s for infant up to walking age. “My parents love coming to class to connect with other parents and have a little yoga time,” said Gayle Bush, studio manager. The class is really for the adults, but the instructor and co-owner, Kim Austin-Peterman, loves interacting with the babies, too. They also have workshops and special classes for kids, like summer programs and even yoga with Santa.
Connie Weisberg, co-owner of Oceanfront Yoga, also teaches pre-natal yoga classes privately and in small groups. Participants do various poses to prepare the cervix and strengthen the legs and back, which take a beating during labor, she said.
“The classes also prepare the mom-to-be by connecting the wave of the breath with her body,” Connie said. “It releases stress and opens the mind to the idea that a woman can give birth alone if need be. It’s also very holistic and healing to the feet and ankles, which often are swollen during pregnancy.” Pregnant women also enjoy the camaraderie of being around others who are going through the same process, Connie said.
Yoga benefits all ages. In addition to making us stronger, yoga teaches us to be more centered and calm in a world that seems to spin faster every day. For 21st-century kids, yoga is the perfect tool to help them focus and reduce stress, techniques that will enable our children to cope with a future we can hardly imagine.
• The Space Above ~ 757-622-2474
• Kempsville Area Library ~ 757-385-2627
• Yoga Nook ~ 757-454-6849
• Sunny Skies Yoga ~ 757-705-3431
• Oceanfront Yoga ~ 757-233-8000
• Pre-natal Yoga