Never too young to learn yoga
Yoga is back in fashion for adults but Fiona Dillon finds it has many benefits for children, too
MADONNA and Gwyneth Paltrow are just two celebrities who are often pictured with their yoga mats under their arms.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years, and it is experiencing a renewed surge of interest with the recent release of the film Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.
The film is based on a book which became a worldwide phenomenon, thanks in no small part to Oprah Winfrey who featured it on her show.
It has sold more than nine million copies and is based on the memoir written by Elizabeth Gilbert who goes to Italy, India and Bali on a voyage of personal discovery.
As part of her adventure, she goes to an ashram in India to do yoga and meditate. And it appears that yoga is experiencing increased interest as a result.
While it has been practised for many years in Ireland, an increasing number of Irish parents are realising that yoga offers many advantages for children, even from a very young age.
Ger Kinane, the owner and instructor at Breathing Place Yoga in Clane, Co Kildare teaches a YogaBugs class which caters for children as young as four and up to eight-year-olds.
And the children can then progress to YogaKids for those from eight to 13. With YogaBugs, the class is based around an adventure story incorporating a mix of postures that allow children to enjoy the benefits of yoga in a fun and imaginative way, according to Ger.
For the slightly older YogaKids, the students practise meditation, breathing and yoga postures in an enjoyable way to improve overall balance, strength, concentration and to promote selfconfidence.
Explaining the appeal of yoga for children, Ger says: “Yoga is truly holistic. Physically, yoga breathing opens respiratory pathways, helps improve concentration and balance energy levels.
“The yoga poses develop self awareness and help structural misalignment, flexibility and motor skills. On a mental and emotional level, yoga helps children to relax, improves self-confidence, develops creativity and improves co-ordination and balance.”
She says: “There is no competition in yoga. We're not striving for perfection in the classes, rather the classes are about children becoming self aware, having fun and feeling good about themselves.”
“The classes give the children an extra toolbox of skills to help them as they grow and develop,” Ger explains. “One mum told me that her son was cross about something and went to sit in child pose. He told her that the pose helped him to stay calm when he felt angry.”
She says that in YogaBugs “we really try to foster the children's imagination as they are very much part of the yoga adventure”.
Making the classes fun is very important and “often we include yoga games that work on balance, intuition, concentration and memory. The games are a highly requested part of the class”.
Not surprisingly, parents who do yoga themselves and feel its benefits are very supportive of their children attending class.
“We have done some charity events at the studio, and it is great to see parents and their children attending together with the same shared passion,” Ger says.
Mum Una Clarke, who lives in Clane, says her daughter Robyn (10) started doing yoga when she was just six.
“She took to it like a duck to water. She has done it ever since,” Una says. Yoga for children has many different appealing factors. “It seems to come naturally when they start that young,”
Una says. It’s a good all-rounder for children, because it is good for posture, breathing as well as upper body strength where they are using their arms, she explains.
Her daughter is also a member of the local tennis club.
She says that several of Robyn’s classmates also go to yoga and her daughter has now advanced from the YogaBugs class to YogaKids.
“It only lasts half an hour, so it is not too much for them. When they get to the teenage stage, the classes last longer,” says Una.
As well as having two daughters Niamh (10) and Aimee (7) who attend the classes, Pauline Whistler also does yoga herself. “I looked up classes locally to see where they were taking place for children. “Niamh, who has been doing it for a number of years, started first in the YogaBugs class, and then Aimee started when she was four,” says Pauline.
She finds yoga good for children because it increases the strength in their arms and legs and, through the poses and exercises, it really stretches the body and strengthens the muscles.
In addition, she believes that the breathing techniques first learned in yoga, stay with children for life.
Pauline says that she herself does Forrest yoga once a week, and the girls do their classes weekly as well. “It’s very good. They have formed some great friends,” she says.
She points out that in some of the poses, you have a partner, so you have to be able to trust your partner to support you. Pauline believes that it is a good social outlet.
“And it really gets the imagination going.”
Yoga for children classes run at Breathing Place Yoga on Monday and Tuesday at 6.15pm. For more information visit www.breathingplace.com