There’s no (age) limit to this stress-reducing, awareness-building practice. When Allison Svobodny of Moorhead became a mom four years ago, she knew she needed to make time for yoga. After nine years of weekly practice, she loved what yoga provided: exercise, emotional awareness, calming effects, and a sense of connection. She also knew it would benefit her young son. They began doing simple yoga poses together when he was a toddler.
“I enjoy connecting with him,” she says. “Yoga is something I love and have found to be profoundly beneficial in my own life, so I enjoy sharing it with him.”
Svobodny, a naturopathic doctor at Prairie Naturopathic in Moorhead, looks forward to also starting yoga with her 1-year-old daughter soon.
“Yoga teaches mindfulness, acting with intention, and breath awareness—all things we want for our kids,” she says. “It’s also a way for kids to become aware of their bodies. This awareness has a profound impact on health later in life. If a child can feel what is happening in his or her body in a more subtle way, it will affect the choices they make in other areas of health.”
Thankfully, yoga is easier than ever to start with your family. Several yoga studios in Fargo-Moorhead offer family and kids’ classes. Free books and DVDs are available at the libraries. More resources can easily be found online through Amazon and YouTube. And the best news? Kids can reap the benefits in just minutes a day.
What It Looks Like
Dating back 5,000 years ago in India, yoga developed as a way to connect mind and body through exercise, breathing, and meditation. It has since grown into hundreds of teachings across the world. The most common school of yoga, hatha yoga, combines physical movements (yoga poses) with breathing. At its simplest, a person forms his or her body into a particular pose, such as “mountain” or “tree,” and concentrates on breathing evenly and deeply while focusing on the body.
The first step when considering yoga for your kids is to rid yourself of any stereotypes you might have about this ancient practice. Yoga is not just for the young, slender, flexible woman. The goal is not to push yourself into extreme poses or become a certain body type. It’s about gently stretching and toning your muscles, and calming and nurturing your spirit. That leaves yoga wide open to people of all shapes, sizes, fitness levels, and ages—including kids.
“Kids are very adept at learning yoga,” says Kristi Abbott, owner of BodySava in Moorhead. “It is something they can feel pride in.”
Yoga can be practiced by any child, too.
“Yoga can help all kids of all ages, including children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or those with special needs or abilities,” says Alicia Waldoch of Fargo, who teaches yoga at NDSU, the YMCA, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley. “I feel like children are being pulled in so many different directions and distracted by so many things that they need a productive way to find time each day to check in with themselves, and relax their minds and bodies.”
In many ways, yoga for kids will look similar to yoga for adults. It can be done at home, at a yoga studio, or even outside. Materials needed include comfortable clothing, bare feet, a cushioned non-slip yoga mat, and sometimes a yoga foam block (for proper positioning). A session typically begins with a focus on breath and calming. Then it moves through several poses and finishes with more time for relaxing and breathing.
Yoga instructors also understand the particular characteristics of children—a desire to be fun and a little silly, shorter attention spans, growing bodies, and less personal awareness. Instead of doing yoga poses for a solid hour, a kids’ class might spend some time doing a couple of yoga-related games, reading a short story, practicing a few poses, and working out some energy.
“Letting children animate their poses is really fun, like having a friend act like a lumberjack to cut down a tree—so the child in the ‘tree’ pose can timber down to the ground,” says Andrea Paradis, yoga instructor at Elements, Fargo. “While in ‘downward facing dog,’ children can walk around making barking noises.”
Encouraging children to use their imagination also makes it easier to teach poses and deep breathing, Paradis adds.
“While in ‘savasana,’ a pose lying on the floor, children can close their eyes and pretend they are sleeping,” she says. “If they start to get the wiggles, a yoga teacher can say something like, ‘Your parents are coming into your room! Can you make them think you are completely asleep?’ They still their bodies and find a natural relaxation.”
Being gentle, encouraging, and patient is also helpful. Brenda Weiler, owner of Ecce Yoga in Fargo, and her husband, Derek Harnish, both do yoga with their 20-month-old daughter. Harnish encourages their little one to copy his yoga poses and breathing. He also knows when to take a break.
“If she stops being interested, we move onto doing something else, usually dancing to some music,” Harnish says.
KIDS’ YOGA RESOURCES
The Adventures of Super Stretch
C-Fit Yoga: Classroom Fitness
Kids’ Yoga Journey: I Am Love
Kids’ Yoga Journey: I Am Sun, I Am
“The ABCs of Yoga for Kids” by Teresa
Power (ages 8 and under)
“My Daddy is a Pretzel” by Baron
Baptiste (ages 8 and under)
“Yoga for Children” by Lisa
Flynn (ages 2-12)
“Yoga for the Special Child” by Sonia
“Yoga Therapy for Every Special
Child: Meeting Needs in a Natural
Setting” by Nancy Williams
“The ABCs of Yoga for Kids
Learning Cards” by Teresa Anne
Power and Kathleen Rietz (ages 8
“The Kids’ Yoga Deck: 50 Poses and
Games” by Annie Buckley (ages 5
“Yoga Pretzels (Yoga Cards) Cards”
by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish (ages
4 and up)
“Gaiam: Yoga Journal’s Family Yoga”
(may be best for older kids with
“Gaiam Kids: Yoga Kids Fun
Collection” (ages 3 to 6)
“Storyland Yoga: Yoga for Kids and
Families” (ages 3 to 8)
“Teen Yoga: Featuring Allie LaForce”
“Yoga For Families: Connect With Your
Kids” (ages 4 and up)
“Yoga Motion – Yoga DVD for Kids
The benefits of yoga are numerous: improved balance, posture, flexibility, concentration, relaxation, self-control, and the ability to be present in the moment. Kids become more aware of their own bodies—their breathing, movement, limitations, and strengths.
“Yoga is so beneficial for a child’s mind, body, and soul,” says Jamie Anderson, owner of Jamie’s Little Yogis, which offers kids’ yoga workshops at Two Turtles Yoga Studio in Moorhead. “Yoga helps you think about what you are doing and what is happening right now. It’s about being mindful of the present and experiencing yourself fully.”
Anderson, also the school counselor at the Osgood Kindergarten Center in West Fargo, uses yoga daily in her job, helping students calm their bodies and minds.
“I’m teaching kids important life skills,” she says, “like being able to be a good listener, sit quietly, and be a good friend.”
Emphasis on breath and movement encourages kids to focus on the present.
“The breathing alone is stress reducing, providing a calming effect,” Waldoch says. “When the breath is paired with movement, kids begin to feel rejuvenated, calm, and peaceful. Even just a few minutes of yoga a day can provide children with a new outlook.”
Yoga also encourages creativity through movement.
“Oftentimes our kids’ yoga classes can go in a different direction because the kids start making up their own names for poses and teaching them to us,” says Kristen Burbank, owner of Mojo Fit Studios in Fargo. “We like to embrace that creativity and imagination.”
Trying new poses and having a little fun are two of the reasons Gabe Spader, 10, and Cole Spader, 6, like yoga. The boys’ parents own Two Turtles Acupuncture and Two Turtles Yoga Studio, so they’ve done plenty of yoga at home and at the studio.
Gabe says two years of yoga practice have made him more flexible and he enjoys it.
“It’s really fun and it helps you,” he says. “It can also be relaxing.”
His little brother agrees, saying that he feels good after a yoga session.
“It helps you be flexible and it’s good for your body,” Cole says. “And you can be strong.”
KIDS’ YOGA CLASSES
Several yoga studios and organizations offer kids’ and family yoga classes. Contact them for class times, days, and cost.
Boys and Girls Club
of the Red River Valley
2500 18th St. S., Fargo
Jamie’s Little Yogis Workshops at Two Turtles Yoga Studio
824 Main Ave., Moorhead
701-478-2898 (Two Turtles Studio)
701-306-1613 (Jamie Anderson)
Mojo Fit Studios
2119 13th Ave. S., Suite 10, Fargo
YMCA of Class Clay
400 1st Ave. S., Fargo
4207 12th Ave. N.W., Fargo
If you are new to yoga, try signing up your kids—or family—for a local yoga class. You’ll learn about the practice from an experienced teacher who can walk you through the steps.
Kid-friendly classes are usually 30 to 60 minutes and offered weekly. Good classes will keep kids engaged and teach them yoga elements.
“An hour-long session usually flies by,” says Steph Asheim, yoga instructor at Vayu Yoga in Fargo. “But if I can see the children’s energy is a bit low, I will often read a book with an underlying yogic theme such as gratitude, kindness, peace, or acceptance. Or, I may give them an extra-long savasana.”
Very young children can attend class with you, while older ones might be ready to try a class on their own. Any age is appropriate, as long as the child is interested. Katy Christianson, yoga instructor at the YMCA and the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, has taught children age 2 through high school.
“Each week [at the YMCA family yoga class] was different due to the range of ages,” Christianson says. “As an instructor, my intention was for parents and children to have fun interacting while moving their bodies and being aware of their breath.”
When Nicole Kittelson of Dilworth first brought her young daughter to a YMCA family yoga class, they were both hooked. They began using a yoga DVD and book at home, eventually introducing it to all of Kittelson’s home daycare children, who now do yoga weekly.
“When the children need a break and to relax, we do the ‘do nothing’ pose where we rest on our backs, focus on our breathing, and listen to the sounds around us,” she says. “This is a great one to do outside on a summer day.”
If, like Kittelson, you are ready to try yoga at home, begin with simple poses children can mimic.
“We usually start with ‘mountain’ pose or ‘dog’ pose,” says Burbank, referring to the standing and all-fours poses. “Most kids have some familiarity with one of those two poses. My 1-year-old will frequently show off her ‘dog’ pose, so it really is accessible to most ages.”
Keep breathing exercises simple by having children copy those as well.
“Many kids aren’t able to focus for very long periods of time, so to begin with, just have them breathe in and out, copying you,” Weiler says.
Yoga sessions should be short, upbeat, and encouraging. Ten or 15 minutes is plenty.
Play soothing music in the background or use a kids’ yoga video. Yoga cards can also help both you and your children remember poses.
Mostly, enjoy the time together, knowing how much your kids are benefitting—physically and emotionally.
Amanda Peterson is an award-winning writer with a love for the Web, social media, and magazines. She lives in Moorhead with her husband and two children, and enjoys a good “warrior II” pose now and then.
About the Author: