Maria Whitney with children at Shine

Maria Whitley with children at Shine

With holiday parties on the horizon and New Year’s Day only a few weeks away, how many of you are already composing your New Year’s resolutions with diet, exercise and better all-over health topping the list?

According to a 2012 University of Scranton study, most Americans choose losing weight as their top New Year’s resolution, with “staying fit and healthy” ranking at No. 5.

To achieve these goals, people begin diets and flock to gyms and yoga studios in droves.  What yoga offers that dieting and gyms don’t, however, is stress relief, greater flexibility, and better well-being (which ranks at No. 4 on the Scranton study).

Adults are not the only ones benefitting from regular yoga practice. Judging from the number of yoga studios in Louisville and Southern Indiana offering classes for children and families, more parents will be signing up their children for yoga this January.

Ann Walsh is the parent of two boys. Jacob, 7, is her youngest son and has been doing yoga since kindergarten. “Jacob is 7, but he has the body of a 9-year-old. Because he’s so big, it helps. He needs to stretch.” According to Walsh, Jacob asked to continue doing yoga and even attended a summer yoga camp offered by Shine.

Post-natal yoga with infants - Owl Tree Yoga

Post-natal yoga with infants – Owl Tree Yoga

Shine, located at 727 East Jefferson St., offers a variety of yoga instruction for children of all ages beginning with Itsy Bitsy yoga for parents and toddlers. For older children, Shine has after-school and weekend classes as well as summer camps up to age 12.

Maria Whitley, Creative Director of Shine, told me she began offering classes for children as soon as she opened the business in 2008. Shine began offering after-school programming in local public, private and parochial schools in 2009 and Whitney hired Angie Wilson to run the Itsy Bitsy and hoop classes in 2010.

Whitney sees yoga practice for children as another method of play. Whitley believes children’s yoga needs a different focus than adult yoga. The biggest difference, she explains, is imagery and pretending. For instance, to work on balance Whitley might pass around scarves and tell the children they are trees. In order to stay upright like trees, the children need to hold onto the scarves with other students, then learn to let go and let the scarves fall like leaves.

Anne Darku has a similar approach to her children’s yoga classes. Darku received her yoga teaching certification in 2010, but she uses her theater background to teach children’s yoga at Inner Spring Yoga in Jeffersonville and through Clark County’s after-school enrichment program, Communities in Schools.

Star Wars Yoga

Star Wars Yoga

Darku creates yoga poses for theme classes such Star Wars Yoga and Dr. Seuss Yoga. Sometimes she will read a book to the class and have the class create poses that represent scenes from the book.

According to Darku, the biggest benefit of yoga for children is how it quiets their minds. “They get this small opportunity to take a break,” she tells me. At the end of her classes, Darku — like most yoga instructors — takes a moment to have her class lay flat on their backs with eyes closed for Savasana, also called Corpse Pose. At first she was surprised children could lie still after a long day at school, but when she reaches the end of class, her students shout out, “Yay!  The lay down part!”

In 2010, the same year that Anne Darku became a certified yoga instructor and Angie Wilson began teaching children’s yoga classes at Shine, Heather Molina opened Owl Tree Yoga. At the time, Molina, a certified pre- and post-natal yoga instructor, had a passion for yoga and had been working with families at The Americana Community Center. She holds a graduate degree in public health with an emphasis on health behavior. Molina conceived of Owl Tree as a way to combine her interests with her skills. After six months in her studio, however, Molina rethought her business.

“The groups that I wanted to work with, which were families and new moms and kiddos, they were overextended already in terms of their activities and they were having to make space on their weekends, to carve out another time, to come to a yoga class at my studio. So, I rethought the whole thing and thought if I could go to where they already are, that makes more sense to me and it might make it a lot more accessible to families.”

Molina and Emma

Molina and Emma

In 2011, Molina partnered with Shannon Stone, owner of Mama’s Hip, located at 1559 Bardstown Road, and began teaching mother and baby yoga classes in the rear classroom of the store. Molina believes this partnership works well for both her and Stone. A lot of new mothers are already familiar with Mama’s Hip and come to Stone for advice, resources and support, Molina explains. Now moms can talk to Stone, attend a yoga class with her, and then attend a New Mama support group afterward.

Currently Owl Tree Yoga provides workshops all over town, including Mama’s Hip, Babyology at 3934 Dutchman’s Lane and Eternal Health at 3410 Frankfort Avenue.

While Whitley, Wilson and Darku focus their attention on older children and families, Molina specializes in classes for expectant and new mothers, with and without their infants.

Molina’s daughter, Emma, is two and participates in many of her mother’s classes. She even has her own yoga mat. Molina sees many advantages for mothers and infants to take these classes. The gentle yoga, she tells me, helps babies with their development, body awareness, relaxation, digestion, and strengthens the bond between parent and child. For new mothers, these classes offer a community of support, provide reasons to leave the house and allow a break from the frenzy of nursing and changing diapers without rest.

New mothers, Molina also explains, have to adjust to a changed body after childbirth and gentle yoga can help women feel more grounded, physically and emotionally.

“Several moms look at you glassy-eyed and say, ‘I need something.  I’m not doing well.’ And then an hour later they look at you and say, ‘Thank you. I feel so much better.’ And that’s the whole goal, to share this practice with moms so they feel better, not only about themselves, not only in their physical bodies, but feel better about life in general, so they can get through their day and have a little more patience and a little more to give.”

Pre-natal yoga with Owl Tree Yoga

Pre-natal yoga with Owl Tree Yoga

In addition to Owl Tree’s current offerings, Molina is working on a yoga therapy program focused around loss. She also provides private sessions for parents and families whose children are on the autism spectrum or have been diagnosed with ADHD.

One thing I noticed while talking to the different yoga instructors around town: they all know one another, like one another and often collaborate. Molina has contracted with Darkue to teach classes and Molina, Stone and Darku formed a non-profit support group for pre- and post-natal mothers called Mama to Mama. The organization serves mothers at The Americana Community Center, The Center for Women and Families and Volunteers of America Freedom House.

Bridget Dewson hopes to collaborate with all of the kids’ yoga instructors in town. Dewson has just opened the first U.S. Mini Me Yoga Workshop and Ambassador Training Program here in Louisville. Workshops are 2 hours long and open to anyone in the community — parents, grandparents, teachers — who would like to learn more about doing yoga with children.

The full-day Ambassador Training is meant for parents, educators and yoga instructors who would like to share the Mini Me poses and products with their communities. So far, Dewson has already collaborated with Shine, where she held a workshop this fall, plans to train Darku as a Mini Me Ambassador and is donating proceeds from sales of some of her Mini Me products to Mama to Mama.

While Mini Me provides workshops and training, the organization does not offer classes. Instead, their mission is to educate the educators, parents and teachers, who will take what they learn in a workshop and teach children at home or in the classroom.

Many yoga teachers have approached Dewson because they want to learn how to teach children. The teaching styles, Dewson explains, are very different. “It’s games, it’s fun, it’s let’s run around and jump and talk in a magical voice.”

Yoga Cards

Magick Yoga Cards

Mini Me sells Magick Yoga Cards to use with children, each card offering a playful pose such as Dolphin Pose and Sun Pose. The workshops also teach adults about breath technique, meditation through coloring, the importance of water and yoga games they can play with their children.

Dewson describes herself as someone who didn’t do yoga, but after getting involved with Mini Me Yoga she wonders, “Why aren’t we all doing yoga?” Personally, Dewson has noticed the benefits of using Mini Me Yoga with her own children — Thomas who is 6 and Emma, 3.

Dewson observed Thomas aggressively coloring a Mini Me mandala one night and realized he was using the drawing meditation to process emotion. “Sometimes we aren’t able to express ourselves really fully. So if the meditation gets his body to let it out, then it’s gone.”

Both of Dewson’s children love doing yoga with her and often choose it over watching TV.

All of the children’s yoga teachers I spoke to agree that doing yoga with children is beneficial for both their bodies and their minds. According to Marsha Wenig, a writer for Yoga Journal, these benefits include: flexibility, strength, coordination, body awareness, concentration, calmness, and relaxation.

So, what are you waiting for? Dust off that yoga mat, do some yoga with your kids and watch them grow stronger and calmer in the New Year.

Upcoming classes and workshops:

• Mini Me Yoga Two Hour Workshop for Grown-ups

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Check the Mini Me FaceBook page or email [email protected] for details or to register.

• Inner Spring Yoga (Anne Darku)

Kids Yoga: Holiday Edition (ages 5-11)

335 Spring St, Jeffersonville

Saturday, Dec. 14, 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.; $20 first child/$10 each additional in family

pre-registration only

• Owl Tree Yoga: Toddler Yoga

Saturday, Dec. 21, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Mama’s Hip

1559 Bardstown Road

$10 per family (Mama’s Hip activity cards apply)

For details on this workshop and pre- and post-natal yoga classes:

• Shine

727 East Jefferson Street

10 week classes, January 16 – March 21

  • Itsy Bitsy Yoga (ages walking – 3)
  • YogaKids (ages 4-9)
  • Hoop Kids (ages 6-12)

For details:

Other children’s yoga classes:

• Yoga at Crescent Hill

201 South Peterson Avenue

Children’s yoga for 2-4 years and 5-8 years.

For details:

• Infinite Bliss Yoga

1507 Bardstown Road

  • Toddler/Preschool Yoga (with parent/s)
  • Prenatal Yoga
  • Toddler/Preschool Yoga Moga

• Eternal Health Yoga

3410 Frankfort Avenue

Children’s yoga for 3-5 years and 6-12 years