Nov. 25--The yoga students at Lake Norman Yoga Center were doing the cow posture. You could guess this, even without knowing yoga, because one student was mooing. Not what you'd expect in a traditional yoga class, perhaps, but these students are kids, after all. "It's not a real quiet, meditative class," says Lisa Tendler, their instructor.

Indeed. When the students did a "half-bridge" pose, her 7-year-old son, Sam, joked people might fall off because it's only half a bridge. And when the children lay on their backs so their feet converged, 10-year-old Frank Pragacz announced: "My feet probably stink."

With more Americans than ever practicing yoga, it's no surprise that children are getting into the act, too. Yoga books and videos for children abound. Since 1996, Marsha Wenig, president of Indiana-based YogaKids International, has sold more than 150,000 copies of her YogaKids video.

In the Charlotte area, several instructors teach kids' yoga classes. They say yoga offers kids the same benefits that attract adults to the ancient Eastern practice. It provides physical activity in a noncompetitive setting, increases strength, balance and flexibility and shows children how to quiet the mind and relax. "They're learning to be aware of their breath and their body in space," Tendler says.

Joe Kaylor, whose grandson, Frank Pragacz, attends Tendler's class, says he's noticed a marked improvement in the boy's flexibility since he started yoga a couple months ago. "Frankie now can touch five or six inches farther down his legs than he did before," Kaylor says. "He loves it. It's exercise without drudgery." Says Frank: "You get to stretch your muscles, and you get more flexible."

Kaylor, president of a Charlotte real estate development company, became a yoga devotee after regular classes helped end his chronic back pain. If he'd done yoga in his youth, he says, he probably would have avoided many sports injuries.

Tracey Tolbert has similar praise for Pat Joslyn's yoga class at The Sanctuary Yoga Center in Charlotte. Her 11-year-old son, Brian, started in August, after his doctor recommended yoga to help relieve allergies and headaches. It has worked, she says, and yoga is now part of his routine at home. She's thinking about starting yoga, too.

The kids' yoga movement isn't without detractors. The Florida-based American Yoga Association argues children younger than 16 shouldn't do yoga postures because the exercises affect the body's glandular system and may interfere with growth.

But many other yoga groups and instructors call such concerns a minority view that they believe is unfounded. They say children don't stay in the poses long enough to affect the body's glands. Instructors also differ about how old children should be before starting yoga. Wenig, whose YogaKids International offers a certification program for instructors, thinks 5 or 6 is a good age. Joslyn, who teaches a class at The Sanctuary, prefers that students be 7 or 8. Until then, "the physical body isn't strong enough, and they do find it hard to focus."

Usually, instructors modify their teaching techniques for children. Instead of using the traditional Sanscrit names for poses, they substitute easy-to-understand names, such as "volcano" and "tiger tail." When the poses have animal names -- the "cobra" and "down dog," for instance--don't be surprised if you hear hisses and woofs.

Mary McCurry, a certified YogaKids instructor who teaches children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's after-school programs, also incorporates music and art into her classes. And she doesn't rely solely on traditional yoga poses. Recently, for instance, her students lay on their backs and wiggled arms and legs as they stretched them toward the ceiling, pretending to be upside-down caterpillars. "The poses are very much geared toward fun, playfulness and yet they are getting strength poses, balance poses, flexibility poses," she says.

Tendler, a veteran yoga instructor, teaches children from ages 5 to 11 in her class at Lake Norman Yoga Center. Tendler adjusts her expectations to her students' ages. Those 7 and up can be more serious. When they're younger than that, "you're just planting the seed," she says. "They just like to move."

Like many instructors, she finds her students love the end of class, when they lie quietly in shavasana, a relaxation pose known as "the corpse pose." When it was time for shavasana recently, Frank was psyched. "Oh, yeah!" he said.

Tendler directed her students to relax their eyes, their fingers, their toes. The four children in class lay on the floor, still. And for the first time that hour, the room was silent.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus