As the mother of a two-year-old and a five-year-old, I need yoga. Some days I need it really bad. My question has been, Is yoga one of the rare things I must do by myself, or is there a way to do it in a relaxing, enjoyable way with my children? I was eager to hear about two new books that address this question in very different ways: "I Can't Believe It's Yoga for Kids!" and "Yoga Baby"
"I Can't Believe It's Yoga for Kids!" by Lisa Trivell, a yoga instructor and massage therapist, is a clearly written, practical, and engaging book. Geared toward kids ages 10-16, the book includes a chapter on yoga and sports, in which kids dressed in soccer, skateboarding, and wrestling attire demonstrate yoga stretches especially suited to those and other kid sports.
Trivell believes that yoga can enhance children's lives as they stand--full of choices, passions, and stresses. A competitive swimmer will benefit by doing the warrior, the swimmer's stretch, and the plow before high-pressure meets. Children can do brief routines to erase headaches, focus before tests, to wake up in the morning, or sleep peacefully at night.
Even though "I Can't Believe It's Yoga For Kids!" is directed at older children--and I highly recommend it for this audience--I learned a lot that I can use when doing yoga alone or with my young ones. The book has clear pictures of kids in all the poses, so my 5-year-old could easily feel he is "reading" from the guidebook.
Like the best of any children's literature, "I Can't Believe" can be enjoyed by adults too. I learned mini-routines to do throughout the day when I need to focus, relax, or wake up. Above all, Trivell encourages the reader to have fun and be flexible, advice I appreciated.
DeAnsin Goodson Parker, author of "Yoga Baby: Exercises to Help You Bond With Your Baby Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually," takes a much sterner approach. Parker addresses her book to new mothers, to help them relax and bond with their babies better through yoga (fathers and "other caretakers" are briefly addressed but never emphasized). New mothers are indeed vulnerable to feeling that we might do something wrong and permanently scar our babies. We turn to yoga to provide us, among other things, with brief spells of self-acceptance and relief from anxiety.
"Yoga Baby" provides neither. Full of odd, judgmental directives, the book even includes a brief section, "Clean Up Your Act," which implores the mother to immediately clean the yoga space if baby spits up or "spoils the area" so baby will become accustomed to "a very hygienic environment." Mothers are told to "focus totally on your baby for the entire session." What kind of yoga is this? What if baby falls asleep peacefully on the blanket beside you? Should you wake her so you can bond more intensely?
"Yoga Baby" is divided into 10 sessions that supposedly contain yoga routines for mothers, then babies ages 0-24 months. The mothers in the pictures are rarely found doing anything other than sitting cross-legged with a straight back; the focus of the book is on mothers placing children into postures. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, and many of the postures struck me as beneficial and well-explained, such as the one to ease colic.
It's Parker's attitude that's unnerving. Each chapter begins with an anecdote about one of the mother-baby duos she instructed at her Yoga Baby studio. The mother is typically exhausted and bedraggled. Parker is rarely sympathetic. Here's her description of a mother who decided to quit Yoga Baby and do yoga by herself: "I accepted her decision, but I was very sad for Eric. I made sure to send him as much of my own heart energy as I could muster before they departed. I do not know what happened to Eric, but I always wonder about him, and hope someone is providing love for him."
"Yoga Baby," in short, lays out a specific program that is not for everyone. If you don't fall in line, Parker can make you feel very guilty. For my life right now, I much prefer Lisa Trivell's flexible and encouraging tone.