It wasn't all that long ago that yoga captivated men and women across the nation and turned them into lifelong om observers. But now, the practice of yoga is reaching another demographic: one that thinks downward facing dog is a new trick for Fido, opts for Saturday morning cartoons over a Saturday morning stretch and cares as much about connecting the mind, body and soul as about memorizing multiplication tables.
Who would have thought yoga could be for kids? Well, Abbie Davies did, for starters. "The generation that's really getting into yoga right now is the yoga moms, and they're beginning to understand that they should treat their kids how they treat themselves," says Davies, who at 23 founded My First Yoga, a yoga studio for kids in Newton Centre, Massachusetts.
Marsha Wenig, a yoga mom of two teens, has also been dubbed "Missus Yoga" after creating YogaKids, an internationally acclaimed program with more than 1,000 trained instructors worldwide. "We take many traditional yoga poses and make them fun, understandable and accessible to children with the idea that we'll build a lifelong love and practice of the art and science of yoga," Wenig says. "And it's without the dogma and spiritual part of yoga that can often be controversial. We just use a lot of affirmations, like 'I can do it!'"
Should kids really get their om on?
A recent study by Program Evaluation and Research Collaborative Charter College of Education proves that students who participate in yoga have fewer disciplinary problems and higher grades in school. And one-fourth are significantly more physically fit. Davies, a Harvard grad with a degree in child development, focused her studies on self-esteem through exercise and agrees that yoga helps children build confidence because of its noncompetitive nature. "Any kid, whether athletic or not, can feel good about themselves," she says. "There's no way you can really fail."
But today's generation of kids does feel the stresses of failure from school, from their peers, media expectations and themselves. Both Davies and Wenig make a point to explain how a particular pose is perfect for a specific situation, whether it's when they're feeling sad, when they're nervous about a big event, when they're bored in the car or when they just need to have some fun. Before long, these yoga kids will do the techniques on their own and show them to their friends.