Introduce kids to yoga

By JUDY LYDEN
Scripps Howard News Service
29-APR-04

Yoga: It's a trip. It's one of those wonderful things you discover, a personal experience that encourages positive ideas about physical and mental health.

I have a doctor friend who told me she couldn't think of a single person, including a cancer patient, to whom she wouldn't recommend yoga. That's why I took yoga to school for the kids.

"OK, kids, on your feet." Nine of 40 listened; it was a typical day. "Touch your toes."

Mikey stood up and pulled his foot to his hand. Bearing a broad grin, he said, "Done."

Some 50 percent of children ages 3 through 7 are miserably out of shape and couldn't bend low enough to touch their toes without bending their knees. They have little muscle tone and less balance. These same kids are often chronically ill. The delight of yoga is that you can do marvelous exercise in as much space as it takes to lie down. Standing, it can be done in less than 3 feet.

"Reach to the ceiling," was the next command. "Straighten your arms and reach." Half the children couldn't. They got tired holding their arms up.

"Now, raise one knee and balance on the other foot." This caused a good number of children to fall, which they enjoyed as much as the frolic of the strange poses.

"Let's pretend we are chairs. Bend your knees and squat. Make your arms the chair arms." Perhaps five had the leg strength to squat low enough to even begin resembling a chair.

Yoga is not a pass/fail exercise anymore than it's a religion. Yoga is an exercise plan that encourages mental and physical health because it teaches rejuvenation of the body through breathing properly and moving properly while doing an exercise that strengthens the body.

Yoga is very personal because each person who seeks it out is at a different level of ability.

Micheala and Reilly are the school yoga bendies. These little girls loved the difficult poses and begged to do more and more. Micheala sat on the floor finding opposite corners of the carpet at which to point her feet. Grabbing her toes, she bent over and put her chin to the floor, flattening herself like an acrobat. We took a picture.

Reilly loved the "standing bow" pose. She bravely stood on one foot, grabbing the other ankle and, with her arm extended, pulled herself into a remarkable bow.

Too many children lack flexibility and strength.

When children start swimming each season, few have the arm strength to swim across the pool. That's a danger. By age 4 or 5, children should be able to keep afloat, and they can't. Through simple yoga exercises, repeated each day for a few minutes, children can increase their strength.

Doing a short regimen of yoga exercises every day will allow children to be generally healthier, and that should matter to any adult who cares. It takes virtually no space, requires no equipment and the time is as accommodating as a creative person allows it to be. It can even be done standing in line.

(Judy Lyden operates a pre-school in Evansville, Ind. Write to her c/o The Evansville Courier, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702, or e-mail her at jlyden(at)evansville.net.)