Yogani Studios uses yoga play to help children ages 3 to 12 develop their minds and bodies and find their quiet place.
By ELISABETH DYER
Published July 18, 2003
You could tell by the children's roars that these weren't house cats arching their backs at Yogani Studios on Platt Street. This was Rain Forest Day, and jaguars, panthers and cheetahs roamed at YogaKids, a summer yoga series for children ages 3 to 12.
"The first thing we see in the rain forest is the trees," instructor Lisa Peralta said. The children lifted one foot up to their opposite knee and folded their hands in a tree pose.
"Bring your branches up real tall," she said. Arms stretched upright. Then they swung like baboons and screeched primate-style.
With so many adults finding the benefits of yoga, it was only a matter of time before children got in on the act.
YogaKids International, based in Indiana, has certified about 150 facilitators who work with children. Yoga play helps youngsters develop self-confidence, flexible bodies and healthy minds.
"I think it's here to stay because yoga is such a powerful body of knowledge," President Marsha Wenig said. "Yoga is transformative."
Sometimes the YogaKids' class at Yogani taps into a meditative energy that's almost magical, Peralta said.
Other days excitement reigns.
Like on Shawn Grayson's recent eighth birthday. The children pointed their toes toward the ceiling and lifted their backs off the floor in a candle pose to sing him a round of Happy Birthday.
Wenig, who says he has instructed more than 1,000 people over the past 20 years, designed yoga play as a creative exchange between children and their facilitator.
A forward bend has an elephant's truck and a squat becomes a frog. Children get in on the act by picking an animal and inventing a pose, such as the hamster pose or the armadillo.
Shawn's favorite is the crow. It's like a frog squat that tilts forward lifting the legs and balancing on both hands.
"It's challenging," said Shawn, who has been practicing yoga for about a year.
Peralta, an intern with Yoga International who holds classes at Yogani, got into yoga for emotional healing after the birth of her stillborn daughter. Working through her grief, she saw how yoga could help children cope with stress. During the school year, she offers an after-school Yoga class at Mitchell Elementary.
"I wanted to make a difference and impact a child's life," she said.
During a recent class, Peralta combined yoga with a craft, a story and a snack. After the yoga, the children pulled out pillows and blankets to get comfortable for the relaxation pose.
The kids love this part, said Shawn's mom, Laura Grayson.
"It makes them feel comfortable. They can go inside and find a calm place," Grayson said. "I hope they can use that when they become teenagers."
In a soft voice, Peralta led the children into a visualization. They imagined themselves climbing a tree in the rain forest and looking out over the animals.
And for the first time that day, the room was silent.