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Doing Yoga Can Help Calm Kids Down

Posted: November 19, 2009

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Marsha Wenig saw the calming effect yoga breathing gave her young students more 20 years ago when she taught in a California school. "I thought, yoga calms me so why wouldn't kids get the same thing out of it? Yoga works for people willing to open their minds and you don't get anymore open-minded than a child," she said. "Parents heard about it and wanted to know what I was doing. I just invited them over, shoved the furniture aside and showed them some poses they could do with their kids."

Though radical at that time, teaching yoga to kids still isn't entirely free of controversy. A Baptist minister complained a few years ago that a public school in Aspen was teaching a form of Hinduism. But the objections are rare and don't appear to be hurting business. Wenig's company YogaKids has sold millions of how-to flashcards, books, DVDs and board games—think Twister with a yoga twist—and hosts training seminars ($849 for four days) to certify instructors in its 200-pose practice.

At least 150 U.S. schools follow YogaKids' extensive lesson plan. For example, "Polar Bear," sitting on the heels, knees apart, chest to the floor, can lead to discussions about where polar bears live and why they hibernate. The balancing pose "Flamingo" asks children to calculate how the bird's wingspan in feet and meters.

There are several other entrepreneurial kids yoga endeavors; the Decatur studio teaches a style called Grounded Kids that offers bandanas much like karate belts for students who master increasingly difficult poses. But though styles differ, they stay faithful to one tenet: There is no baby talk in kids yoga. If a pose is meant to stimulate the thymus, such as Tarzan's Thymus Tap, a light tapping on an organ in the chest cavity that regulates immunity, then that anatomy is explained.

Lynda Meeder appreciated that directness. She quit her job as a guidance counselor in the Boston, Massachusetts, area to teach yoga to children and teens in a studio and the classroom. "The older a kid gets, 13, 14, 15, we all know how hard it is for them to understand their bodies. It's especially difficult when you have a child that's been told they have ADHD, they've been told they cannot because that's the way they are," she said. "I've seen yoga give kids their control back. They feel like they're taking it and they can steer again."