My first exposure to yoga came through KPBS, on a show called Lilias Yoga and You. It opened with the hostess in silhouette, assuming various yoga positions. Her long brunette hair was swept into a neat, waist length braid that bounced merrily about as she moved this way and that. Little did I know this was Lilias Folan, the Cincinnati based Yoga instructor who was instrumental in popularizing this type of exercise throughout the 70′s and 80′s. All I knew then was that it was fun! The show came on about a half hour before I had to leave for school which offered me just enough time to try my hand at mimicking the poses and postures Lilias assumed.
I was the type of kid who hated P.E. The other kids just got too worked up over what were supposed to be games played for fun. To me exercise involved getting pegged in the face with a red rubber ball, and suffering the barrage of laughter that followed. I was surprised to learn that Lilias gentle motions were considered exercise as well. Not only that, but along with the physical benefits offered through yoga, there were mental benefits too, not least among them being stress reduction.http://www.bps.org.uk/news/psychological-benefits-yoga
With this memory in mind, I was excited to learn that Solana Beach, CA elementary school district has begun offering yoga as an after-school enrichment program to it’s students. The yoga sessions are offered to students from third to sixth grades, and are among a host of other opportunities students can engage in, including math, chess, science, web design, theatre, arts, sports and even robotics. Yoga classes vary in their duration, and are offered in eight week sessions for $105.
The classes are instructed by 10 year Yoga practitioner Janice Sherman. Last year, Sherman decided to turn her passion for yoga into a career and attained her teaching certificate. She has since taught at several locations throughout the San Diego area, and even started her own company called Yoga Gals. Her classes are all inclusive, a special program called Circle of Friends pairs special needs children with classmates in typical curriculum classes. Many of the special needs children fall into the autistic spectrum or have other social issues and the opportunity for normal socialization in a safe, non-competitive environment is invaluable to them. Not only that, but recent studies suggest that classroom yoga may help to improve the behaviors of autistic spectrum children http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/10/12/162782583/classroom-yoga-helps-improve-behavior-of-kids-with-autism
The classes are made possible via a grant from the Jois Foundation, whose mission is to promote Ashtanga yoga. These sessions offer children a unique opportunity, not only to be introduced to a healthy habit, but to learn stress management techniques they can employ for the rest of their lives. Some businesses have even started offering yoga classes to employees in an attempt to help them deal with their daily grind. There is an excellent article from LiveStrong which discusses the benefits yoga may bring to a work environment I invite you to check out. http://www.livestrong.com/article/360372-what-are-the-benefits-of-yoga-in-the-workplace/
Still, not everyone is a fan of the after school yoga sessions. Some parents in the nearby Encinitas Union School District have argued that yoga cannot be extrapolated from its original Hindu origins, making it religious in nature, and in violation of religious freedoms in the classroom. While district officials in Encinitas insist that all religious connotations have been removed, a lawsuit has been threatened. Regardless, the tumult in Encinitas has not affected the Solana Beach Districts decision to offer these after school classes.
“I think it’s good for kids to quiet their mind and get physically strong” Instructor Janice Sherman recently stated in an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune. “I like the idea of doing some test-anxiety meditations with them so they can calm down before a test and really focus.” http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jan/10/after-school-yoga-solana-beach/
Whether the kids stick with Yoga or just experiment and move on, these classes present a unique opportunity to be exposed to something different. Yoga can be easily modified to accommodate for different physical limitations, making it a great choice for a broad spectrum of children. It gives kids a chance to take a break from the stresses of homework, playground bullying, sibling rivalries and the many trials of youth, and at only 8 sessions, you aren’t committed for a full season like with many other sports programs.