It’s a cloudy, rainy morning, but inside The Yoga Room in Downtown St. Joseph, the sky is blue with big white puffy clouds. It may be just painted on the walls, but it seems like a sunshiny day here at the parent and child yoga class. Seven children under the age of 5 and their parents have gathered in a circle, sitting on colorful yoga mats placed on the green wooden floor.
“Welcome,” says Emily Waddell Fite, owner and instructor at The Yoga Room. “Today’s journey is going to be something very magical. But let’s start by saying our names.”
The children at this session are all preschoolers with different levels of exposure to yoga.
In the center of the circle is Emily’s youngest daughter, Meredith, 2, who appears to be the opening act as she twirls around with long blond hair flowing, her floral skirt whirling, smiling ear to ear. The rest of the children watch with quiet curiosity.
This is Milo Lewis’ first yoga class. The 4-year-old sits close to his father, Jesse, watching intently with big eyes framed in thick brown bangs. Jesse has practiced yoga for around five years and hopes his son will find it as energizing and rewarding as he does.
Although Kristin Hamilton’s 4-year-old daughter, Lucy, is quiet, it’s with the seriousness of a professional athlete. She’s dressed like a gymnast with her pink capri pants, blond hair pulled tightly back in a ponytail. Before class started, she was working on her yoga “warrior” pose, to the approval of her mother and Emily. Kristin says her daughter loves the yoga class, which is not surprising considering that Kristin has been coming to The Yoga Room since she began prenatal classes eight years ago.
After everyone gives their names, Emily brings out a long, fabric-wrapped package.
“This is the most beautiful thing ever,” Emily says to the group as she slowly unwraps what looks like a large stick decorated with feathers and sequins. “I’m going to wave our wand and I want you to tell me your favorite place to go.”
The children’s answers range from a golf course to a castle. Each child is excited to get a turn waving the wand. Then the group walks around the circle to “travel” to the destination. Emily tells them that each place requires they do something different to get there. Sometimes they must walk on tip toes around the circle. Or they have to hop on one foot or walk as if they were in honey. Another time they must go through a “tunnel” of parents doing Downward Dog (a yoga pose where your hands and feet are touching the floor; your body in a V position.) The children imitate the parents and attempt to do their own Downward Dogs.
Two-year-old Clara catches on surprisingly quickly to the pose after watching her mother. Some children crawl on the ground. Milo finds it more fun to stand on his head. But that’s OK.
“It’s very important in the kids’ yoga to do the affirmations and optimistic ‘yes,’” Emily says, “because they do hear so much ‘no’ in their lives.”
Emily moves the group fairly quickly from one activity to another. A favorite seems to be when she brings out large purple foam blocks and lines them up in a row on the floor. The children walk across them like they are on a tightrope. Lucy balances herself on one leg.
“Good balance, Lucy,” Emily says.
Another hit with the children was a large, colorful parachute. As one child sat in the middle, everyone else held the outer edges and walked around the floor in a circle. Then to Emily’s instruction, they would breathe in as they came in to the middle, then breathe out as they moved away from the center.
After close to 45 minutes of continuous activity. Emily wipes sweat from her forehead. She is about seven months pregnant, so this has been more of a workout than usual. The children, on the other hand, seem to be in full swing. Milo has a big grin as he walks with the group in a circle, his hands stretched outward like an airplane.
Soon Emily puts on some calming music that sounds like a music box playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Then the parents and children lay down on their mats and Emily gives them lavender-scented cotton balls to put on their eyes.
“Put your animal on your belly,” she tells the children. “Feel your breath.”
The animals are Beanie Babies she gave them during an earlier exercise where they walked with them on their heads. The stuffed animals rise up and down on the children’s bellies as they breathe.
“Breathe in and out of your nose and feel your friend,” Emily tells them. “Know you are special and that you can be very calm and happy and that we had fun playing together in yoga.”
Although the children are too young to learn all the same yoga postures adults learn, just observing their mothers and fathers is very helpful, Emily says.
“They can reap some of the benefits and incorporate some of the methods into their challenges growing up and learning how to be a person,” she says. “Hopefully, this will be a place and environment where things will be joyful and they can feel good and express themselves in being loud, but learn to be quiet, too.“
The Parent and Children’s Yoga will resume sometime after Emily has her baby in October. For class updates and notifications, sign up to be on the yoga e-mail list at www.yogaroom.org.
Sylvia Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.