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April 21, 2014

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Rachel Stutzman Heiks teaching yoga to 4- to 6-year-olds at Bluffton Library

Adeline, Leo and Ella Heiks demonstrate the Downward Dog

Editor's note: Rachel Stutzman Heiks is offering yoga classes for 4- to 6-year-olds at the Bluffton Public Library. The second night of classes will be held at 6:30 and 7 p.m. on Monday, May 14.

How did you get started doing yoga with your children? Did you begin after Ella was born? How old was she?

Ella was born in Bluffton, and, as a baby, she came with me to a yoga class that I led at First Mennonite Church (for adults). I count that as her introduction to yoga! All my children enjoy yoga, although they would prefer to teach me their moves rather than the other way around! Even Leo, who is ten months old, can do a pretty sweet Downward Dog.

Have you been doing yoga on your own for a long time? Do you remember how you got started? Did you do yoga while you were pregnant?

I started taking yoga classes when I was a college student in North Newton, Kansas. Since then, I have tried many different styles of yoga, including hot yoga (done in a heated room), vinyasa (or flow) yoga, restorative yoga (deeply relaxing), and prenatal yoga. Each style of yoga--and there are many!--has something unique to offer an individual's practice. The great thing about yoga is that you can do the same pose every morning, and continually learn something new about your own body and breath within that pose.

Tell me about what inspired you to start offering the yoga classes for children at the Bluffton library? How many showed up the first night? Ages?

For the first time in seven years (now that Sam is done with medical school and residency), I found myself beginning to imagine that I could put some energy into work beyond parenting our children. But what? I wanted to find something that was not only fun for me, but a project that could potentially benefit the community that we live in. It came to me after searching for yoga classes for my own children, and not finding any: I could do that! I signed up for a training in northeastern Ohio, a certification process for ages 2-13, and was excited when the library agreed to let me use their space for a few classes (for ages 4-6) this month.

How does yoga for children differ than that for adults? Or is it the same, with simple variations?

Yoga for kids is based on the concept that children learn best through play. During my training, we (all adults) spent most of our time laughing: songs, stories, games, and general silliness are utilized to teach important strategies: breathing, movement, mindfulness.

What happens during a typical yoga class for children?

During a typical yoga class for children we will begin by trying to foster a sense of community within the class (singing songs, group games/poses, etc.), talk about breathing, do warm-ups, move through a series of poses (often using stories and songs), sometimes we will do partner poses or games, and then we end class by having a short period (usually a few minutes) of relaxation (quietly listening to music while in a restful pose).

How can yoga benefit children?

In my training, through a program called ChildLight Yoga, it was emphasized that our goal is to support the well-being of children by promoting strategies that foster adaptability, self-esteem, courage, a healthy body, and a calm mind. For example, the children learn different breathing techniques that they can use when they are angry or scared: we have found this to be very helpful in our own family when the kids (and adults) need to get past their anger in order to address a conflict. Yoga gives kids more tools and resilience for dealing with everyday stresses: arguments with siblings, conflicts with friends on the playground, being worried about a test, etc.

Are there styles of yoga that are not recommended for children? Are there special safety guidelines?

One of the important lessons is learning to listen to your body. As in any yoga class, for adults or children, yoga should not hurt! In a child's yoga class, we don't look for perfect alignment (of poses), nor is it our goal to "have a good workout". We are learning through play...something that the adult classes, in my opinion, could do more, too!

Do you find that children are more flexible than adults?

I don't know if kids are more flexible, but I have found them to be seriously enthusiastic. A wonderful mixture of wanting to do a good job, and being really excited about the process.

What are children's responses to the idea of yoga? Do most seem to enjoy it?

In my experience with my own children, I have found that even when I think that they are so not listening, they are (!), and I will often see them repeating poses later on, on their own. I love the earnest joy that children bring to class, and I find that it revitalizes my own practice.

When are the next classes at the library? Would you like to see the yoga classes continue on a long-term basis?

I am teaching two Monday evening classes (at 6:30 and 7:00 p.m.) on May 14th for 4-6 year olds. I would love to continue to teach yoga, on a long-term basis, at the library or elsewhere.

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