By Claire Bloom

…Perhaps it is inevitable that yoga classes for kids blossom, as the demand for adult yoga has put the exercise form into the mainstream, with yoga spreading from studios to gyms, schools and into the home through video. Yoga experts say parents are seeking a physical workout as well as peaceful respite from a heightened sense of threat from today’s troubled world affairs, and highly scheduled lives. Yoga practice is now used across the country by teachers, organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs that work with at-risk children, and even in prisons.

A Calm and Upbeat Mind

For children, practitioners say, yoga’s physical and mental benefits are the same as for adults: improvement of strength, balance, flexibility, coordination, focus, and the ability to deal with stress. Children of the fast-paced, media-saturated 21st Century can turn to yoga as an avenue for relaxation, they say.

Kid’s yoga classes generally include the traditional stretching, poses and focused breathing, but expand the process to include games, music, stories, and open discussion….

The non-competitive nature of yoga also offers an opportunity to embrace all body types, which are generally narrow for specific sports, even for such individual activities such as ballet or gymnastics.

Shana Meyerson, owner of mini yogis, a mobile yoga “studio” for kids, says that yoga’s greatest benefit to children is its ability to boost self-esteem.

“In yoga practice a child cannot be wrong,” says Meyerson. “The child does not have to worry about being picked last for the team or being ridiculed if she can’t ‘perform’ as well as other children. Children who usually shy away from physical activity suddenly have a physical outlet in which they can succeed and shine.”

…Not Your Mom’s Yoga

Yoga classes for kids should be designed specifically with their young age in mind, but the most important class element should be a sense of amusement, yoga experts say. Classes for kids typically feature creative games, background music and stories, and sometimes incorporate art and theater. Traditional children’s games are integrated into classes bearing playful, yoga-esque names, such as “Swami Says,” and “Red Lotus/Green Lotus.”

“Yoga for kids is, at its essence, meant to be fun,” says instructor Meyerson. “While adults use yoga to release their minds, children use it to release their energy.”

In classes designed for children, students are encouraged to talk and give feedback. Instead of placing emphasis on the physical details of poses, yoga for kids tends to be more relaxed and improvisational….

Yoga can also foster a child’s creativity in a number of ways, say yoga experts. The exercises teach students how to focus their minds, hushing the noises of the world and allowing creative thoughts to flourish. By using creative names for poses, usually those of an animal, bird or insect, kids can engage their imaginations….