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All in the Family

It may seem complicated to manage the needs of parents and their children in a yoga setting, but parent and child classes offer your students moments of calm and connection amid the chaos of parenting.

By Sara Avant Stover

Structured Play

No matter how you structure your classes, be prepared to weave breastfeeding breaks and temper tantrums into the sequences.

Wise finds that the biggest challenge rests in creating a seamless class for the parents while enjoying time with their children and their sometimes-unpredictable moods.

"If a child is about to bean another child on the head with a toy," she says, "that needs to be addressed—then back to Downward Dog!"

She includes a strong flow of energizing asanas followed by core strengthening in her classes. Children are welcome to join in or play with their toys nearby, and Wise encourages mothers to nurse or change diapers as necessary.

"I include exercises that are fun for the kids to watch, like jumping jacks. And cheerios and goldfish are key to getting through the last 20 minutes of class," Wise adds.

Having a plan, as well as the willingness to veer from it as necessary, will go a long way when teaching to parents and children.

Ghedini-Williams shares, "adaptability is always key, but with Mommy and Me classes it takes on a whole new meaning."

"I have learned to adjust my class plans not only according to energy levels or asana adeptness, but in response to the contagious effects of both crying and giggling fits and the utterly unpredictable attention spans of infants and toddlers," Ghedini-Williams says.

To keep things running as smoothly as possible, consider offering classes for different age groups. Wise suggests having an infant-only class for children aged six weeks to walking, and other classes for mixed ages, all the way up to six years old or even older.

For newborns to nearly crawling toddlers, Garabedian suggests that parents hold the children in their arms or lay them on a blanket to rest on their backs or tummies. Once children become more mobile, they're welcome to join in.

Growing Up with Yoga

When teaching classes to children between the ages of 4-7, Wing suggests offering classes that are 45 minutes in length that include warm-ups, asana/play, winding down and relaxation.

“The whole purpose of our family classes is to support their bonding,” she says. “The flow of these classes is natural, flexible and it works!”

Wing advises to start with a simple, interactive warm up, such as “body drumming” or modified “sun dances” (Sun Salutations) that benefit everyone, from toddlers to grandparents.

Next, she suggests moving into partner or group poses, Then, you can incorporate music for free dance time or a structured dance and movement activity.

“Afterwards,” she says, “Families may practice breathing together by sitting back to back and feeling each other's breath flow or maybe experimenting with different types of breath using a feather or a cotton ball.”

At the end of the class, you can read the children a story while their parents or caregivers rest in savasana, Wing offers. After the story, children can join their parents and share one piece of praise or a compliment with one another.

From start to finish “the interaction between parents and children is enormous,” Wing says.

Tools for Teaching Parents and Kids

Whether you are inspired to offer family yoga classes or retreats, first take to heart some of these words of wisdom from Christine McArdle-Oquendo, a teacher of World Family Yoga, and Wise:

  • Be respectful, alert, sensitive, and tactful. Have your intuitive hat on at all times when working with families so that you can perceive any uncomfortable situation that might arise and move the group energy to avoid family conflict or discomfort.
  • Allow parents to discipline their children. Disciplining is not your role as a yoga teacher. Sometimes you, as leader of the class, may need to make a decision that is for the good of the entire group but may be uncomfortable for a single person or family. For example, you may need to ask someone whose child is really acting up to leave the class until her child can settle.
  • If you do not have children, get some experience with infants first, perhaps by enrolling in a teacher training that specializes in children or studying with a senior teacher.
  • Observe any leaders or teachers who work with parents and children, such as school principles and teachers at holiday events, she adds. See how they direct their attention equally to the parents and the children.

To orchestrate yoga's magic amid all the temper tantrums and techniques, Wise gives some of the best advice of all:

"Open up to the kid inside of you!" she says. "It's not your average yoga class, but it's a heck of a lot of fun!"

Sara Avant Stover is a freelance writer and Anusara-Inspired Yoga instructor who trained in Pregnancy Yoga with Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa. She lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and teaches worldwide. Visit her website at www.fourmermaids.com.

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Reader Comments

Glory Last

I have been teaching family yoga in Toronto Ontario for 10 years. The benefits of families and friends joining together in a circle practicing yoga, focusing on their bodies, their breath and fun. The experience always amazes me on how much joy this combination can bring to everyone.
It's a very rewarding experience!

Tonya Norman

I teach yoga at my local YMCA. They have asked me to run a parent/child yoga class, which I would love to do. Finding any instructional manuals or videos to learn this technique is difficult. I just read YJ's article called "All In The Family". I would like to see more information about this subject. What better way to bring parent and child closer together and fight childhood obesity.

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