Tabay Atkins is not your typical 11-year-old boy. And being the youngest certified yoga teacher in the United States (as far as his mom can tell from a Google search anyway) is only a small part of what makes him so special.
Tabay discovered yoga at age 6, when his mom, Sahel Anvarinejad, began practicing as part of her recovery from stage 3 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and intense chemotherapy.
“In September 2012, I was just two weeks cancer-free, when I connected to yoga teacher Carolyn Long, whose mother had just passed away from cancer,” recalls Anvarinejad. “She welcomed me with open arms and convinced me to take her 200-hour vinyasa teacher training program. Yoga was a foreign language to me—I didn’t even know what Downward-Facing Dog was—but I did it, even though it was hard for me to walk on my own, and I had never even taken a yoga class before. I had no hair, and I was weak and scared. I got stronger and stronger [thanks to yoga]—physically and emotionally. After two and a half months of training, I could walk on my own again.”
Inspired to Teach By Yoga's Healing Power
Tabay witnessed all of that, and at 6 years old, he found his calling. “I wanted to [become a yoga teacher] because my mom had cancer,” he tells YogaJournal.com. “She did yoga and she couldn’t walk at the time; she was really stressed. I saw how yoga was healing her, and I told her I wanted to teach yoga to help people heal the way yoga helped heal my mom.”
In 2013, after Anvarinejad got certified, she opened her yoga studio, Care4Yoga in San Clemente, California, with Tabay often pitching in as her helper. And last summer, Tabay went from helper to certified teacher, after becoming the youngest person ever to complete the 200-hour YOGAthletica teacher training—and seemingly the youngest certified yoga teacher in the country (in 2014, then 12-year-old Jaysea DeVoe was heralded as the youngest teacher). Tabay currently teaches three popular classes a week—including two teen-adult vinyasa classes and a Lego meditation class with his dad, former NFL player Larry Atkins. “His classes are the most full classes we have at the studio,” Anvarinejad says proudly.
Is 11 Too Young to Teach?
So why does an 11-year-old boy—who is also an aspiring actor—want to spend his spare time teaching yoga? “I really love to help people when I’m doing my yoga,” explains Tabay, who is currently certified to teach vinyasa, circus yoga, tween yoga, teen yoga, yoga for kids with autism, and more. “It’s not about flexibility, it’s more about non-judgment. It’s about healing the mind and body. I also like to see people progress throughout the classes.”
The best part? Tabay donates ALL of the money he makes teaching yoga to help kids that have cancer. “He does it for free … except for the pennies. He keeps the pennies,” Anvarinejad says. The fees for Tabay’s classes are donation-based and voluntary, and all proceeds go to savingsophie.org, a charity that helps caregivers find resources when their loved ones are diagnosed with cancer.
Eleven may seem a little young to be a professional anything, but Anvarinejad thinks Tabay was ready. “Who am I to tell him he’s too young? His heart and intentions are pure," she says. "He’s the first person to help someone in need or make friends with someone sitting alone, or stop a kid from being bullied ... this is what yoga is. Some people are just meant to have this in their lives.”