Being a parent doesn't have to mean zero personal time and a slimmed-down social life. Today yoga classes are not just for the super-fit, super-flexible, and super-serious. Anyone and everyone can find a class that suits his or her needs—including parents and children.
Consider opening your studio's doors to families. Let parent and child classes evolve out of your pre- and postnatal offerings, and evoke more play, creativity, and spontaneity in your teachings so that yoga time can be family time.
Parent and child yoga classes deliver the same mental and physical benefits as any other yoga class: peace of mind, relaxation, and increased bodily strength and flexibility. The perks don't stop there, though.
"For parents, I think it is amazing to have a place to come and exercise without having to find childcare. They network with other parents and can share advice on sleep tricks, strollers, and nursing," says Kate Wise, owner of Yo Mama Yoga in Santa Monica, CA.
Michelle Wing, Founder and Executive Director of San Franciscos Its Yoga, Kids, appreciates how parent/child yoga classes offer families the opportunity to come together in a non-competitive and healthy environment.
In many communities, children are often dropped-off for extracurricular activities, Wing says. In addition, adults and kids are often over-scheduled, stressed-out, and just plain busy. One hour a week of being present without expectations is a sweet gift and a huge bonding experience for families.
For new moms and dads, the transition into parenthood also infuses one's practice with a deepened sense of offering and devotion, observes Joung-Ah Ghedini-Williams, a yoga instructor based in Bangkok, Thailand, who specializes in pre- and postnatal and mommy and me classes.
"Women practice yoga in these classes for the health, happiness, and well-being of not only themselves but for someone even more precious to them. That infuses their practice with a brilliance that is breathtaking."
For children, Wise finds that these classes plant the seeds of a future yoga and meditation practice.
"They are watching their mom or dad taking care of themselves," she adds. "To see a spiritual or health practice modeled by their parents is invaluable."
Opening the Door to Families
Expanding your teaching to parents and young children can also bring a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm to your classes.
"I began teaching Mommy and Me yoga just after September 11, and it filled me with hope for the future," says Wise.
"There is nothing like teaching a yoga class and being surrounded by bright, excited new beings," she adds. "Two-year-olds are not picky about the placement of their mat or the temperature of the room."
Geared for children ranging in age from six weeks to six years, parent and child yoga classes offer families a valuable bonding opportunity within a supportive, communal environment. In addition, it allows mothers to recover physically from the birth process.
Ghedini-Williams sees how important it is for new mothers to resume their yoga practice soon after delivery.
"I love to provide the chance for these women to move and breathe and feel strong again," she says. "I remind them that by nurturing themselves and finding stillness, they will be able to offer so much more to themselves and their families."
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.