Younger generation gets into yoga

WAYNE, Pa. - June 10, 2013

When Amy Nobles Dolan, a registered yoga instructror, started her Yoga With Spirit teaching practice, she didn't plan to teach children.

But when parents came to class, they'd often bring their kids, too.

Before long, Amy had requests for specific kids' classes. And she's had after-school yoga clubs.

Yoga has become popular in schools and community programs, as another way to get kids moving more, especially those who shy away from competitive sports.

Amy finds many of her young students are athletes, too.

"I play baseball and I do swimming," says third grader Chase Bentley.

"I ran track in high school," says Alexandra Seitz, a college freshman who has been practicing with Amy for years, and is now teaching yoga, too.

K.M. Barnett chimes in, "I horseback ride 6 days a week."

Grace Humbarger and her best friend, Grace Arnott, agree,"The gymnastics helps yoga, and the yoga helps gymnastics."

Some students like it for its emotional boost, especially from the breathing.

Tessa Kilby, an 8th grader, says, "I mainly do it as a stress-reliever."

"There is a lot more stress than you might think in school," Tessa adds.

Her brother, Luke, a 6th grader, agrees, "Grades, homework, teachers."

Chase says it helps him switch mental gears, "It makes me relaxed a little bit after class."

Some groups, like the American Yoga Association, say children are too young for yoga. The group feels it may affect their nervous system and growth glands, which are still maturing.

Amy says the exercises do have to be adjusted for kids' growth stages.

Young children are extremely flexible, so joints can be strained by severe twists.

By middle school, when kids are shooting upward, they lose flexibility, particularly in hamstring muscles.

So she limits and modifies deep forward bends.

"They get tight, because the bones grow first, and the muscles have to stretch to catch up," says Amy.

She says adjustments have to be made to prevent over-stretching.

Dr. Shannon Safier, an orthopedic specialist with St. Christopher's Hospital urges parents check out a class first, and stay away from those with extremes of heat or exercise.

The Academy of Pediatrics says that while there's no scientific data that yoga has negative effects for kids, simple stretching and relaxation exercises are best.

And remember, most children don't have long attention spans, so short classes are best.

Dolan sees another benefit to yoga - better body image and self-esteem.

"There are so many pressures these days on girls on how they look and the social pressures."says Amy.

"If you can get on your yoga mat, and believe you are strong, and really celebrate your body for all it can do, instead of what it looks like, then that's going to create a real good sense of center," she continues.

"That will help you navigate through the sometime choppy waters of adolescence."

Parents give thumbs up to yoga as a great exercise for families, too.

Sally Scholz, Tessa and Luke's mother, says, "We had fun, we laughed, we stretched, which was great."

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