There is little doubt about the physical and mental health benefits of regularly practicing yoga.
And while there are countless options for adults when it comes to yoga programs, they are few and far between for the youngest fitness buffs among us.
In East Haven, however, there's now a local option — and it's free.
Michele Antisdel, an East Haven-based fitness and martial arts expert who runs Clear Light Yoga, recently created an introductory yoga program for children and their caregivers.
The classes, for children aged four to nine years old, are held late Monday afternoons at the Hagaman Memorial Library. But the classes are not just for the kids — parents, grandparents and/or caregivers are all welcome to take part, too.
To find out more, East Haven Patch asked Antisdel a few questions about the program. The Q&A runs in full below.
Tell us about the family yoga program. What prompted you to create the free children-geared class?
I wanted to do a children’s yoga program because I had been asked on many occasions to do a yoga workshop for area scout troops. While the children enjoyed the workshop, I knew I could offer a better program if I went through formal training for it. Once I did the training and discovered the really fun ways to bring yoga to children, I wanted to start some kind of program since there was currently nothing like it offered in our town. I thought it would be really nice to make it a family program because it would be a fun way for adults and children to learn to do something different together.
Are the goals of the family program different from an individual adult program? If so, how?
Yes, the goals are very different. Since the adult yoga program that I teach is at our martial arts school as opposed to a yoga studio, it is offered as an exercise class. We do not do much in the way of the “teachings” of yoga because that is not what that group of people want. In the children’s class, I introduce children to meditation and why meditation is important, breathing for focus and calmness, we read stories about being kind to others, friendship, generosity, love and peace. We talk about the meaning of the stories and how we can apply them to our everyday lives. We then take elements out of those stories and put yoga poses to them. For example, the hero of a story is represented by Warrior I, a journey is represented by triangle pose, and of course, there are many animal poses in yoga, which the children love (along with making their sounds!)—so this becomes their introduction to yoga poses. We also play games that incorporate yoga poses, and we do a 2-3 song fun yoga practice. The class ends with savasana, final relaxation, usually with guided meditation geared toward children. And they love to chant “Ohm”!
What is the most difficult aspect of working with children in a yoga class? And what is the most rewarding?
The most difficult aspect is keeping the attention of a group of children in that age range (4-8). You have to be really careful about not boring them, or engaging them too much to the point that they get a wild, or the class becoming too long and they get tired. It’s a balancing act. The rewarding part is each week when I go in and they can tell me what they learned in the previous classes from our stories, or can do a yoga pose on their own if I just say the name.
Why the library as the location?
Because it’s the perfect location to do a program that uses reading stories with yoga and it is the best way to reach a large number of families in our town. I also wanted to do this as a community service project because yoga does not seem to be too popular in our town but I think it’s more because people are afraid to try it or haven’t had the opportunity to try it. I thought if I offered it for free and as something that was for adults and children, it would be a great way for everyone to try yoga.
How has the response been so far from participants?
Well, everyone keeps coming back each week so I guess the response is good!
Once this session ends, will you be running a new set of classes in the near future?
As long as people want it, I am happy to do it.
Anything else you feel it's important to add about the program?
Yes. I want people to not be afraid to give yoga a try. It doesn’t matter your age or fitness level, everyone can do it with the right instructor. I also want people to know that yoga is really a way of life. It’s practiced off the mat as well as on the mat. It provides a wonderful foundation for children and adults to live a peaceful, happy life. I invite all to come and give it a try.
And finally, if people would like more information about family yoga, how can they contact you?
They can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our studio after 4pm at 203-468-7287 and leave a message for me there.