Yoga’s benefits extend to children

Yoga Kids

By BETSY BETHEL

For The Times Leader

As the benefits of yoga — not only physical but mental and emotional — become more recognized, getting kids more involved with the ancient practice is a no-brainer.

Nikki Kiger, a physical therapist with West Virginia Birth to Three, is wrapping up a month-long summer session of kids’ yoga at Happy Goat Yoga, 600 Main St., North Wheeling, on Tuesday mornings. Starting Tuesday, July 18, she will offer another four-week session. There are two classes divided by age group, 8:30-9:15 a.m. for ages 5-8 and 9:30-10:30 a.m. for ages 9-12.

In a brief question-and-answer session, Kiger explained how she got involved in yoga and its benefits for kids, including her own.

Q: How long have you been teaching kids yoga?

Kiger: I have been teaching children’s yoga classes for about a year and a half but have been a pediatric physical therapist for 17 years and have incorporated yoga into the treatment of many children for many years.

Q: What do you differently in a kids’ yoga class to bring it to their level?

Kiger: How a kids’ yoga class is run is dependent on the age of children. For a class of 5- to 8-years-olds, the yoga poses are embedded into a story, and it is a lot of fun, allowing the child to build focus by listening to the story and replicating the poses. There are yoga games involved and songs pertaining to yoga. Strength, balance and coordination is a big focus at this age. For the 9- to 12-year-old class, the hour class mimics more of an adult class. At this age, the children begin to lose some flexibility compared to their younger peers and so this is heavily embedded into the class. Breath work begins to be more of a focus, and they are taught how their breathing patterns affect their brains and their ability to be mindful.

We start to build the mind-body relationship, using the breath during our poses to strengthen the ability to focus and concentrate. The breath work is carried over into a simple meditation where the kids begin to build upon the mental focus, staying tuned into the breath. We talk about how thoughts always come in, but we can choose to let them go and return to the breath.

Q: What are the benefits of kids practicing yoga?

Kiger: Yoga for the older group is really about building a positive self-esteem and self-love and teaching them they have tools to cope with things that may come their way in life. The topics in our mindfulness lessons focus on kindness, loving ourselves, dealing with worry and anxiety, etc. There is a focus that there will always be waves in life, but we can learn how to surf them versus being taken out by them. I have gotten positive feedback from both the children and parents who have taken the classes. I would like to build upon these foundation classes in the future to promote positive attributes for the children in the community, and give them a toolbox to help “fix” things that happen in their day-to-day lives.

Q: Do you have kids, and do they participate?

Kiger: I have two children — Samuel who is 10 and Jillian who is 8 years old. They do participate in class and enjoy the time with their friends. I am also fortunate to teach yoga and mindfulness to the fourth-graders at Steenrod Elementary. Samuel was in fourth grade last year, and we had a very positive experience with the children and plan to sustain the program this upcoming year as well.

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