Yoga: It's said to be the fastest-growing sport in America, with 20 million people practicing. But the latest trend among yogis is that an increasing number of practitioners are pint sized.
Kids – from newborns to teenagers – are learning the terms down dog, sun salutation and more in kids-only yoga studios and even in their classrooms. It's also one of the only non-competitive sports available.
"More practitioners and more parents are becoming aware of the benefits of yoga and seeing their kids can benefit too," said Liz Eustace, CEO of Alignyo, an online yoga community with a newsletter devoted to all things yoga. "The things that benefit an adult will also benefit a child. Stress reduction, mind- body connection, physical strength – these are things that benefit kids as well as adults."
At a recent kids yoga class for 6-9 year olds at YogiBeans, a kids-only studio on New York City's Upper East Side, both parents and children were anxious to talk about the good yoga has brought to their lives.
"It clears your mind off something that's really bothering you," said one little girl.
So how does a kids yoga teacher keep the kids attention on the "oommm" for an entire class? While there are similarities between kids and adult yoga, a kids class is far more relaxed.
"[Kids and adult classes are] very different, but the foundation is always the same. There's still the mind-body connection that is the foundation of all yoga," said Eustace. "But what's great is there's a ton of creativity with kids yoga, like meowing like a cat, barking in downward dog or hissing like a cobra. There's an incredible amount of creativity and playfulness within the foundation of yoga. And it's these kids moving in such a creative and conscious way that makes it such a fun practice for children to get involved with."
Lauren Chaitoff, co-owner and instructor at YogiBeans, agreed. "It's going to be little bit sillier, more playful. Kids are stressed these days, there are social pressures and pressure in school."
It seems school can be a difficult place for kids, at least sometimes. "My daughter's in third grade," said Gail Tobias, mother to one of the girls in the class. "There's an abundance of homework already. After she's done with the class I find she's much more eager to go home and sit and do her homework and be more focused. "
A little boy – one of two in the class – told me yoga helps him forget what's bothering him. "After class is over it seems like I'm not so worried about my problems as when I was in school," he said. " Like when I'm here I'm not thinking about oh how much homework do I have, or what do I have to do, what do I have to not do."
Experts say parents should do their research before signing their kids up for a yoga program. A good place to start is the Yoga Alliance web site, where parents can search for a instructor that's been trained in children's yoga. The voluntary standards put forth by Yoga Alliance require 95 hours of training to become registered.
If there are no children's yoga programs in your area, your kids can still benefit from the practice. "There's great resources online and through books and through DVDs," said Eustace. "Whether you're in a small community or a larger community you can still integrate a lot of the practices and teachings of kids yoga."