It’s not much of a stretch to see that practicing yoga benefits children
Do you think children don’t have the attention span to practice yoga? Several instructors in Berks who offer kids yoga classes might make you think otherwise.
They say kids can and do focus on the art, and they reap most of the same benefits as adults. A local pediatrician also gives a thumbs-up to this alternative form of physical activity for your child.
Amy Sharkey of West Reading and Stacey Campbell of Wyomissing are both yoga instructors armed with special training in teaching kids yoga as well as master’s degrees in the field of education.
Sharkey, 32, instructor and owner of Kindred Spirits Yoga, operates as an independent contractor. Sharkey tailors age-specific yoga programs on-site to meet the needs of clients ranging from preschools to organizations such as Girl Scouts. She also conducts classes for private birthday parties and will even conduct a family class in your home.
Prior to becoming a yoga instructor, Sharkey was no stranger to working with children.
“In my former life I was an elementary school teacher,” she said. “I taught for 12 years.”
After participating in a special yoga training course in New York for kids, she realized a new career was on the horizon.
Sharkey is used to people reacting in disbelief when she discusses the age of the students in her new profession.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “It’s amazing to see a 3-year-old be able to focus for a half an hour. People don’t believe me when I say I teach 3- or 4-year-olds yoga class.”
Her 4-year-old son, Aidan, enjoys practicing with her on occasion, she said.
‘When is yoga?’
Sharkey encourages skeptical parents to come out and try it with their kids for the first session.
“They can be surprised by how focused their children can be,” she said. “They find that their kids are going to be asking all the time, ‘When is yoga? When is yoga?’ ”
Karin Allmendinger, 41, Spring Township, recently joined her daughter, Grace, 3, at Atonement Lutheran Church, Wyomissing, for her first yoga class.
“She definitely wants to go back,” said Allmendinger, who is excited to have a regular activity for her daughter to enjoy. “She is an agile and energetic kid. She can do most of the poses.”
Dr. Mark Reuben, a managing partner with Reading Pediatrics, with offices throughout Berks County, encourages kids to practice yoga.
“My philosophy with kids and exercise is, if they want to do it and they enjoy it, they should go get it,” said Reuben, who has been a pediatrician for 33 years.
Sharkey finds that students enjoys themselves and learn quickly. To engage them, she uses short verbal instruction and more demonstration than with adults.
“They are imitators by heart so it’s very easy to teach them,” she said.
She generally breaks the classes down by age and, in some cases, gender.
“Three- to 5-year-olds are the most fun to teach,” she said. “It’s fun to see them discover what they can do. Sometimes I get them in crazy poses and they say, ‘I can’t do it,’ and they realize they can, which gives them such a sense of achievement.”
Safe for kids
Reuben emphasized that with the right supervision, injuries can be avoided.
“My issue would be how well trained the instructors are in yoga for kids. They need the right supervision,” he said.
Reuben stressed caution with children due to their open growth plates: The ends of the bones should not be stressed.
However, he noted that children’s flexibility facilitates doing the poses.
“From what I’ve seen of yoga classes, they do it better than the adults,” Reuben said.
Aside from teaching various poses, Sharkey also does meditation with the youngsters and reads and acts out stories that incorporate yoga poses. Music is often played throughout the class.
The benefits she sees kids reap are abundant.
“Emotionally, mentally and physically – it’s just a full range of benefits,” she said.
Sharkey also encourages children with special needs to practice yoga, having had very positive experiences teaching autistic children and those with ADD. Her teaching background in special education gives her the ability to be sensitive to children with special needs.
In the near future, she hopes to launch a yoga center geared strictly towards kids.
Stacey Campbell, 39, instructor and owner of Firefly Yoga of Wyomissing, also acts as an independent contractor, currently working exclusively with the Yoga Inlet of West Reading.
“I completed training in February, and I tried looking around for a place to teach, and I contacted Linda out of the blue,” she said.
In touch with their heart
Linda Rocco, owner of the Yoga Inlet, was pleased to hear Campbell wanted to teach kids’ yoga, so she hired her to head the children’s program launched in May.
Rocco, 53, formerly instructed children herself, in 1998, at her old studio.
“Kids inspire me so much because they are so pure and are naturally able to get in touch with their heart,” she said.
After getting side-tracked by her adult course offerings, she is excited to be offering children’s classes again through Campbell.
Like Sharkey, Campbell’s path to her career also stemmed from previously working with children.
“I was a school counselor for years,” Campbell said. “For my whole adult profession I’ve worked with children one way or another.”
After practicing yoga on her own at home, Campbell realized it would be fun to teach kids, so she attended a training course.
All in all, she liked the idea of combining her interests. Like Sharkey, she holds a master of education degree. She worked as an elementary, middle school and high school guidance counselor before becoming a yoga teacher.
A mother of two boys, Colin, 8 and Micah, 5, she practiced her yoga instruction with them when she was starting out.
She said they were reluctant to go at first.
“I made them go to classes with me,” she said. “After the first session, they were hooked.”
Campbell finds her new career very rewarding.
“The best part is to see the excitement they have at the end of a lesson – when they don’t want to leave the studio because they’ve had a good time,” she said of her students.
Campbell finds the benefits for children in practicing yoga vary based on dedication.
“Initially it’s fun, and they walk away with the social piece, with a feeling of confidence of being able to do the moves,” she said. “If they have a regular routine that they practice at home, they have the ability to relax easier than other kids.”
Enhanced creativity and imagination are other benefits Campbell believes kids can reap.
“Overall, it seems that kids who have yoga as part of their daily life seem to be more peaceful,” she said.
Dr. Reuben thinks the benefits gained by children are in relationship to age.
“A child 10 to 12 years old can probably understand the calming concepts of yoga, but the 3- to 4-year-old, I doubt they are going to get anything from that,” he said.
Campbell is teaching two classes, one for 7- to 9-year-olds and the other for 10- to 13-year-olds. In the fall, she plans to add a 5- to 7-year-old class along with a “Mommy and Me” class for 2- to 4-year-olds.
Campbell also volunteers her time with the Wyomissing Parks Department, teaching two kids’ yoga classes per week. The classes are free of charge.
The going rate for most kids’ yoga classes in Berks is approximately $10 per child for a one-hour class. Prices vary depending on age of child and length of class. Classes range from five to 10 children per class.
By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes
Reading Eagle Correspondent
Contact Courtney H. Diener-Stokes: email@example.com