Bending over backwards:the new way kids are staying fit

By Andrea Lefebvre

Celebrities do it. Politicians do it. And now your kids can do it too.

A yoga craze is sweeping the continent.

More and more schools, recreation centres and yoga studios in Ottawa are starting to offer yoga classes for kids aged four to 12 years, including the Plant Recreation Centre at Preston and Somerset.

Louise Villeneuve, the children’s yoga instructor at the centre, says yoga is important for kids because it exercises the body and the mind.

Yoga is a form of exercise that involves meditation and holding different stretching positions.

“Yoga works at the toning of muscles,” she says.

“It also relaxes the busy mind.”

Sue Ducros, a children’s yoga instructor at Santosha Yoga, agrees.

“It teaches balance. Balance in a yoga position creates balance in life,” she says.

“It also teaches them to control their anger, happiness or sadness.”

Ducros also teaches a class for new mothers and babies at Santosha’s Westboro location, which shows how new mothers can incorporate yoga into their child’s life.

Ducros says that something as small as doing certain movements while changing a baby’s diaper can improve the baby’s flexibility.

Tracy Daly, a nurse with Ottawa Public Health, agrees there is a link between a child’s physical and emotional well-being. She says physical activity and exercise can also improve a child’s mental health.

“It reduces stress levels,” she says.

“It’s a physiological response that produces certain hormones that reduce stress response.”

Exercise is also good for a child’s overall physical health, she says.

Statistics Canada’s Community Health Survey estimated that in 2004 nine per cent of Canadian adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were overweight or obese. This number is three times what is was in 1978.

Daly says this is a troubling trend.

“Overweight kids become overweight adults,” she says. “They also get chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart disease at a younger age.” Daily physical activity, like yoga, cuts down on these health risks, she says.

Ducros, who also teaches other instructors how to run yoga classes for youngsters, says her yoga classes encourage physical activity starting at a very young age.

She says the biggest challenge in teaching kids is maintaining their interest.

“Adults will just sit down and do it,” says Ducros. “But with kids you have to keep it fun. You have to have a bag of tricks.” She incorporates games, songs, chants and animal noises into her classes, but says she still tries to “maintain the integrity of yoga” by teaching the different yoga positions to her students.

And the kids seem to enjoy it, Ducros says.

She says she had a nine-year-old student who would sigh with relief when class started because she was so excited to be doing yoga.

Although instructors have been encouraging kids to get involved in yoga for years, it finally seems to be catching on. More and more children are signing up for yoga programs at local recreation centres, studios and schools.