When Angie Continisio was laid off from her job after 18 years, she turned to yoga to help relieve her stress. One day, when she was doing yoga at home, her then 7-year-old son Luka seemed intrigued by the way his mom could contort her body in various poses. Then he said: “mommy I want to try too.” So she started teaching her son yoga and soon she noticed a marked change in his demeanour “He is a very active boy and he became more calm, listened to me more, had fewer tantrums and screamed a lot less,” she says.
Not long after that, it became clear to Continisio what she should do for a second career. “I always dreamed about being a teacher so I felt that I should combine my passion for yoga and for teaching and start offering courses for kids.”
A year later, she got her yoga teaching certification and opened a studio called Kids Butterfly Yoga in Montreal. She says she chose the name to reflect the metamorphosis of her life: going from a stressed out office worker to a teacher who could help children and their families.
Yoga has been practiced for centuries thanks to the health benefits and stress release gained from stretching one’s body into poses with names like the Cobra and Downward Facing Dog. Deeply rooted in history, yoga is both a physical and spiritual exercise. Until recently, however, yoga in North America was considered an adult activity. But now families are discovering that yoga may offer benefits to even young children, helping them develop physically and emotionally. It teaches children to respect their bodies and minds while encouraging a healthy, balanced approach to everyday life.
Continisio says kids can take classes with or without a parent, or the whole family can take a yoga class designed with both kids and grown-ups in mind. However, classes with children have a different rhythm and approach. “Children’s yoga is very interactive, whereas in an adult class, you’re very quiet,” she explains. “For example, if we’re doing the lion pose with kids, they’re roaring.”
At the end of the sessions there is some quiet time, and Continisio has the children do some simple meditation. “They learn how to visualize things. If they’re nervous about writing an exam or getting up in front of the class, I have them lie down and envision themselves taking their test or standing in front of the classroom. It helps to prepare them for those moments.”
Kids progress at their own pace
While yoga may offer benefits to children participating in organized sports (strength and flexibility), it is very much an activity that doesn’t involve competition. Kids are encouraged to learn and progress at their own rate. “I tell my students ‘don’t look at each other – don’t try and do something that the other person is doing,’” says Continisio. Yoga is all about what each individual can do. This non-competitive ideology allows the child to relax and focus on the techniques that are being taught, she adds.
Yoga also offers parents and children a chance to do an activity together. Several studios around Montreal, including Kids Butterfly, offer parent-infant or parent-child classes. “We don’t get a lot of time to spend with our kids because of school and extracurricular activities, so this creates a bond with the parent,” Continisio says.
Pediatrician Dr. John Philpott says there isn’t a lot of published data in Canada with regard to how beneficial yoga is for children. However, he says that, as long as the teacher has proper certification, he believes it can help kids with their flexibility and teach them how to follow instructions. “It’s also a low-risk activity, provides a range of motion for the joints and counteracts stiffness,” he said.
Continisio says that parents enrol their children in yoga classes for various reasons. Some are searching for a way to reduce stress in their child’s life that may be caused by a busy school schedule, having several extracurricular activities as well as general over-stimulation caused by video games, television, hand-held devices, texting and Internet use.
Other parents are desperately searching for a way to calm down their excitable child. “I’ve had a parent drop off her son and say to me: ‘good luck, I will be back in an hour.’ But ironically, the kids who seem a bit hyperactive turn out to be the best students. They are interested in finding out how the body works and they enjoy the fact that they can relax during the class.”
Yoga teachers who come to you
A growing number of children are learning about yoga through classes being offered in daycares or preschools. Two Montrealers, Aline Reizian and Stephanie Sohan, have been going into these childcare centres and making yoga classes fun for kids. A typical class consists of a brief warm-up with breathing and standing, seated and balancing poses focused on imagination. During some animal-like poses, children get to roar like a lion, bark like a dog, grow like a tree and swing a trunk like an elephant. They keep kids engaged by adding a familiar song to a pose or creating a story such as a trip to the zoo. Classes for 3- to 5-year-olds run for about 20 minutes.
Drop-in ($15) or register (6-week classes/$80)
Registration is ongoing
Ages: 6 wks-20 mths for mommy and baby yoga; 20 mths-4 years for toddler yoga
4660 Notre Dame St. W., Montreal • (514) 996-3620
Drop-in (one-time only, $11.50) or register (10 sessions/$90, 20 sessions/$158)
Registration is ongoing
Ages: 18 mths-3 years for toddler yoga; 4-7 years for kids’ yoga
4812 St. Laurent Blvd., Suite 101, Montreal • (514) 843-YOGA (9642)
Kids Butterfly Yoga
Drop-in (call first, $15) or register (price depends on age group)
Registration starts the week of May 3rd
6219 Monk Blvd., Montreal • (514) 762-YOGA (9642)
Moksha Yoga N.D.G.
Drop-ins only ($10/class)
4260 Girouard Ave., 3rd floor, Montreal • (514) 544-9642
Om West Holistic Centre
Drop-in (but call first) ($20 for kids & parents, $15 for kids) or register (10-week classes/$185 for kids & parents, and $150 for kids)
Registration is ongoing
Ages: 5 years old and up
46-3 Ste. Anne St., Pointe Claire • (514) 905-8020
Shanti Yoga Montreal
No drop-ins (but you can register mid-session if there’s room) or register ($12.50/ class – 40 per cent off for second child)
Registration starts in September
16 Westminister Ave., Suite 202, Montreal West • (514) 484-1391