Special to the Times
Nowadays, kids face more pressure and stress than ever before. Days are a whirlwind: commute to school; compete for top grades, extra extracurricular activities, play dates, homework.
Modern childhood is plagued by stress – as a result, mental illness is on the rise. According to Canada’s Mental Health Commission, an estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by mental illness – yet, less than 20 per cent will receive appropriate treatment. By age 25, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will have developed a mental illness.
While many of us are aware of the physical and mental health benefits of yoga, we tend to overlook that the ancient practice is also highly beneficial for children and toddlers.
Improved concentration at school, reduced stress levels, better sleep, more flexibility and a boost in confidence are just a handful of the advantages that come from downward-facing dog, the warrior pose, sun salutation, etc., according to Jennie Abbot, a Langley mom and yoga teacher who was inspired by her own daughter to shift from working with adults to children around five years ago.
“I had started my training to become a registered yoga teacher to teach adults, planning on going back to work when my youngest child started Kindergarten,” said the mother of two, Ben, 8, and Grace, 11.
Grace, who was just seven at the time, became extremely fearful of going to school, she adds.
“She went from being a child who loved going to school to one who was scared to fall asleep at night, clung to me every morning outside the school, and had full-blown panic attacks in the hallway outside her classroom door.”
As it turns out, the apple didn’t fall far from the Abbot’s family tree.
“It made sense that my daughter was struggling with anxiety because I have also had anxiety since my early 20’s,” revealed Jennie.
However, it wasn’t until she was pregnant with Grace that she tried yoga (prenatal) and found that it helped quell her anxiety.
“For the first time in my life I learned ways to release stress, anxiety and tension, and how amazing it felt to breathe deeply and just let go. I had finally found the one thing that brought harmony in my heart, mind and body – I was hooked.”
Along with finding a counsellor for Grace, Jennie began to try to translate the adult yoga training she was taking to something a seven-year-old could use to help manage her fear and anxiety.
“It was then that I realized that instead of teaching yoga to adults, I should be sharing these tools with children,” said the ‘mompreneur’, who started gearing up to open her own home-based yoga studio in Fort Langley four years ago – Harmony Kids Yoga.
Prior to opening up her studio, Jennie hunted down every kids yoga teacher training she could get her hands on.
And, along with over 10 years of dance teaching experience in working with kids of all ages, began to develop a program that would offer the gifts of yoga for children.
Today, Harmony Kids Yoga is the only dedicated children’s yoga studio in the Fraser Valley, offering a variety of classes for children ages 12 months up to 18 years
“Children love the tools that yoga and mindfulness provide because they learn ways to calm their bodies, and connect with themselves in amazing new ways and they instantly recognize how good yoga makes them feel.”
Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Jennie’s classes use visually stimulating props, fun music, games and art to peak her young yogi’s attention.
“Our classes are alive with imagination and play, incorporating yoga with games, creative movement, social-emotional learning, colourful dynamic props, de-stressing breath work, uplifting stories and themes, art therapy, and lots of laughs.”
Over the past six years since becoming certified, Jennie has witnessed, firsthand the healing and harmonious effects of yoga on children of all ages and walks of life.
“Many parents and teachers of children with ADD, ADHD, anxiety and Autism comment that they see their children using their yoga tools when they are upset or overwhelmed because they have learned to recognize what their body needs at these time,” she said.
They also offers specialized classes for Boys Only, Girls Only and Private Yoga Therapy Sessions for Children with special needs at her Fort Langley studio.
Harmony Kids Yoga has a team of instructors who bring their school program onsite to children in public and private schools (elementary, middle, high, preschools, daycares) throughout the Lower Mainland.
Gratitude and yoga go hand-in-hand, which is it’s a cornerstone of Jennie’s business.
Harmony Kids Yoga has offered yoga at various community events, such as May Day in Fort Langley.
Currently, the students in Jennie’s weekly studio classes are working on a yoga-thon to raise money for the Langley Starfish Pack Program through the Langley School District, bringing weekend fuel bags for children in schools throughout Langley.
“The students will also be creating some breathing sticks, mind jars and yoga pose cards for the backpacks to share calming tools with the children in the Langley Starfish Pack Program,” she said.
For more information, visit www.harmonykidsyoga.com or call 604-841-2376.
Kristyl Clark is founder of the family blogazine, ValleyMom.ca. Follow her on Twitter @shesavalleymom