Jennifer Yu and her 9-month-old son, Kaiden, reap the relaxing benefits of mommy-and-baby yoga class at Purple Yoga.

Ultimate posers

Baby yoga class not only relaxes
mom, it helps kids develop
physically and mentally

Seven little ones squealed with delight as they were turned upside-down and wiggled around during a mommy-and-baby yoga class in Moiliili. One of the youngsters' favorite activities seemed to be flapping their arms in the air while held aloft, looking down at their moms.


Yoga classes

For moms and babies:

Where: Purple Yoga, 2615 S. King St. (third floor)

When: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. Tuesdays

Cost: $50 for four classes

Call: 944-8585 or visit www.purpleyoga.com

Also: Lisa Bergly's DVD "Yoga Bonding" ($23) is available at Makana Mother & Baby store, 4819 Kilauea Ave., Suite 5, or online at www.yogabonding.com.

"Babies are the best yoga lesson in the world," said Cathy Louise Broda, a yoga instructor at Purple Yoga. Yoga is all about putting oneself into a difficult situation and learning how to deal with it. Babies are stressors because we never know what to expect next, she explained. "Yoga is all about adjusting and changing."

Learning how to calm oneself might be considered a luxury to some, and many rush through life without a thought about it, which might be OK if only the individual suffers. Unfortunately, infants are not oblivious to their environment.

If an adult is stressed out, a child will feel stressed out, Broda said. "As soon as I start to stress out, my daughter picks up on it and gets much more anxious," she said.

The mommy-and-baby yoga class provides an opportunity for moms to get out of the house and do something good for themselves. They get to interact with their babies in a very different way.

"In the beginning it is initially about the moms," said Broda. "It also provides the babies with a soothing and supportive environment to interact with mom and experience their bodies in a new world.

"If children are exposed at an early age, they may continue later in life," she said.

For teens and adolescents, particularly girls, yoga is a good confidence builder. Broda says she sees too many children whose bodies are stiff due to inactivity or awkward due to shyness.

Age 4 or 5 is not too young to begin formal yoga training, she said. Combining postures with storytelling helps make the practice more fun.

While the exercises can help moms and caregivers adjust to life with their new baby, the infants also benefit.

"Babies gain the same benefit of yoga as older children and adults," said Lisa Bergly, who created a DVD, "Yoga Bonding," to demonstrate methods that moms and caregivers can use.

"Moving an infant in certain ways -- specifically into yoga positions -- helps to stimulate and activate muscle development, bone strength, joint mobility and arch development of the feet."

Yoga also stimulates the senses and first communication skills like eye contact, cooing, reaching, repeating and copying.

"All of these influences help establish synaptic connections that develop a baby's brain," Bergly said. "There have been studies that show that an infant who is exposed to and practices yoga regularly will gain motor skills faster and be more confident in these new skills."

This is especially good for premature infants or those born with low birth weight, added Bergly, who began using yoga bonding techniques more than 10 years ago "using my daughter as a prop," she said.

"I continued to practice yoga integrating my son into the poses. With the help of yoga, I was able to lift him up in front of me and onto my shoulders until he was 7 1/2 years old and weighed 62 pounds. Yoga gives you very strong core strength, upper-body strength and awesome arm muscles," she said.

Even stretching is fun for Jessica Honbo and her 3 1/2-month-old son, Justice Tibei.

IN THE BEGINNING, parents might feel that their baby is not receiving much benefit from yoga. Infants might not show interest until the age of 4 months, Bergly said.

Broda agreed, saying that babies gain spatial and body awareness around the age of 6 1/2 or 7 months.

Even so, in a typical class, young participants seemed to be having a good time mimicking their adult counterparts. Broda's 2-year-old daughter is already following in her mom's footsteps.

"She started doing yoga on her own," Broda said. "When she is tired or needs a timeout, she starts doing yoga. She knows it is a quiet time."

Many of the mothers in the class introduced their children to yoga while they were still in the womb, through Broda's pregnancy yoga class. Jennifer Yu began taking classes when she was a few months pregnant. She now attends the mommy-and-baby yoga class with her 9-month-old son, Kaiden.

"He doesn't cry much; he's a pretty calm baby. And I'm much more relaxed," she said.

Dorien Romachek claimed that the classes helped her during childbirth. "It helped me to mentally prepare for the experience," she said. "(Louise) taught us to 'let it go'" and demonstrated poses that could be used between contractions.

Yoga continues to help her find quiet time, she said. "My son (Duke, 2 1/2 months old) sleeps more in the afternoon after class."

The moms do lunges with their babies, rock them from side to side and gently swing them through their legs, giving the infants a sense of closeness and play, plus mental and sensory stimulation.

The session ends with a relaxation pose in which the moms hum one note, leading the little ones to suddenly become quieter.

"Babies are like sponges," said Bergly. "It doesn't take long for them to enjoy the process, know what comes next and anticipate, learn and grow from an established routine."

Beth Kimberly and David, foreground, Judith Denery and Rose, center, and Stacey Susuico and Isabella demonstrate how children are integrated in the yoga pose.

Yoga in the schools

The speed of modern life is leaving children feeling stressed at a younger age. To teach then some coping skills, Yoga Hawaii is teaming with PolkaDotreehouse to bring yoga to public and private schools beginning with the fall semester.

The aim of the program is to promote healthy bodies for both students and teachers. Studies have shown that a regular yoga regimen can help children of all ages develop good health practices, building a lifelong foundation for learning as well.

According to Toby Portner, president of Yoga in the Schools, yoga has been shown to enhance creative expression and imagination, improve concentration and attention, build self-esteem, aid relaxation and sleep and the ability to cope with stressors, help teach about anatomy and physiology, and help develop respect for oneself and others.

Trained yoga instructors will teach at schools on a first-come, first-served basis, working with children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Teachers and parents are welcome to attend classes to help children integrate the new skills into their lives.

Portner is currently conducting training sessions to help teachers find ways to incorporate yoga in the classroom. Visit the Web site yogaintheschools.org or e-mail reggie@polkadotreehouse.com for more information.

The yoga stretch is relaxing for both Stacey Susuico and her 4 1/2-month-old daughter, Isabella.

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