Getting the Youth into Yoga

Instructor aims to help students learn to ‘deal and cope with emotions’

ONTARIO — On Fridays, it’s yoga day — well, at least for some members of the Boys & Girls Club of the Western Treasure Valley.

At the end of every school week, since April 14, approximately 22 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade club members swap their school bags for yoga mats.

As part of Triple Play, a program focused on the wellness of the mind, body and soul, yoga at the club has been possible in the last few weeks.

Though the wellness program isn’t new to the club, offering yoga to members is a fresh spin.

Megan Cook, the yoga instructor leading the class, said she is beyond thrilled for the opportunity to do so.

Cook, who owns Balance Studio – a local yoga and spin cycle business – said she originally pitched the idea to Matt Sorenson, executive director of the club.

“I just asked Matt if I could teach here,” Cook said. “And when he said it would be great, he got in touch with John and we put it on the schedule.”

Scheduled for a period of eight weeks, the sessions will wrap up June 2.

John Lucero, who is the youth development coordinator overseeing Triple Play, said he has noticed a deep interest in club members since it began four weeks ago.

“I feel like the kids are really getting into yoga,” Lucero said. “Some of them keep asking, ‘When will Megan come back?’”

Another positive, Lucero added, is the ability to demonstrate to club members that there are other ways to get active and exercise.

“It’s definitely getting a point across that there are other ways to get in shape,” he said.

Among other benefits is fine-tuning the children’s ability to understand and connect with one’s emotions.

Cook said she began yoga four years ago, and most recently began teaching it to children because she felt it necessary to teach emotional awareness.

“Once I got into the training, I thought ‘Well, kids need to know about this.’ As a parent, and just being around kids — and even adults — you see that being able to deal with emotions in everyday life, including stress, is so important to learn,” Cook said. “It inspired me to teach kids yoga so they learn how to deal and cope with those emotions, because I see so many adults that have a hard time — including myself — just trying to get through the business of the day.”

Each session begins at 4 p.m. and lasts for an hour.

An introduction is typically the warm up, and on Friday, those in attendance were able to share their name, grade and favorite breakfast food. Club members were also tasked with posing as their favorite breakfast meal.

Once they finished sharing, all 10 members began the posing sequence. The goal, Cook said, is twofold. She would first like the members to familiarize themselves with the poses and getting to know the names. And, most importantly, Cook said, it’s key to hold a conversation about how the body is reacting to poses.

She pointed out that, “Your mind is telling you something and it’s OK to listen to that and be in the moment. I think it’s so important to not only know what our feelings are, but to be able to be OK with them and know we are having them for a reason.”

During every pose, Cook would remind the children to focus on how the brain is reacting to the body.

“It hurts,” expressed some girls.

“My body doesn’t like that,” said others.

“Why may we be feeling that way?,” Cook asked the club members.

Many came to the conclusion that it was a lack of exposure to exercising.

Following poses is the pranayama, also known as the breath. Here, Cook takes the members through a breathing exercise. Depending on the day, the routine varies. Cook said her favorite exercise is called “good breath in and bad breath out.”

“We think of something good about ourselves while we are breathing in, and then something that maybe we often tell ourselves that isn’t very nice; we breathe that thought out. It’s a nice way to get them centered,” Cook said.

Creativity is also incorporated into the yoga session, and on Friday, members were able to color mandalas— a circle pattern that represents life.

Following the mandala, is savasana (pronounced shavasana); it’s a time where club members lay down and relax on a mat. The focus, Cook said, is to relax the 11 body systems at the same time, which doesn’t happen often during the day.

“Especially as a child. You get up and go, and you go all day, so it’s nice for them,” she added. “During this time I like to go through a body scan, so it brings awareness to their body and their breath because part of yoga is trying to match the breathe and the body in order to create awareness.”

To conclude the session, a positive reinforcement in the form of a mantra is repeated three times.

Naturally as humans, Cook said, people tend to be hard on themselves and often don’t take time in the day to remind themselves they are happy, or that they believe in themselves.

During Friday’s class, the following mantra was repeated.

“Repeat after me,” Cook said to club members as she began wrapping up Friday’s session. “I am happy (I am happy). I am free (I am free). I am safe (I am safe). I believe in me (I believe in me).”

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