At Bliss Body Yoga Studio in Collingswood, NJ, Maureen Heil teaches 4-year-olds yoga using illustrations from Eric Carle’s book, 10 Little Rubber Ducks. The children pretend to be whales and dolphins and “imitate the wind to practice deep breathing.” Heil is just one of several yoga instructors in the Philly area offering classes for kids as young as 2.
Classes at Yoga Child in Center City include “yoga and dance” and – get ready for it – “yoga arts and crafts, which incorporates mindful exercises and yoga journals.” Really? A 2-year-old keeping a yoga journal? “Wow, Tommy, those monochromatic circular scribbles really embody the essence of Kundalini. I think you’ll be ready for Bikram by age 3.”
In defense of the practice, Heil told the Inquirer, “Kids are natural-born yogis.” Exactly. That’s why there’s a pose named after them. Kids don’t need to be taught yoga. The whole reason adults do yoga is to regain a child-like flexibility and sense of oneness with the Universe that toddlers have in spades. What about free play? Doesn’t all of this structure end up suppressing imagination and making kids second-guess themselves? Yoga classes for toddlers are another symptom of our general anxiety about parenting.
Our own Helaine reported on the phenomenon of organized classes for toddlers back in 2006 for The Washington Post. She says, “development experts say that when children are told what to do and when to do it, they don’t learn to mediate their own disputes or trust their imaginations.”
See? I knew it! But what about the childhood obesity epidemic? Where does that fit into all of this? King of Prussia athletic instructor Aimee Lyons, who offers CrossFit classes to children starting at age 3, is banking on parents worrying that their kids are too fat. “The more that’s out there about the sedentary child and obesity, the more people will sign up,” she says. (CrossFit, if you’re unfamiliar, is a “high-intensity workout that focuses on a range of tasks including powerlifting and sprinting.”) Shouldn’t 3-year-olds be powernapping instead?
Helaine cites Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, who notes that “the rise in childhood obesity has actually dovetailed with the growth of organized activities.” Stress is an undeniable factor in the obesity epidemic, and exposing kids to the notion that they must sculpt their bodies and minds at such a young age is putting them in a high-pressure situation. Ironic, since yoga is meant to be relaxing.
I’m not saying children shouldn’t participate in team sports, dance or even yoga classes. But how young is too young? I certainly think organized physical activities for anyone not old enough to be enrolled in kindergarten are unnecessary. I think 6 is about the right age to start kids in these types of endeavors. What do you think?