Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Every Kid's Yoga: A Yoga Instructor Based in New York City Has Developed a School of Inclusive Yoga to Provide Group Instruction in Yoga and Mindfulness for Kids with a Range of Developmental Abilities

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Every Kid's Yoga: A Yoga Instructor Based in New York City Has Developed a School of Inclusive Yoga to Provide Group Instruction in Yoga and Mindfulness for Kids with a Range of Developmental Abilities

Article excerpt

Inhale, arms overhead. Exhale, forward fold. For many years, yoga has allowed practitioners around the world to improve breathing control, decrease physical tension, and discover the boundaries of the body. The practice of yoga can foster a sense of physical, emotional and cognitive balance by inspiring stillness and movement when each is most needed. Craig Hanauer, a yoga instructor based in New York City, has developed a school of inclusive yoga, "Every Kid's Yoga," to provide group instruction in yoga and mindfulness for kids with a range of developmental abilities.

In the program, Craig draws from his studies as a creative arts therapist, from his training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and from his work at the Parkside School in Manhattan, where he taught yoga to kids with special needs for 13 years. At the Parkside School, all teachers incorporate breathing and movement instruction into their classroom activities. An integrated yoga practice complements the school's language therapy and counseling programs.

In 2004, when Craig joined the staff of the Parkside School, he found that the community of instructors teaching yoga to kids with special needs was largely uncoordinated. He encountered one teacher-training program on the subject, but it emphasized individual instruction. Already certified as an arts therapist, he sought an understanding of how to teach kids in a group setting. Craig decided to take matters into his own hands. He established "Every Kid's Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Kids with Special Needs," a program based at the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA.

"My vision," Craig says, "was to gather people together who had similar ideas, who wanted to do similar work."

Since 2004, Craig has connected yoga practitioners and yoga instructors interested in creating inclusive spaces for young yogis. The program has continued to grow. Classes, demonstrations, and workshops can be found in studios and at conferences around the country.

One morning in April, Craig and I sat down to discuss Every Kid's Yoga. Craig shared thoughts on the key components of a good inclusive group yoga practice, ideas about inclusivity, and advice for parents getting their kids or themselves ready for class.

THE ARC OF THE CLASS

For most of childhood, our attention spans are short, quick, and drawn outward. When we're receiving specific forms of therapy or medication, our energy levels can be variable, and our biorhythms, too. So the structure of an Every Kid's Yoga class is more dynamic than the structure of most adult yoga classes.

At the beginning of each class, Craig arranges color-changing tea lights around the room. As kids settle onto their mats, he asks them to announce each color in their heads, observing quietly: Green! Blue! Yellow!

"They become mesmerized with this candle," Craig says. "It's an incentive for them to be still and follow directions, and it keeps them focused."

As the class proceeds, Craig encourages kids to tune into their senses. He uses guided visualizations, movement instructions, and external cues. Kids are prompted to check in with their bodies and themselves: What am I seeing? How am I feeling? What am I smelling? What am I tasting?

The goal of an Every Kid's Yoga class is for each kid to listen to her body, to the way it interacts with her environment. In this way, the class discourages the top-down inhibition typical of highly structured schools and disciplinary institutions --if you sit still, you'll be rewarded and favors the development of bottom-up inhibition--if you receive what you need, you'll develop an internalized sense of organization.

Every Kid's Yoga grounds each kid in the space of her mat. Throughout the class, kids' energy levels are brought up and then down, up and then down, ultimately landing in a place of authentic calm. And, Craig explains, while kids are moving through individual yoga postures, there's a driving rhythm to the class. …

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