GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 2, 2013

Kids' yoga programs gain traction

By Alanah Percy
Gordon College News Service

---- — Betsy Reid, 52, is a professional when it comes to relaxation. As she leads her children’s yoga class to Shavasana, which is a period of relaxation, she is reminded that life is at its best when experienced in the spirit of peace.

“I tell my kids they can’t control what’s going on around them but they can control how they react,” said Reid.

A children’s librarian, Reid has been hosting a free Friendship Yoga class on Saturday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30 at Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library for children ages 6 to 10, and will be leading a class for middle schoolers at O’Maley Middle School in May. She also leads classes at the Peabody Essex Institute in Peabody.

Incorporating stories, poems and songs, Reid’s classes contain both traditional yoga exercises and upbeat activities to keep the kids engaged.

According to Carol Bender, a children’s librarian at the Peabody Essex Institute, she encouraged Reid to start a yoga program for children. “It’s a perfect fit for her,” said Bender. “She is great at what she does.”

Thrilled by the opportunity to share her passion for yoga and health, Reid said she was first certified to teach 3- to 5-year-olds. After recognizing a growing interest in the program, she went back and was recertified as an instructor for older children.

“I lead my class in a series of relaxing poses and teach them how to breathe deep,” said Reid. “I remind them to breathe in school if they get a bad grade on a test or if their friends are making them mad. Breathing helps kids make better decisions when presented with challenges.”

At Sawyer Free Library, the four-week sessions have been full — today marks the final week of the four.

“We’re very fortunate we have a special fund, the Constance T. Rhinelander Performance Fund, that we use to fund children’s activities at the library,” said Christy Rosso, the children’s librarian. “There’s been a lot of interest, and a lot of the kids took part.”

The Sawyer Free Library is not the only one with children’s yoga. In fact, the movement began five years at the Peabody Essex Institute and spread to Brown Elementary School in Peabody. The programming may eventually be integrated into other local elementary school’s health class curriculums.

“Libraries are becoming more civil minded,” said Reid. “It’s not just about books, it’s about the whole child.”

Librarians agree that the rising academic expectations have the potential to place stress on children, making it difficult for those who lack confidence in the classroom. According to Reid, preschoolers are now required to know their alphabet and more when they enter their first year of school.

As a means of helping students cope with these scholastic pressures, Reid will offer yoga classes at O’Maley Middle School on Wednesdays in May for students preparing to take the MCAS, the Massachusetts-based standardized exam required for students in all grades from elementary through high school.

Rosso, who formerly served as a school librarian at O’Maley, said that the amount of interest in the children’s yoga program at Sawyer prompted the decision to offer a yoga session to O’Maley students at MCAS time. Reid will lead these classes, teaching the students some methods to reduce stress at test-taking time, Rosso said.

O’Maley students can sign up for the free program through the school’s guidance department.

“You would be surprised if I told you how many kids can’t touch their toes,” said Reid. “It’s a sign of inactivity.

“Yoga is about appreciating what you have and putting the to-do list aside,” she added.

Senior Alanah Percy is a fellow for the Gordon College News Service.

Staff writer Andrea Holbrook contributed to this story.