Self-esteem. Emotional development. Coordination. Balance.
While we often speak of the general benefits of yoga, few take into consideration the profound effect that yoga can have on the development of children.
“There is a visible and drastic shift in a child — practicing yoga can be empowering on so many levels,” says Katherine Dalton-Brown Long.
Katherine is the founder of Yoga 4 Youth, a yoga studio located in Woodbrook, Trinidad.
The studio’s welcoming and relaxed environment invites one and all to embark upon his or her own personal journey of physical and spiritual awakening.
Yoga: An Awakening
Katherine first began practicing yoga in 1999, and immediately noticed a fundamental change in her life as a result of it.
“I felt as if I had been sleeping for a long time and suddenly came alive,” she reminisces.
From that introduction to yoga, her transition from student to teacher was a gradual one after she began to notice the difference that physical therapy had on her son, who has dyslexia and was undergoing a remedial DORE programme.
DORE is a unique personalised programme of physical exercises that aims to improve the efficiency of the cerebellum for people with learning difficulties.
“The exercises were similar to those I did when practicing yoga,” she explains.
“And before long, his performance in school improved, as did the results of his psychoeducational assessment. We tend not to appreciate how important physical movement is, but through him, I saw first-hand that movement is a key component of neurological and cognitive ability.”
Her experience with her son led her to do more research into the connection between the physical and mental aspects of the human body, and inspired her to delve into a yoga teaching programme to share her knowledge and experience with others.
Yoga with Young Ones
She followed this with further courses in working with teens and displaced youth, special needs children, yoga therapy and a particular course called “Off the Mat” that works to counteract the “school to prison” pipeline, empowering our youth by making them
conscious of their choices and consequences.
Katherine then began teaching yoga programmes for children at various studios in Trinidad, but as the classes grew rapidly in popularity, she eventually opened her own yoga studio in 2012.
In bridging the gap between teaching yoga to adults versus to children, Katherine notes that working with children involves greater versatility in maintaining a format that appeals to young minds.
“We explain every step in its simplest form, and use a lot of props,” Katherine explains.
“Feathers, pom-poms, fans and straws all help to demonstrate how to breathe and stretch. We make it into something they can associate with — for instance the ‘tabletop’ yoga pose is ‘crab’ for the kids. Also, we do ‘toe-ga’ using toes and walking on heels and on the balls of the feet — these types of exercises show them how to use their entire bodies and build their core strength.”
Yoga 4 Youth also uses weekly themes which are illustrated in all classes to unite the individuals in
each class, bringing a focus on the mental and emotional elements which lead to personal growth.
For instance, a theme might be ‘honour’ and for the children’s yoga, a story related to this theme
would be shared just before the end of class during the relaxation period.
Yoga 4 Youth Classes
Yoga 4 Youth offers a range of classes to suit every age and ability.
The studio’s key style of vinyasa yoga focuses on synchronising yoga postures with breathing, and incorporates pranayama (breathing exercises) and flow sequences of asanas (postures) woven together to facilitate an energetic, balanced practice.
All classes end with Yoga Nidra, an ancient technique of self-exploration and inner growth through deep relaxation.
Specific classes include:
- Beginners: this class allows for a lot of individualised attention to help the yoga newbie understand and practice the basics of a vinyasa flow practice. Asanas are introduced, as well as pranayama and relaxation techniques to complement stress relief and overall well being. This class is also ideal for individuals who may be returning to practice after a hiatus or injury, and in fact this is a class that you are welcome to join at any time to develop more profoundly your knowledge of yoga.
- Vinyasa I: this class emphasises the connection between asanas, breath and alignment, and is slower paced than Vinyasa II.
- Vinyasa II: for those experienced in yoga, this class goes at an energetic but comfortable pace, with more variations within asanas that will invigorate and refresh. Deep breathing techniques are also introduced in this class.
- Chair Yoga: this is designed for those with limited mobility, and modifies yoga asanas so that they can be done either seated in a chair or using the chair for support, with no risk of injury. Focus is also placed on breathing techniques which help promote relaxation of the muscles.
- Tots & Nen-nen: this class is a 45-minute session for parents or guardians and their toddler-aged children (up to 3 years). It involves a series of movements, songs and story telling. Physical movement stimulates parts of the brain responsible for cognitive function, and the children also develop body awareness, language, listening skills, cooperation and powers of observation.
- Prenatal/Pregnancy Yoga: this class encourages each pregnant woman to dedicate time to herself, and enhance her body’s strength and flexibility with regard to the birthing muscles and improved blood circulation. It also helps reduce backache and anxiety, and encourages women to adapt to the changes in their body in a positive manner.
The studio has classes throughout the week from Monday to Saturday, and on every first Sunday of the month there is an additional class at 6:30 a.m. in the Queen’s Park Savannah for all who want to attend; payment for this Sunday class is by donation.
Their April class will be held on Sunday April 12th (moved as April 5th is Easter Sunday) and all proceeds will be donated to making life better for
children who fall into the Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Yoga in the Community
As well as the running schedule of classes during the week at the Yoga 4 Youth studio, Katherine and her small team are also open to opportunities that may arise to spread the teachings of yoga to the wider community.
“We go out to schools, and I also visit the women’s prison,” she says. “But there is so much more we would like to do.”
She feels passionately about teacher training programmes, to enable the country to develop with experienced practitioners who can in turn share their knowledge and training with their communities, with a particular focus on children and teens.
“It takes someone different to be a yoga instructor, especially one that works with children,” adds Katherine, who balances a job as an optometrist alongside managing the yoga studio.
“It involves first doing a lot of work on yourself, which means that you have to be prepared to be open and authentic because otherwise the children will notice immediately and they would not be able to connect with you.”
With children, however, she notes that the change brought on by practicing yoga is more visible than in adults, as they are naturally more open with their experiences. As well as physical changes, she often witnesses in her young students a boost of self-esteem and a change in their general outlook and approach to life.
“Also, very often, I find myself bringing my kids’ training into my adults’ classes,” she adds, laughing. “Adults and children alike can take life too seriously, and just by coming to a yoga class, they can have that safe space to relax and be at peace with themselves.”
For more information, visit the Yoga 4 Youth website, their Facebook page or contact the studio at 1 (868) 290-YOGA (9642) or [email protected] . The studio has recently located and is now at 103 Tragarete Road, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Trinidad.
What You Need to Know
- A drop-in class at Yoga 4 Youth is TT$70 for adults and $45 for children and $60 for Tots &
Nennen/Parent & Baby classes. Children will pay a reduced rate paying the school term rate.
Adults can also purchase a 20-class pack, which will work out to TT$55 per class
and is viable for the course of a year.
- Corporate, school and institution sessions can be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and the price would depend on:
- The location for the classes to be held (at the studio, or at the company’s office)
- The number of persons in the class, and the number of classes over a specific period
- Equipment required (e.g. whether the studio would need to supply yoga mats)