There's no place like ohm for families

A yoga class for children as young as 7 weeks old and their parents? Really?

Well, if any doubts remained after half an hour of songs, massages and stretches, the last 10 minutes of this particular Saturday afternoon class would have erased them.

Guided by teacher Abby Dorn, the seven mothers and children settled in for "savasana" (pronounced "shuh-VAH-suh-nah"). It's the traditional closer to any yoga class - a time to lay down, breathe deeply and relax. And the babies, ranging in age from 7 weeks to 16 months old, whose energy and activity levels had been all over the map in the previous 30 minutes, nestled in with their mothers on the floor of the Balanced Yoga studio in Clintonville and were quiet.

Dorn, herself the mother of a 6-year-old boy and due in November with her second child, began to sing a simple and soothing tune. And soon, even Sanya Mae Foltz, a bouncy 16-month-old who is deep into the "minya, minya, minya" stage of her talking life, quieted and relaxed next to her mother, Anouschka.

A few minutes later, the class ended with a shared "ohm" chant. Cindy Colen sat with her 8-month-old daughter Ruby Browning, gathering up their blanket and mat. The Clintonville resident has been a devotee of Dorn's family-friendly yoga classes for more than a year. Dorn also teaches a prenatal class and a family class for parents and children more in the preschool range and older.

"I took her prenatal class," Colen said, "and I always said her class was why I made it through pregnancy. Now this gets me out and with other new moms."

The "chill" atmosphere makes it enjoyable, Colen said, and welcoming for anyone new to yoga. And it does translate to something that Ruby responds to, she said.

"We use some of this at home," Colen said, "and it does settle her down."

Still a Young Trend

Yoga for young children is a relatively new trend in yoga studios, explained Balanced Yoga owner Donna Winters, and it's a practice that's intended to have value for both the child and the parent.

"It should help families learn how to play together and relax together," said Winters, who has taught children as young as 5. And both parent and child can be beginners.

"Those who are experienced (in yoga) actually, I find, want to put a little too much structure into it," Winters said. "But this helps them learn how to be less structured. Not without discipline, mind you, but just less structured about everything."

At Yoga on High in the Short North, manager Stephanie George said parents seem to be attracted to their family yoga classes for a few reasons: "They want to be able to have one-on-one time with their child, but also connect with other parents."

Yoga on High's classes start with the Itsy Bitsy Baby Yoga program for children as young as 6 weeks old and continue through the pre-school age. They also coordinate with WholeKids Pediatrics and Yoga, a medical practice near Grandview, and local libraries to provide more classes.

It is harder to find classes for children older than preschool age. WholeKids has offered a class for girls in the 8 to 12 and teenage groups for several years, said yoga director Lori Wiley, and they're hoping to add more classes in the future for the full range of ages and genders.

In general, say most yoga instructors, 15 is considered the age when most teens can handle an adult class.

What to Expect

Winters said a good kid-friendly class should help a child enjoy moving and also ease them into becoming more aware of how they breathe since breathing is crucial to learning how to "monitor their excitement levels and energy levels," Winters said.

In the case of working with infants, Dorn sees it as a way to reinforce parent-child bonds, while also introducing a healthy physical activity into a child's life.

"We're facilitating the child's experience of themselves and their body," Dorn explained later.

Cost varies from studio to studio. Most offer a variety of payment plans from registering for a multi-week session, which drops the per-class cost to about $10, to drop-in rates which average about $15. With children older than preschool age but who still attend class with a parent, you may have the option to pay for one parent/child team and then a discounted rate for additional children.

Dorn teaches classes that range from prenatal, to the infant-and-mommy, to the family and young child. It's a natural progression that was most apparent during the infant class that Saturday.

Though the very young infants mostly watched their mothers while being lifted or having their limbs moved gently into positions, Sanya Mae, the class's resident "old baby," was already beginning to imitate some of the movements herself.

The same philosophy of low-key, imitative yoga was apparent during a Family Yoga class later that day.

"This is totally low pressure so there are no expectations," Dorn instructed the mom-and-daughter team and the mom, dad and daughter team who showed up for the drop-in class that day.

"It's a lot of show and do," she said.

In this class, 14-month-old Naomi Matthews took to imitating yoga postures and animal sounds more quickly than almost 3-year-old Ella Grace, who was having a balky day. But Ella's parents, Jasmine and Jeremy, gamely kept at the cat, cow and dog poses (with accompanying animal sounds) and, about 15 minutes into class, Ella decided that yoga was kind of fun and joined in enthusiastically.

And that was exactly the goal, Dorn said later.

"Some people approach yoga like dance or a sport," Dorn said, "but in yoga there is no right way. You don't have to do A, B and C. I want them to have a joyful experience."