As an avid exerciser, I know that it’s important to do cardio, strength training and stretching. But as a working mother of two, that’s not realistic. When I have time to work out, I opt for torching calories on the treadmill or toning with free weights. But then I heard about family yoga, classes where moms and dads get into pretzel poses side-by-side with their kids (usually those ages 3-8). Being able to downward dog with my 7-year-old daughter, Lily, sounded ideal. I could add yoga to my life without taking time away from her and could teach her a few things about staying healthy. Plus, if she learned how to exhale at this age, I was hopeful that she wouldn’t follow in my stressed-out footsteps. Still, I was skeptical that I could reap any mind-mellowing benefits with one of my kids on the next yoga mat—especially when those kids can, well, be the cause of some of that stress. But I decided to try.
During the Family Yoga class at YogaWorks Soho studio, Lily and I were joined by our instructor and four parent-child pairs. The class started with us saying “om.” To make it interesting, our teacher told us that we could say any word instead of “om” as long as we all said our words at the same time. Afterwards, she asked the kids which word they picked—which led to hysterics as one child said gummy bears, another bird and a third a favorite potty word. Next, she led us through sun salutations, an energizing series of poses that are done in a single flow and repeated several times. The kids got excited trying to keep up with the Simon Says-like twist and silly faces that our teacher added to this traditional yoga move; I got excited that my muscles were getting a nice stretch.
Throughout the class, our teacher continued to take traditional yoga poses and make games out of them. The goal of each was yoga-related, but the kids simply saw it as having fun. For example, in plow pose we used our feet to pass a ball to one another. During the cat/cow back stretches done on all fours, Lily climbed on my back for a little ride, and while I did a plank on the floor, Lily did one on top of my outstretched body. We also placed our hands and feet together to do a flower pose and did back-to-back downward dogs with her feet resting on the back of my legs. We made faces at each other from this upside down position which had Lily laughing so hard she was holding her stomach. One of Lily’s favorites was when the teacher spilled a sea of colorful pom poms onto the floor and had us use our feet to pick them up and put them in a little bucket. Oblivious to the fact that she was stretching and soothing her soles, Lily delighted in filling her bucket to the brim.
Next exercise? We had to blow one of those pom poms across the floor. The point was to teach the kids about using their breath, but the lesson for us grown-ups went much beyond that. I watched as these kids lived so in the moment, focusing on nothing but blowing that little furry ball across the floor. They were so happy, calm and centered. At first, we adults stood around watching, but enticed by how much fun our kids were having we eventually found ourselves sprawled across the floor and wrapped up in the moment.
Class ended with the usual corpse pose, though our teacher never referred to it as that. Instead, she had us lie on our backs, close our eyes and told us to imagine that we were in a favorite place. “I’m going to the beach,” one child shouted. “I’m going to the rain forest,” said another. “I’m going to a candy store,” said a third. Where am I going, I thought? I took a lead from the little ones and drifted off to the ocean. Usually during the end of any workout, my mind races to what’s next, be it a work assignment I have to get back to or what we’re having for dinner. I was surprised how present I was in this class, never worrying or wondering about anything except what was happening in the moment.
Though Family Yoga wasn’t as intense as a grown-up-only class and won’t boost my flexibility as much, the other benefits I reaped were well worth it. In traditional yoga classes, the relaxation comes from focusing on your movements and breath. In Family Yoga, I got to that same calming place by watching my daughter laugh until her stomach hurt, bonding with her while we exercised and trying to mimic her child-like wonder about life. And if that can’t get me to a zen place, then nothing will!
Find a Family Yoga class at one of YogaWorks 23 locations at (www.yogaworks.com).