More than a workout

Toddlers, elementary-aged children benefit from yoga in many ways

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— Joanne Palmer led the kids around the room on what she called "The Breathing Train." Palmer and about 10 children from 5 to 9 years old ran in a circle until they were breathing heavy.

"Feel the ribs of the person ahead of you," she said.

"How does their breath feel?"

"I'm out of gas," one child said.

Every week, Palmer teaches yoga to young toddlers and elementary-aged children using songs and storytelling to guide them through a series of stretches, poses and relaxation methods.

Last Tuesday's theme was "A trip around the world."

The breathing train first took the kids to Nepal, where they could pretend to be Mount Everest by standing in yoga's Mountain Pose.

Then they bent into the Downward Dog Pose -- know here as the "down diggety doggy down" pose -- and barked as loud as they could.

The journey continued to Japan, where people drink tea. They all sang "I'm a little teapot" while bending into the Triangle Pose.

"There are also volcanoes in Japan," Palmer said. "Let's do the Volcano Pose.

"Pretend that you are shaking up a can of diet soda and then let it explode."

After the breathing train visited Egypt, the rest of Africa and Peru at Tuesday's yoga class, the children gathered around Palmer and listened to her read a picture book about children from all over the world.

"There is always an educational component to my yoga classes," Palmer said. She ends each session by reading to the children. When she uses the theme "Being Kind," the day ends with a story about the goodness gorilla from "Chicken Soup for the Children's Soul."

The children in Palmer's yoga classes always end the session with a relaxation exercise.

They lay on their backs and Palmer places a Beanie Baby on their stomachs.

"Take the Beanie Baby for a ride," she tells them. "It gives them a way to focus on their breath, a way they can understand."

Yoga is fun for the children, but it also gives them skills they can apply to other aspects of their life. The Volcano Pose is one example.

"This is a great way to help them let out anger," Palmer said. "When they get upset, they can let the volcano explode instead of hitting someone."

Yoga can be useful for children struggling with stress.

"Parents are so much busier these days," Palmer said. "Especially in this town, they are working several jobs as well as caring for their children. They pass that stress down to their kids.

"When I was young, my mom stayed at home and when I got out of school, I came home and played. Now, kids go to after-school programs."

Palmer herself is a single mother who works several jobs: She is a creative writing teacher, Pickles the Clown, a yoga teacher and works at SpringSips. She knows the life of a child living with a busy mother.

"Stress isn't the only reason to do yoga," she said. "We are always telling kids to keep quiet, calm down, relax, but no one teaches them how to do those things."

"Yoga for Kids is not just running around," she said. "We play different games where they learn about anatomy. Sometimes I use words like 'patella.'"

Victoria Strohmeyer, the yoga instructor at the Bear River Center, introduced Palmer to Yoga for Kids. Strohmeyer gave Palmer's son, Peter, a yoga video and yoga mat for Christmas.

"Peter and I were doing the videos together," Palmer said. "We both enjoyed it and it was relaxing. It got me interested and (Strohmeyer) encouraged me to start training to be a teacher."

The training began in California with a three-day class. Palmer continues the 300 hours of class work with the help of a mentor in Fort Collins. She will graduate with her certification in June, she said.

"I think yoga is important to teach kids because it is noncompetitive and anyone can do it," she said. "Not long ago, I taught a group of kids from Horizons and they did really well.

"Not every child will become an Olympic ski racer, but even if they are a ski racer, yoga will give them flexibility and focus."

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