Budding Yogis: Teach Your Child to Downward Dog Through an Itsy Bitsy Program


By Anjum Choudhry Nayyar

We have all sung “ring around the rosy” a hundred times as mothers, but what about ‘ring around the yogi’?  Yes, that’s an actual song sung by downward-dogging tykes and toddlers in a unique yoga class for children, called Itsy Bitsy Yoga®.  This is an innovative development-based yoga program for babies, toddlers, and preschool-aged children that’s been around since 1999 but is now being offered in Toronto.

This program, which is based on Hatha yoga, includes over 150 yoga poses, songs, and developmental activities created by its founder, Helen Garabedian.    Garabedian founded Itsy Bitsy Yoga as a way to bring like-minded moms together with their young children. Her  first book, Itsy Bitsy Yoga: Poses to Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Digest Better, and Grow Stronger (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 2004) is a perennial best-seller and a top ten ‘sleep’ book in the children’s health category on Amazon.com.  The program is already offered in many parts of the world, including India, Australia and the US.

Zen Beginnings, a multi-disciplinary maternity & wellness centre, is the first to offer the program in Toronto.

Itsy Bitsy Yoga® is a program designed for babies and toddlers using yoga moves designed for their physical and emotional development,” said Marina Zelenovic, president of Zen Beginnings.  “There are lots of movements that utilize the left brain and right brain.  The are certain yoga moves that are really good for digestion and easing colic and gas pain, which are common in babies. Then there are other moves that are really good for coordination and balance as children learn to stand and walk.”

She adds children are able to do downward dog when they start walking.

“Many kids will do downward dog naturally. It’s not a hard position for them to get into. When a child starts walking or standing, as they’re about to fall, they lean over and hold themselves up, which is almost like downward dog. As they get better at standing, they can even lift one foot up off the ground so they’re doing a three-foot downward dog which in Itsy Bitsy Yoga is called ‘donkey’.

Each class is 45 minutes and in a typical class, every move has a sing-and-do; a song that goes along with each move.                                                                                             CLICK HERE FOR INTERVIEW ABOUT ITSY BITSY YOGA

“They’re singing each move and that keeps their attention.  In a Tykes class, the two to four-year-olds are really active at this stage so our class really respects that.  We do moves with songs but we also move to another part of the room so they run around and can burn off their energy. Using another song you can gain their attention to do another move. The names of the moves are different: there’s puppy, lumpa lumpa etc.  You really see that it gets their attention,” said Zelenovic.

She says children can start Itsy Bitsy Yoga® at three weeks old and over time can help babies sleep better as well.

“With a baby for example it’s really hard to do tummy time but in our yoga class there’s a number of moves that allow for variations with tummy time.”

Zelenovic, who is also a Certified and Registered Nutritional Practitioner and a Certified Childbirth Educator, and Itsy Bitsy Yoga Instructor says exposing children to yoga at a younger age helps them focus.

“A lot of studies are coming out now that are saying that our kids are really stressed and anxious as young as 8-years-old. Part of that is that our lives are really fast because they’re in a lot of activities. With yoga there’s a calming aspect to it. They have to listen and focus with their yoga instructor. With every class there’s also a calm down portion of so even at the end they’re snuggling with mom and also in a typical yoga class you do a savasana at the end to relax, so we do similar things here.

Zelenovic adds that while sports are fantastic for children, yoga provides children with a different way of focusing.

“If they’re doing a sport, they don’t always have to be present in what they’re doing. In a yoga class the teachers are building on skills they’ve learned over time. They learn to do hand-stands against the wall for example; you can’t just do that and not be present while doing it. In order to get into certain positions they have to listen and apply themselves and focus on what they’re doing. By doing that in small increments they’re actually learning to focus. This is causing them to slow down and be present in the moment.”

Parents are facilitators in all the classes, helping to balance their children. Props such as bolsters and flowers are used in some classes as well.

Here’s ZenBeginnngs descriptions of their yoga classes:

Baby Itsy Bitsy Yoga®

Baby Itsy Bitsy Yoga® is for infants, ages 3 weeks to 9 months (or pre-crawling) and their parent. The gentle yoga practiced in this class allows parents and their babies to deepen the bond they began at birth. It’s a calming and nurturing yoga practice that makes babies happier and more comfortable in their bodies. The poses are specifically designed to comfort and support optimal development of a baby’s body and movement abilities. No previous yoga experience necessary. For more information, visit www.itsybitsyyoga.com.

Tots Itsy Bitsy Yoga ®

Tots Itsy Bitsy Yoga is for crawlers – 21 months old.  It is a supportive, fun-loving, and active yoga class. As tot’s mobility increases, classes offer tot-centric poses that encourage and support their physical explorations. Tots become more confident in their moving bodies as they practice yoga both in and out of class.

During a Tots Itsy Bitsy Yoga class crawlers and walkers playfully practice yoga postures while they are standing, sitting up, walking, and jumping. Parents also get to do a little yoga, but no yoga experience is required.

Tykes Itsy Bitsy Yoga®

Tykes Itsy Bitsy Yoga® is for toddlers, 21 months to 4 years old, and their parent/caregiver. The class offers developmentally-centered yoga poses, songs, and games that encourage parents/caregivers and their children to deepen the bond they began at birth. This 45-minute class is personalized to meet the interests of the children as they learn yoga through social interactions, repetition, and play. For more information visit www.itsybitsyyoga.com.

Kiddie Yoga

Ages: 3-5. 6-9, and 10-12

Yoga comes out of the head and into the heart by coming into life in this class for kids bringing in creative movement designed specifically to get kids excited to explore Yoga. We stretch, play, relax, laugh, use imagination and have fun. This class is engaging for the kids getting them involved in speaking to the teacher, moving the body, doing partner work with new buddies in class, and maybe showing mom or daddy after class some cool new moves. It is a playful class as well as relaxing for your child by using imaginative relaxation techniques towards the end to help calm down and restore.

Teen Yoga – 8 week

A dynamic class for teens ages 12-16 years. Working with the breath and a variety of postures in order to keep a happy and motivated mind is the goal of this class. We will be teaming up with partners, listening to great music, creating dialogue and new questions about poses and postures in this class. We will work on the basic hatha series, which is a helpful and invigorating series for all body types! This 8 week session allows your teen to get the chance to make new friends, create community, and have some fun.

Family Yoga – 8 weeks

This new yoga class focuses on bringing family closer together with a powerful and supportive practice. Watch your family advance into their practice while having fun with all the different postures at all different levels. Family yoga incorporates supporting postures and partnering (for child, parent, and siblings). This class is a great way for parents to bond with their kids.

For more information visit: www.zenbeginnings.com

For more information on an Itsy Bitsy Yoga® class in your area visit: http://www.itsybitsyyoga.com/classes/find.html

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