On a recent Friday afternoon, I sat inside Luma Yoga in downtown Santa Cruz, waiting for a busload of six to nine-year-olds to arrive from Santa Cruz Montessori school; a field trip to practice mindfulness through yoga.
The family-focused yoga and wellness center opened five months ago on Center Street, in what used to be a locksmith’s garage. The resulting space is impressive: industrial cement walls are balanced with bright paint, a plush waiting area, several quiet rooms for massage and acupuncture, and the shining wooden floors of two sun-bathed yoga rooms.
The eleven school children poured into Luma, bouncing off the walls—actually, pinging off the walls is closer to the truth—thoroughly wound-up in the way that only a ride across town on a yellow bus can do.
But the jitters and clamor of outside voices subsided to a focused buzz soon after the children arranged themselves in a circle of yoga mats. Their attention turned to Lynda Meeder, director of of children’s programming at Luma, and certified YogaKids(TM) trainer.
Aside from being one of the most precious hours I’ve ever spent as a fly-on-the-wall reporter, the class was very different from the methodical adult class: as much as their small bodies were exercised and stretched, so were their imaginations.
There were sun salutations (“now grab a little sunshine and go ‘Ha!”) nature and seashell impersonations, and the “breathing ball” which was passed around for the kids to demonstrate the type of breath they were using to be calm, to be strong, or to be energized.
“They realize the power of their breath really quickly, and how it regulates their emotions,” Meeder explains.
“Especially in a society where we’re always telling kids ‘calm down,’ but we’re not necessarily teaching them the tools for self regulating,” adds Kate Tripp, who co-founded Luma along with Meeder and two other local yoga moms, Jada Giberson and Valerie Moselle.
The benefits of kids’ yoga are vast, as it helps them develop a positive relationship with their bodies, and mastery of their muscles, says Meeder. Focusing on balance and sensory integration helps them organize their minds, and the hyper and hypo-active kids reach a common, centered baseline.
That yoga helps kids cultivate better self esteem and self-awareness was apparent in the first few minutes, when the kids recited the Yoga Kid’s Pledge:
“I believe in myself,” they chorused. “I love my body, I’ll always say I can do it. If I say I can, I can—yes!” And the most amusing: “I’ll stay on my mat and keep it flat!” (A noble effort was made by all.)
Children get hooked on the intimacy and comfort of the yoga studio, says Tripp, and they want to keep coming back to explore those feelings and experiences within a group and within themselves. Indeed, the space is quite different from the school environment, which can be wracked with anxiety for some kids: “It’s one place where every kid is perfect exactly the way they are, they don’t need to perform,” says Meeder.
While Luma’s schedule includes a full offering of all different kids yoga classes, from babies in postnatal classes, to “Toddler and Me” classes, and yoga classes for all age groups, they are also reaching out to schools interested in bringing in their students. Schools might just have an incentive to do so:
Researchers at California State University who examined the correlation between yoga and academic performance, discipline, attendance and self-esteem found a 20 percent increase in the number of students who reported feeling good about themselves, and a six percent increase in classroom discipline, according to a 2007 study published in Greater Good Magazine.
Some local schools are already heeding those results. Dr. Percy Abram, head of Gateway School, has seen positive results after incorporating mindfulness into the curriculum two years ago—not just through a yoga class elective, but mindfulness in walking and eating and breathing exercises, which have become a regular (and embraced) part of every school day at Gateway.
“The impetus was that our faculty wanted to find ways to reach students who they saw as increasingly impulsive, increasingly less attentive, and they wanted to find a way to alleviate that in the classroom,” says Percy. “Mindfulness has increased attention in the classroom, increased levels of emotional regulation, greater empathy, less impulsivity… I see this as a permanent part of our program now.”
Luma Yoga is at 1010 Center Street in downtown Santa Cruz. Sign on to www.lumayoga.com to see their full schedule of yoga and movement classes for all ages.