It’s a late winter afternoon at Body, Santa Fe’s popular wellness complex. As sunlight slants across the studio’s polished wood floor, instructor Kathy Walsh and Helen Young, her assistant, welcome their small group of youngest yoga students, one of whom comes barreling down the hall ahead of his mom to get there. Kathy gives everybody a few minutes to settle into places in the circle on their day-glo orange and neon pink “magic carpet” yoga mats, smiling, addressing each child by name. “You can be anything you want to be!” Kathy says. “My grandma told me that, and I believed her.” The two five-year-old girls, Afsana and Danika, stare at her solemnly; Jahio, who’s three, keeps hopping around on his knees, laughing, rolling, crashing into his sister.
Kathy starts by reading a picture book, one of several she’s written. Listening as the engagingly simple story unfolds, all three kids relax against their mothers, silently curling the edges of their mats between their fingers and rocking. After the story ends, “We’re going to be eagles today!” she tells them. First, though, Kathy and Helen model deep breathing, instructing the children to breathe along with them. Kathy shows them how to modulate their breaths with an extremely kid-friendly “breathing ball,” which they pass around the circle. It’s a sphere made of Lego-like components that you can expand and contract. Danika and Afsana shyly give it a try but Jahio is fast unraveling; his mother, after repeated attempts to settle him down, calmly takes him by the hand to sit with her against the wall and watch. Then Kathy and Helen lead the girls in a series of yoga poses, including a twisty stretch, cat pose and sun salutation. One of the girls is—quietly, happily— especially limber. Then it’s time for the magic carpet ride! “Today we’re going to a mountain,” Kathy says, instructing everybody to grip the edges of their mats on their way first to a magic forest. Girls, instructors and the remaining mom take a walk in the woods, noticing trees, birds, rabbits. With the mountain in sight now, everybody does mountain pose, then a tree pose. “Let’s jump over the river!” Kathy calls over her shoulder, the others hopping from mat to mat behind her. Now they’re eagles, perched on a cliff, then flying. After a rain dance, they come back to the room, give each other “a big hug of love,” and Kathy and Helen bow to the girls in turn, telling them, “You are a bright shining star,” as, lastly, the girls lie on their backs in corpse pose as Kathy puts a small jewel on each one’s forehead. “Who wants to color what we saw on our walk?” she asks, handing out paper—and who should suddenly appear, crawling across the floor, jumping over mats, but Jahio, who wants to color, too. “I’m glad you’re back!” Kathy tells him. “And I hope you’ll come next time, with your sister—then you’ll already know what we do!” He smiles a secret, pleased smile and hunkers over his paper.
The early January launch party for Kathy and Helen’s new yoga classes, attracting upward of 50 three-to-12-year-olds, definitely indicates a mounting interest. Calling their program Body’s Peace Place, Kathy offers Magic Carpet Yoga twice a week: two classes for Rainbow Kids, ages 3-6, who may be accompanied by parent or caregiver; and two classes for Star Kids, ages 5-11. “After 11,” she says, “it’s the change time, when kids start getting really busy with a lot of after-school activities. So it’s good to plant the seed early. You can watch as younger beginners start to get it—their shoulders go down, they relax. Young kids adore the namaste, the ‘bright shining star,’ dancing in the rain. Taking a magic carpet ride to the beach, for example,” she continues, “trains kids to be in the moment, feeling the warm sand, smelling the ocean—feeling their feelings, seeing that it’s okay to feel sad, it’s like an ocean wave,” and once it’s passed over us, another feeling will inevitably take its place.
The importance of being able to center oneself, Kathy believes, is especially important for today’s children in their busy, hectic lives. “They are able to go to that place of peace inside, no matter what is happening on the outside,” she writes in her blog (joyohboy.com), “and ultimately, peace is where the power lies.” It helps children connect with harmony; “They live a life of joy.” And they’re able to listen to their own small, still inner voice. “Intuition guides children to do what is best for them,” which, Kathy writes, brings them to a vibration of peace, attracting “more good things, and [that] takes the child round and round in a circle of joy.”
Kathy and Helen are both certified children’s yoga and meditation instructors. “I feel like I’ve been creating this program my whole life,” says Kathy, who first got interested in meditation and yoga in the early ‘80s when she was introduced to Swami Satchidananda’s work. She raised her two daughters to do yoga and meditation tapes with her every morning, and as a result, both have grown up “so connected,” Kathy says proudly. Helen’s interest also goes back several decades or more. Currently, she teaches 5th grade in a southside Santa Fe public school. “I break up our classroom day with yoga,” she says. Which, if you know 5th graders, is no small feat. Helen has a carpet in her room; the kids go to it and make a circle, expectant and ready whenever she announces these breaks for yoga and breathing exercises. “It helps them calm themselves, instead of punching. When you can create a peaceful environment, acknowledging kindness and positivity with affirmations,” Helen maintains, “kids will rise to the occasion.”
Kathy always looks for what’s amazing in a child. “I’ve always loved kids. Some kids may doubt that they can do this, but I see them 100 percent doing it—all the poses, and they can feel that. I know what this does and how it’s life changing—in my heart and in my soul.” And yoga’s subtle magic, she says, is not lost on kids. “’Did you do your breathing this week?’ I’ll ask, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I had a test, or I got scared, and the breathing helped me relax.’”
Both women are very grateful to Body for giving them the opportunity to give children what they so much love. “It’s such a gift,” Kathy says. Helen agrees. “I always wanted a job that didn’t feel like work but like play!” she laughs. Kathy adds, “We look at it as one yoga kid at a time. Kids are already so ready for this! They desire to live in a peaceful world.” During January’s launch party, Helen says, “Kathy was just vibrating love the whole time!” And as a witness to one of their classes, I can totally attest to that. Watching the two of them lead the kids, the mom and a baby sister on their magical forest adventure, including becoming soaring eagles, they were both so joyful and elated, I knew that if I was one of those kids, I’d be here every week. Come to think of it, why don’t they make fun, magical yoga classes like this for adults?
Body of Santa Fe is located at 333 West Cordova Road in Santa Fe. 505.986.0362. bodyofsantafe.com.
Yoga Classes for Children
Our web search found the following listings:
High Desert Yoga
Kids’ Yoga incorporates individual and partner yoga poses, breath work and relaxation techniques into a dynamic and playful experience for ages 6-11. Some of the kids’ yoga classes are also offered through UNM Continuing Education.
4600 Copper Avenue NE. 505.232.9642. highdesertyoga.com.
Do you like to bark when you’re in downward dog? Then we have a class for you! We offer an interactive, multi-level kids’ class. Get ready to jump, dance, stretch and breathe deeply. The class is designed to increase strength, flexibility and self-regulation while building self-esteem and social skills.
4300 Paseo del Norte 505.688.7772 and 1400 Jackie Road #104 in Rio Rancho. 505.896.7777. blissfulspirits.com.
Kids Yoga & Qigong: Have fun while building body awareness, sensitivity and harmonizing with nature. MogaDao Kids is playful and safe and will encourage your child to move in new ways, attune to their surroundings, enhance coordination and build confidence. We use the five elements from Traditional Chinese Medicine to understand what exercises, yoga poses and qigong forms our bodies, minds, hearts and the world around us need most.
901 West San Mateo Road. 505.982.0990. yogasoursce-santafe.com.
FAMily Jam Yoga: We will use our bodies to tell stories, explore movement through imagination, increase our flexibility and strength, and have fun! FAMily Yoga is a playful environment for children to learn yoga together as a family. For children ages 3-10. 2047 Galisteo Street, famjam.net/yogatree.php.
Try our Kids’ Yoga Tree class with Miss Alice, geared for children ages 3-11. Each class will have a theme and we will have fun with poses that create connection and peace for children. Stretch your fun muscles.
112 Camino de la Placita. 575.758.8014. shreeyogataos.com.
Story by Gail Snyder