The girls bound into the room, chatting and giggling. They don’t look like yogis. However, they clearly know the routine of this class as they help teacher Chersten Keillor take mats and equipment out of her large totes and set them up.
LEARNING TO BE CALM, LISTEN AND FOCUS
Chersten begins class by having the girls find a comfortable position, close their eyes and notice the sounds around them. She uses a chime to indicate when an exercise is starting and ending. The girls are still and quiet, eyes closed, focused.
The girls then lie on their backs and put bean bag “buddies” on their bellies. This extra weight helps them feel their stomachs rise as they focus on breathing very deeply, which allows the kids’ heart rates to slow. This is a stress management technique that is very effective for kids and adults, and practicing it in class will make it easier for the girls to access these strategies when faced with a stressful situation.
Next the class moves into stretching and yoga poses, and then the girls teach each other poses that they have created. The atmosphere is relaxed and unintimidating. The kids have a great rapport, helping and encouraging each other.
TRAINING THE BRAIN
Working with children is not new to Chersten. She has a passion for helping kids be mindful and grateful. A mother of two, she recognizes that kids need to be taught how to slow down and make better decisions. Kids are told all day long to sit still and be quiet, be calm, listen and focus, but no one really teaches them how to do that.
The brain is a muscle that needs to be trained to be able to improve focus and the ability to pay attention. “Learning to bring awareness to your thought processes, habits, reactions and beliefs allows you to make new choices in each moment and choose new thoughts and habits that will serve you better,”
Kids are surrounded by technology, and unfortunately this trains brains to be distracted. Yoga counters that. Chersten says a fundamental goal of yoga is to “quiet the chatter, think more clearly, have more self-control and bring your attention and mindfulness to what you are doing, saying or thinking.” She says that it is a gift to learn yoga so young, and the skills will serve them well throughout life.
This is the first time Chersten has offered a class like this at Assisi Heights. Part of the mission at Assisi Heights is “to be a compassionate presence for peace in our world,” and Chersten feels that yoga makes its participants “more compassionate because of the emphasis on mindfulness and the connection between yourself and others.”
In yoga there are lessons about non-violence, truth, generosity, hard work, moderation, gratitude and contentment. Chersten’s vision is to impact as many children as possible “so that we raise more kind, compassionate, aware and caring children to grow into conscientious adults.”
Coming in August, look for a two-day yoga and mindfulness camp at Assisi Heights for kids 9-13 year olds. If you are interested in registering your child, go to rochesterfranciscan.org/whats-happening/515-yoga-mindfulness-for-kids.html.
Emily Watkins is the owner of Empowered Wellness & Fitness Studio.