By Tara Cavanaugh
An Northside third grader is crashing to the ground in a melodramatic fashion, splintering her voice like a lightning bolt.
And she’s not going to get in trouble. Just the opposite: she’ll get praised by her teacher JT Quon.
Quon teaches elementary yoga once a week at Northside. The class is one of Rec&Ed’s youth yoga classes, which are offered to elementary and middle school students.
The middle school class is similar to adult yoga, but the elementary yoga class is much different. “We kind of co-create the class together,” Quon said. “I get input from them about their energy level and what kind of game they want to do.”
Quon said students don’t stay on the mat the entire class. “They like to run, so they might crawl like a crab for a minute, and then come into a yoga pose.”
The eclectic elementary class appeals to multiple learning styles, added Quon, who is a certified elementary school teacher and a certified yoga teacher. Students learn the poses by moving their bodies, making sounds and watching one another.
Interestingly, the kids are excellent at the “corpse pose,” which is the final resting pose in yoga. “It’s the most important pose of the practice,” Quon said. “Doing the breath work and moving is just to get to this final meditation posture, to get into this centering place where you can let go of everything, where you can let go of the external world, and begin to come into yourself and connect with something higher and let your mind rest.”
The youth yoga classes have big benefits for both elementary and middle-school-age students.
“Although it’s considered a non-competitive sport, you’re kind of within yourself and you create this self-pride and this confidence that you might not get from something else,” Quon said. “It’s a centering practice, it helps you center your mind and nurture your own spirit, your own emotion.”
Another big benefit: body control.
“When we’re adults, we have that body control and that body awareness, but kids don’t always have that,” Quon said. “It’s really good for kids to become aware of their bodies, and to create that body control. It helps them concentrate better on their schoolwork.”
What also helps students concentrate better is the physical exercise of doing yoga, Quon added. When kids are sprinting around or doing frog jumps on their mats, they’re working their bodies.
Perhaps most importantly, yoga helps young practitioners find stillness in their day.
“We live in this type-A world, where we’re constantly going,” Quon said. “And there are high expectations, living in this area. Yoga just gives them a chance to find some stillness, and not have any expectations, to just be where they are today, and just accept that.
“I think that can help with building self-esteem and who they are. If you can just accept yourself and be honest with who you are, then you find a deeper gratification for who you are instead of looking outward for external motivation/validation.”
Registration for the next round of youth yoga is going on now, and classes begin the week of the 22nd. Classes are being offered after school at Ann Arbor Open, Allen, Burns Park, Bryant, King, Northside and Thurston. Yoga Flow will also be offered at Clague, Scarlett and Slauson. See the Rec&Ed catalogue for details.