Baby backbends
Children’s yoga spreads throughout Durango

A child student meditates in the Smiley Building during Erika Berglund’s weekly Energy Awareness and Yoga for Kids class. A growing number of students and classes are embracing kids yoga in the region, and children and their parents are enjoying the positive results./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Shawna Bethell

Adults have long known that yoga can lend a sense of clarity and balance to life. Those who know the deep relaxation of a pose well executed or have felt a simple breathing exercise re-invigorate a cloudy mind can now share the experience with their children.

Yoga programs for children are springing up in Durango, and though the practices themselves may be different from the adult classes, the outcome for the youngsters can be equally satisfying.

“Yoga for kids is very different from the adult practice because some of the adult breath techniques are not suitable for children and can be dangerous,” says Cara Bessko who teaches a kids yoga program through the Durango Pediatric Association.

But with warnings out of the way, Bessko then talks excitedly about her children’s program explaining that she focuses on the animal poses such as lion, dog and cat that are fun for children. She also uses games to build cognitive skills and intuition.

“Kids like to be challenged and they are naturally capable,” she explains. “Though this is a noncompetitive class, many do like to try to do the headstands and the backbends, too.”

Bessko has been teaching kids yoga for the past three years and gained her certification through the Radiant Child Yoga Program taught by Shakta Kaur Khalsa who is also a Montessori Educator.

Radiant Child Yoga Program taught by Shakta Kaur Khalsa who is also a Montessori Educator.

“I had a studio at Gem Village, and I specifically brought her in because I wanted to learn from her,” says Bessko who also teaches adult yoga. “I guess I became interested in teaching kids because people would comment on my own children’s behavior, and the only thing I could think of that I might be doing different was having them take part in my home practice.”

According to Bessko, yoga poses for infants, where their limbs are moved through the poses for them, can help with sleep and digestion problems. She has also worked with young people with Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy, though these classes are typically one on one, or a scenario where she teaches the family how to work with the child.

Aside from teaching her monthly class for 3- to 7-year-olds, Bessko also teaches during the school year at the Durango Montessori School on Tuesday afternoons. These sessions are open to the public.

“It’s been proven that schools that have introduced a yoga program into their curriculum have seen a drop in things like bullying and an increase in attendance and improved grades,” she says.

Another program this summer is the Energy Awareness and Yoga for Kids class that is lead by Erika Berglund on Wednesday afternoons in the Smiley Building. Berglund, with a bright smile and enthusiasm to spare, is equally excited about her program for children 6 to 11 years old.

“It is so important to give kids tools to work with when they are having a hard time, whether that comes from stress, being overwhelmed or feeling angry,” she says. “In this program, we look at some of those tools like a yoga pose, breathing or thinking of a safe place to calm themselves down.”

Berglund’s class also focuses on animal poses, and she will present them as a theme such as a walk through the jungle and what do you see? A lion? A cobra? The children then can become those animals via a yoga pose or sounds. She also incorporates Tai Chi movements in her course, which allows a constant flow of movement when remaining in a pose is too confining for the class.

“Sometimes we are waterfalls or volcanoes,” says Berglund, standing and bending to the ground before rising up and bringing her hands above her head demonstrating a move from class.

Berglund also incorporates games at the beginning of her class, then moves into the yoga section before doing a meditation at the end.

“If we can help create healthy patterns for kids to follow when they are young, maybe when they are older and faced with choices about drugs and alcohol, they can make better decisions.”

During her meditation sessions, Berglund has her kids lay back and close their eyes while she walks them through a visualization of a trip to a beautiful beach. She tells them to feel the sand in their toes and to lie down on the sand and feel themselves relax. She plays a Native American flute and uses the music as well in the meditation.

“I give the kids an opportunity to choose something they would like to invite their parents to participate in,” says Berglund. “They chose to invite their parents to the meditation exercise, and it was so cool to see the kids and their parents laying together on the floor.”

Both instructors stress the importance of having parents involved with their children’s practice as they both see yoga as not just another activity to schedule for kids, but as something the young people can use to help themselves through bad days. A parent’s involvement can help support the kids as they utilize the “tools” the classes are providing. •

For further information on Bessko’s classes at the Durango Pediatric Association call 259-7337. Berglund can be reached at 749-1926.



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