Read About the Benefits of Yoga for Active Kids in the Vancouver Sun

January 07, 2015

Eight slender arms — a few circled by bright friendship bracelets — reach up and overhead to limber the muscles of pint-sized athletes. The under-11 soccer players stretch and, later, massage away kinks by rolling on foam tubes.

It's a Vancouver yoga class for athletic kids, a group that's getting injured at a higher rate than ever before, doctors say, because of growing specialization in sports at a young age.

van sun jan2015Photograph by: Ric Ernst, VANCOUVER SUN

Kiem Schutter coaches his 10-year-old daughter's soccer team and is also the owner of Qi Integrated Health on Vancouver's West Side which launched the yoga class for girls in October. He plans to offer a similar program for boys in January, but will ditch the word yoga in its title and market it as "smart strength training" instead.

"By the time kids are eight to 10-years-old, they have to take things seriously if they want to be good," says Schutter about athletes who reach elite levels in their chosen sport.

Even his recreational players complain of sore muscles and strains after three practises a week, plus one weekend game — more during tournaments on long weekends.

An advantage of a class focused on stretching and breathing is that it also gives kids the knowledge to identify stiff muscles and work them out, a skill that will help throughout their lives, he says.

Dr. Kristin Houghton is a pediatric sports medicine physician who routinely sees over-use injuries during her weekly practise at Kids Physio Group in Metro Vancouver. She agrees that properly supervised yoga can round out an active life, particular if kids learn to push up to their muscle limits, but not over.

"A huge part of yoga is to encourage body awareness and the recommendations for children would be the same as for adults: If something causes sharp pain, stop. It's about controlled movement, improving posture, flexibility, strength and balance."

More importantly, says Houghton, children should avoid endlessly repeating the same movements and drills. They need one or two days away from a sport each week and should also take a complete break for two to three months a year.

"They need physical rest and emotional rest," she says.

"It's recommended that kids play more than one sport or be involved in more than one activity — and certainly not focus on one sport — until puberty because of the risk of over-use injuries on growing bodies."

Inside Qi's yoga studio, the girls let out plenty of "oooowwws" as they sit back on their heels with their toes flexed forward, something their instructor cheerfully calls the torture pose.

It stretches the bottom of their feet to keep them supple and avoid painful plantar fasciitis.

"How's the pain right now?" asks Alecia Dawn Chin, who spent more than a decade studying Thai massage and yoga in Thailand. "Is it good pain?"

Chin says the self-massage she's teaching is similar to Thai techniques with emphasis on muscle release accompanied by proper breathing.

She moves throughout the room during her one-hour class, adjusting poses and offering advice.

Ten-year-old Jaza Mya says she likes improving her flexibility even though it might not come into play on the soccer pitch.

"I can do a back bend now!"

The classes cost $80 for eight sessions.

Yoga classes for youngsters are scattered throughout Metro Vancouver with programs in community centres, schools and private studios.

Yogabuttons, Kitsilano

The only yoga studio dedicated entirely to children and families was launched two years ago by school teacher Carolyn Lundie.

"It's about connecting movement and breath in a playful way," she says.
"The way we engage kids is through stories, animals and dance."

Lundie says schools also hire her to bring yoga and calming mindfulness techniques to gym classes. Yogabuttons has programs offers for families, children of all ages, mothers and babies, and pregnant women.

By Erin Ellis, Vancouver Sun - January 4, 2015