In a softly lit basement room of a Stillwater yoga studio, Katie Corbett asks her students to lie down and close their eyes as she leads them through a meditation exercise.
A few students squirm as they find a comfortable position. Some whisper to their neighbors.
And two brothers are seized by an attack of the giggles.
Unfazed, Corbett continues, guiding the children through an imaginary dreamscape.
This was the scene on recent Thursdays at Compass Center for Healing on Chestnut Street.
Three women created the class — Marilyn Calver, a longtime yoga instructor, Corbett, a children’s music therapist, and Andi Hoeppner, a special education teacher and kids’ yoga instructor.
An earlier iteration of the class, which received a grant from the University of Minnesota, was a pilot to see whether movement can be used to help children deal with stress. It was aimed at kindergartners, first-graders and their parents. Families were given regular homework and their success was tracked by surveys, Calver said.
Based on research that childhood stress is rising and is commonly linked to parents’ stress, the instructors wanted to teach coping mechanisms to whole families.
“We felt … that the parents should be involved so they could recognize there was stress and start to work on it,” Calver said.
Because the class was successful — the kids made great progress and all participants reported positive outcomes, Calver said — the instructors adjusted the curriculum slightly and offered a drop-in summer version called “My Yoga More!” for kids ages 5 to 10.
Participants weren’t tracked for progress as they were in the pilot course, but the focus was the same.
“We’re teaching these kids that they have control-regulation skills” to navigate stress and anxiety, said Hoeppner, who said she’s seeing an increase in those issues at school.
“When we as adults get stressed, we have coping mechanisms. But kids sometimes react with socially unacceptable behavior.”
Like a typical yoga class, “My Yoga” taught a variety of positions and breathing techniques. The integration of music, art and imagination was aimed at engaging students and speaking to them in languages they understand.
“Different kids are engaged at different times,” said Hoeppner, who leads the yoga portion of the class. “So when you do art, movement and music, something’s going to click with them.”
During the recent class, Corbett and Hoeppner used the techniques to teach nine kids of varying ages and energy levels a sun salutation combination, then led them in meditation. The hour was peppered with Corbett’s original songs, children’s giggles and imaginative interpretations of animal poses.
movement segment, Hoeppner showed the kids several poses: the praying mantis, the fish, the dead bug — which was met by a collective “Ewwww!” — and the lion.
“I do this one when I’m really frustrated or have a lot of energy I need to get out,” Hoeppner told the group. “If you’ve got a lot of feelings and you need to get them out, sometimes it’s good to do the lion.”
This was followed by a swell of roars.
After their meditation, which was equal parts engaging and calm, the kids were asked to draw what they imagined and to come up with their own pose.
“Every child had a different story, a different path,” said Calver, who observed the class. “You could see they just liked having their voices heard. In a group setting like that, they’re more comfortable, confident and trusting.”
“My Yoga” ended Aug. 15, but Calver said she and the other two women would like to continue their work.
She said she’s not aware of any other local courses that use the integrated approach to help children. To that end, Corbett said she hopes the team can create books or CDs so their techniques can be taught elsewhere.
“We’re trying as a group to see if there are other research avenues we could pursue,” Calver said. “We’ve been encouraged by how supportive the community has been (including schools and social service organizations). They’re also seeing more families stressed out, so they were happy we were going to try something different to address it.”
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.
Nine-year-old Amelia Lehmann of Stillwater said she thinks about a robin who goes to the forest when she meditates during a yoga class and workshop in Stillwater. The pilot for the class was developed with a grant from the University of Minnesota.
Children’s shoes are lined up outside of a yoga class and workshop in Stillwater.
At right, 8-year old Lilly Fuschetto of New Richmond, Wis., does a balance pose.
Katie Corbett of Stillwater plays the guitar while children jam along with instruments during class.