Yoga is good for so many things – stress relief, posture, balance, flexibility. The kinds of things adults are concerned about.
But if ever there were a time kids need to learn flexibility and techniques to calm themselves, this is it. So, Novant Health’s go-to resource for all things yogic – Angela Gallagher – led sessions for children that have been recorded and are now available on YouTube.
Teaching yoga to kids is nothing new for Gallagher. She’s been a yogini (female practitioner of yoga) for 34 years and has taught children, teens and adults for 22 of those. She started practicing yoga right out of high school – long before there was a yoga studio on every corner. She got deeply into the practice in the late 1980s when she went to India, lived on an ashram and became certified in Sivananda yoga.
She’s been teaching in the Winston-Salem area – Forsyth County schools, Salem College, Novant Health – for 20 years. She’s offered yoga classes for Novant Health team members and patients, including pregnancy and postpartum yoga. She’s modified her classes to allow people with mobility issues – including cancer patients and pregnant women on bed rest – to practice yoga.
Dr. Russell Greenfield, Novant Health’s director of integrative medicine, wanted to help alleviate stress and tension in the front-line staff working with COVID-19 patients. Gallagher’s yoga video quietly amassed 50,000 page views, and it’s climbing by the day. Other team members did videos on music therapy, meditation and aromatherapy.
The new set of yoga videos is geared to everyone from kindergarten to adulthood.
Yoga for grades K-2
This series of six videos is geared to get little ones out of their chairs and up and moving with short yoga bursts. Playful, fun songs give students physical activity breaks during study hours. Laughter, jumping, singing and playing makes yoga “class” fun – and leads to a better day.
One video in the series focuses on inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. This kind of deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Kids don’t need to know that; they just know it helps soothe them.
“For smaller kids, everything is three minutes or so,” Gallagher said. “We want kids to hop out of their desk and do something fun – or pretend they're a bear hibernating for the winter to rest and recharge. Or learn to self-soothe. I’ll say, ‘You know, sometimes you just get mad. And it’s OK, but it’s good to notice the emotion, feel it and then let it go.’”
Yoga for grades 3 through 5
Designed to give students physical activity breaks, burn off excess energy and refocus, these videos teach stretching, basic yoga poses and balance. There are also videos that focus on getting peacefully centered through deep breathing.
Anyone who ever dreaded PE because they were more than a little uncoordinated (so many cringe memories!) will be relieved to know that anybody can be good at yoga.
Yoga for middle school
Kids build inner and outer strength while also getting a boost of self-confidence. “I am very aware of how self-conscious you can be in middle school,” Gallagher said. Her videos for this audience are designed so tweens feel minimal awkwardness.
“I tell middle schoolers that there’s not supposed to be a heaviness in their throats,” she said. “That's just letting you know that you're having a negative emotional reaction to something. You can guide your thoughts away from the negative. This is where positive thinking comes in.”
Yoga for high school
The videos for older teens focus on strength, alignment, and the pain and other problems that arise from sitting all day. There’s also lots of breathwork for stress reduction. “High school students are under so much stress these days,” Gallagher said. “Just a few minutes of deep breathing and getting centered can help counteract that.”
Yoga for parents
The average American adult sits for 12 hours a day, Gallagher points out. That is not what our bodies are designed for. “We were born to move,” she said. This video demonstrates how parents can incorporate beneficial movement throughout a typical workday at and beside a desk and even in business attire.
Gallagher is an effective evangelist for yoga. “Yoga is an entire lifestyle,” she said. “It’s how you eat. It’s how you think. It's how you speak – to yourself and to others. It’s meditation and positive thinking. It’s very specific breathing exercises.”
The benefits are many. And yoga requires no special equipment or membership fees. Anyone can do it – nearly anywhere. It’s the exercise-meditation-breathwork just right for a pandemic.