Monday, February 25, 2013

Breathing with Ease: Children Experience Yoga at Peabody Institute Library


By Alanah Percy
Gordon College News Service
February 23, 2013

Peabody, MA- Betsy Reid, 52, is a professional when it comes to relaxation. As she leads her children’s yoga class to Shavasana, which is a period of relaxation, she is reminded that life is at its best when experienced in the spirit of peace.

“I tell my kids they can’t control what’s going on around them but they can control how they react,” said Reid.

A children’s librarian, Reid holds several free yoga classes for children at the Peabody Institute Library of Peabody, MA. Classes run in four-week blocks with two weeks off between sessions. Little Yogies, a child and parent yoga class for ages 3-5, begins on Wednesday, March 6, from 10-11a.m. Friendship Yoga, for kids ages 6-10, will begin on Tuesday, March 5, from 4-5p.m. An additional Friendship Yoga class is held on Saturday mornings from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester, MA.

Incorporating stories, poems and songs, Reid’s classes contain both traditional yoga exercises and upbeat activities to keep the kids engaged.

The library began included yoga in its calendar events five years ago after a grant from Metropolitan Life called “Fit for Life,” one supporting community health. According to Carol Bender, a children’s librarian at the branch, she encouraged Reid to start a yoga program for children. “It’s a perfect fit for her,” said Bender. “She is great at what she does.”

Thrilled by the opportunity to share her passion for yoga and health, Reid said she was first certified to teach children ages 3-5. After recognizing a growing interest in the program, she went back and was recertified as an instructor for older children.

“I lead my class in a series of relaxing poses and teach them how to breathe deep,” said Reid. “I remind them to breathe in school if they get a bad grade on a test or if their friends are making them mad. Breathing helps kids make better decisions when presented with challenges.”

The Peabody Institute Library is not the only one with children’s yoga. In fact, the movement is spreading to other locations such as Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester and Brown Elementary School in Peabody. The programming may eventually be integrated into other local elementary school’s health class curriculums.

“Libraries are becoming more civil minded,” said Reid. “It’s not just about books, it’s about the whole child.”

In addition to classes, the library partners with Haven for Hunger-an organization funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Lahey Clinic to give away free, nutritious lunches to kids during the summer. 

Healthy food options coupled with yoga classes are not only great for getting the community more active, but they are also helpful in making students more academically competitive. Librarians agree that the rising academic expectations have the potential to place stress on children, making it difficult for those who lack confidence in the classroom. According to Reid, preschoolers are now required to know their alphabet and more when they enter their first year of school.

As a means of helping students cope with these scholastic pressures, Reid also offers MCAS yoga classes at the Peabody library on Tuesday afternoons from 4-5 p.m. for students preparing to take the MCAS, a Massachusetts based standardized exam required for students in elementary through high school.

“You would be surprised if I told you how many kids can’t touch their toes,” said Reid. “It’s a sign of inactivity.” Reid teaches classes in hopes of helping kids feel more grounded and physically fit. An active woman who takes yoga three times a week, she has personally seen the benefits of such classes and reaps the benefits of increased strength and flexibility.

According to Beverly Hospital, yoga’s vital role in freeing people to gain control of their emotions and stress is not only helpful for children but also great for those experiencing illness. The hospital is one of many offering yoga classes to patients with chronic disease.

“Yoga is about appreciating what you have and putting the to-do list aside,” said Reid. 

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