Jewish Preschoolers get into Yoga

The practice of yoga is on the rise. More than 20 million adults reportedly practice yoga, and now even preschoolers are getting in on the myriad benefits of the activity.

Yoga for the youngest set is offered in at least two Jewish Portland settings. The Mittleman Jewish Community Center offers several sessions of kids’ yoga during the year, and PJ Library and Congregation Shaarie Torah have teamed up to offer monthly Torah Yoga for toddlers and preschoolers accompanied by a parent. The free sessions meet the second Saturday of every month through May.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health, yoga may help one to feel more relaxed, be more flexible, improve posture, breathe deeply and reduce stress.

“Much like yoga for adults, kids’ yoga has been shown to help soothe and calm the mind,” says MJCC Health and Wellness Director Jennifer Harrington. “Like the rest of us, kids live in a bustling busy world and yoga is one way to help counter that. Learning the techniques of yoga at a young age helps kids to feel empowered, giving them tools to relax and calm the mind.”

Jennifer says one preschooler was a regular participant much of last year. Instructor Amy Bradford watched the child transform from being a restless kid when they first started to the participant who was most calm and collected after months of the yoga class.

The latest session at MJCC began Oct. 27 and continues through Dec. 15. The class for kids ages 4 to 6 meets 3:45-4:15 pm Tuesdays. According to the program guide, the class is taught in a playful manner that blends asanas, music, breath work and magical mediations.

“From a physical standpoint, yoga increases flexibility, strength and provides children with an overall body awareness,” adds Jennifer.

At Shaarie Torah, the October session attracted 15 participants for a session focused on the story of Noah. Professional yoga instructor Rachel Stern engaged the toddlers and preschoolers in an interactive Noah’s Ark Shabbat-Our Animal Family. Kids had the opportunity to act out all the animals while appreciating the story!
“It was amazing, and our Rachel Stern did magnificent work with the kids and parents,” says Shaarie Torah Education Director Dorice Horenstein.

“They (kids) love animal poses, warrior poses and tree pose,” says Rachel. “These are things to which they can relate. Some kids enjoy the calmness and the breathing, as they learn how to calm themselves when they are upset.”

Dorice says she came up with the idea for child/parent yoga two years ago as a way to bring young families to synagogue apart from using the regular hook of holidays, art and Shabbat, but rather using what parents would want to do to engage with their children.

“Here is an opportunity for families to engage in exercise while learning about Jewish themes, participating in Kiddush, singing some prayers,” says Dorice. “It has been simply wonderful!”

Sessions meet from 10:30 to noon at Congregation Shaarie Torah, 920 NW 25th Ave. Future sessions include Biblical Mishpacha, Nov. 14; Hanukkah, Dec. 12; Tu B’Shvat, Jan. 9; Joseph and his brothers, Feb. 13; Purim, March 12; Passover, April 9; and  Israel Independence Day, May 14.

“Torah Yoga adds another benefit of integrated learning,” says Rachel, who has taught yoga for nine years. “Participants remember the stories and themes more clearly because they have the connection to a physical action. … Adding physical actions to the Torah and holiday stories makes them more fun for kids to experience and a more easeful sense of connection to their bodies and their developing sense of spirituality.”

For more information on the PJ Library program, contact Dorice at 503-226-6131, ext. 242, or education@shaarietorah.org.

For information on the MJCC class, visit oregonjcc.org or call 503-244-0111.

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