Purple yoga mats are spread across the floor of the room, creating a pattern with the carpet. Instrumental music playing from a small stereo fills the room. The natural light from the overcast sky peeks through the windows.
Samantha Candilora sits in front of a handful of other girls and holds an expandable ball in her small, 10-year-old hands. As she pulls the edges of the ball out, her peers slowly inhale as the ball grows larger. As Samantha pushes the ball back to its smaller size, the girls exhale at an equal pace.
When the exercise is over, the other girls pay Samantha compliments. She created a relaxing rhythm. She had smooth transitions. She went at a good pace.
For more information about Yoga Calm, visit this site.
For more information about Julie Wiesner’s Yoga Calm classes, visit here and click on the “Yoga Calm” tab.
For the next hour, Samantha and her peers take turns leading one another through a variety of yoga poses, breathing exercises and trust games.
The activities are all part of a class taught by child and family therapist Julie Wiesner. The class, Yoga Calm, was originally developed by Portland yoga teachers Jim and Lynea Gillen. Lynea Gillen is also a school counselor with more than 30 years of classroom and counseling experience.
‘Relax and just reflect’
Yoga Calm blends yoga, social-skills games and counseling techniques. The result is reduced stress, improved self-control and focus, and developed social and emotional skills, Wiesner said.
The class is particularly beneficial for children who are anxious or have difficulty focusing. But it also helps kids who are shy or those who just need a way to relax after day-to-day activities, she said.
Fifteen-year-old Kristen Dolan-Flores uses the weekly class as an opportunity to wind down after a busy schedule that includes going to school, working out at the gym, volunteering with younger kids and participating in after-school clubs.
“These yoga sessions really calm each individual and just gives students a time to relax and just reflect,” she said.
One of the relaxation exercises during the recent session asked the girls to think about the people who make up their community — teachers, cooks, mail carriers, doctors and grocery store clerks — and how they can show appreciation for those people.
Another exercise required the girls to exhibit trust and leadership. They paired up, one person closed her eyes and the other guided her partner through the room by just her fingertip. Afterward, the girls talked about qualities that make good leaders.
Throughout the class, they also went through a variety of yoga moves, including the downward dog, warrior one and cobra. The class is for yoga beginners and honors each person’s physical abilities, Wiesner said.
Wiesner’s weekly classes run for eight weeks each session and are designed for 8- to 15-year-old boys and girls. Throughout those eight weeks, Wiesner watches as the once silly and self-conscious kids gain confidence and poise.
“That’s what I love about (the class) the most,” she said.