How do you teach yoga to children? It’s a question that’s often on the mind of Michelle Kelsey Mitchell, who’s the founder and executive director of YoKid, a nonprofit in Alexandria that provides instruction in yoga for young people.
Same goes for Pleasance Silicki, founder of Lil Omm, a family yoga center in Tenleytown that offers classes for all ages. The duo figured other folks might be interested in the topic, too.
So last year, they came up with the idea to host an intimate gathering of kid yoga professionals. When they were flooded with presentation pitches, their plans evolved into the first National Kids Yoga Conference, which will be held Saturday at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.
More than 40 presenters, including instructors, scientific researchers and musicians, will address a crowd of hundreds.
“Our target attendee is anybody who’s interested in the well-being of children, mentally and physically, through yoga,” Mitchell says. “For us, that looks like parents, educators, school administration, teachers, also mental health workers.”
Attendees can choose to follow one of the conference’s targeted “tracks” (tools, business, research, schools) or select sessions from the extensive schedule.
The goal is to spark connections and conversations among a community taking a variety of approaches to yoga.
“You’ll see all the different ways people are integrating yoga with all age children,” Silicki says. “Some people in the kids’ yoga world are very rooted in the classic yoga, so they’ll use the Sanskrit with the children.”
“And then some people are taking an entirely different angle, and they’re just treating it so playfully,” she adds, noting that it seems like a game to kids to stand like trees or pretend to be cats and cows as they round their spines.
No matter what instructors do, they have to realize that working with kids is different than working with adults. Focusing too strictly on alignment, for instance, isn’t appropriate for still-developing bodies, Silicki says. And as kids grow, it’s important to teach them how their yoga practice can grow, too.
That’s why the conference also features a track just for teen attendees. It’s a full day of sessions with a focus on body image, self-esteem and techniques for using yoga in daily life.
Mitchell and Silicki hope to offer additional tracks for younger age groups next year. Their plan for the future of this conference: keep stretching.
Register at conference.yokid.org. General admission is $210; college students can attend for $95. (The $55 teen registration is sold out.) Featured speakers include Sat Bir Khalsa of Harvard Medical School, who studies the mental health benefits of yoga in schools, and Jodi Komitor, founder of Next Generation Yoga, the world’s first kids yoga studio.
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