Three-year-old Alisa Rojas attends yoga class twice a week. Her big, expressive eyes show that she enjoys every second of her 50-minute lessons. When it’s time to work on her balance, she does her best to keep steady on a wooden board shaped like a butterfly. Minutes later, she is picking up colorful fabric balls with her toes. At the end of the class, she breathes in and out to the sound of a relaxation song.
Alisa is a student at Fit Yogis, a yoga school for kids founded by Mariela Ortiz and Pía Hevia, two young women who love both yoga and children. After years of taking their work directly to elementary schools, last March the women launched their own yoga studio in the western San José suburb of Escazú.
The bright, colorful space is full of appeal for children, with countless games and props and a great sound system. On the back wall, Bindu the purple elephant, the studio’s mascot, represents the great marriage between yoga and children, Ortiz said.
“Yoga lessons for children are very different from yoga lessons for adults, but the physical benefits are similar,” she said. “With constant yoga practice, children gain more balance and body coordination. They can learn to focus better, and, most importantly, they are doing exercise.”
Ortiz discovered her passion for yoga in 1999 in the U.S. city of Boston, where she was completing a degree in business administration. By the time she returned to Costa Rica, yoga was one of her usual habits. Years later, Ortiz discovered her second passion: children. She became the mother of two boys and decided to become a yoga instructor for children. Early last year, she completed her children’s yoga teacher training certification at Karma Kids Yoga studio in New York City.
While Ortiz was dreaming of opening a yoga studio for kids, she met Hevia, one of her son’s preschool teachers. Hevia’s experience as a teacher had shown her the need to encourage children to do exercise. She began doing yoga in 2007 and received her Karma Kids Yoga certification in 2010.
“What’s unique about yoga that makes it different from other sports is that it’s not a competitive discipline,” Hevia said. “From the beginning, children start a path of personal growth without being pushed or pushing their friends. However, the lessons are practiced in groups, and that helps them improve their social skills.”
In the Fit Yogis studio, yoga classes are fun. Instead of a traditional lesson in which the instructor does something and the students repeat it, Hevia and Ortiz use props and music to encourage the children to adopt yoga positions and improve their breathing skills.
In an adaptation of the butterfly pose, which consists of sitting with the soles of the feet pressed together in front of the body, children wave light pieces of fabric with their arms, mimicking the movement of butterfly wings. Background music helps the children coordinate their movements to a rhythm while the teacher helps them achieve the widest stretch possible. As in adults, the pose serves to improve flexibility.
In another exercise, children pick up little balls of fabric with their toes and place them in a jar. This activity helps them improve their fine motor skills while focusing their concentration. An adaptation for older children involves picking up the balls while balancing on one foot.
Once all the little balls are in the jar, the children are encouraged to pick them up, place them in the palms of their hands and blow them away, as a breathing exercise. Even the youngest children manage to control their breathing and blow away the fuzzy balls in a coordinated manner.
Julienne Wolf, Alisa’s mother, said she doesn’t practice yoga herself but wanted her children to benefit from the practice. “Alisa has a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s a good mix between having fun and doing exercise.”
Wolf said her older son also did yoga for three years, and the benefits were easily noticeable. “He was more at ease with other people. He became more independent, more sensitive to music, and most importantly he loved his classes. At home he would play music and work on his yoga poses,” she said.
Children may start yoga training as young as 1 year old at Fit Yogis. Classes are offered for different age groups, including teenagers: Teensy Weensy Yogis for ages 1-3; Mini Yogis, ages 3-4; Little Yogis, ages 5-8; Kid Yogis, ages 9-12; Kid & Teen Yogis, ages 9 and up; and Teen Yoga for ages 13 and up. The studio also offers lessons for babies and mothers, as well as prenatal yoga. Classes for moms are scheduled early in the day while classes for all adults are offered in the evening.
A monthly fee of $55 includes one class a week. A package of 10 classes, valid for four months, costs $140; 20 classes, valid seven months, costs $270; and 30 classes, valid 10 months, costs $390. Special prices are offered for yearly memberships and for families.
Fit Yogis is in Plaza Montescazú, 1.2 kilometers south of the Scotiabank intersection in Escazú, at the former Toycos location. For more information, call 2228-9141 or visit www.fityogis.net.