If you thought yoga was all about lengthy poses and quiet contemplation, you obviously haven’t been to a Funky Fireflies class. Run by Yogalates Bliss from a lovely studio in the Fraser Suites Hotel Apartments, when we arrive with two boisterous four year olds in tow, we’re met by instructor Mandy Wright, the friendly instructor who immediately puts the kids at ease.
Mandy has been busy transforming the studio before the class begins – a mini obstacle course, complete with tunnels and wobble-boards, runs around the edge of the room, while we spy boxes overflowing with all manner of toys and brightly coloured scarves. ‘I come in with my little red wagon loaded when teaching a kids class,’ says Mandy. ‘The reason is simple. The younger they are, the shorter the attention span, and when they’re playing they don’t really realize how much exercise they’re doing. Sometimes parents have an expectation that their children will come to class and perform all the poses as per instruction and behave beautifully. This doesn’t happen, we have fun and learn along the way – yoga is a journey. I use scarves, ribbons, bean bags, bells, rhythm sticks, balls, tunnels and balancing beams, and then I also include sensory toys such as cuddle tunnels, crash pads, tactile stepping stones, balance boards, hoppers, scooter boards and squishies. You can just teach yoga but it’s far more fun being a butterfly with butterfly wings, and why be a caterpillar without some tickly legs? I do find that something will appeal to each child, and hopefully will help them to settle quicker and give them the opportunity to shine.’
Mandy’s enthusiasm is infectious, and the class soon fills up with eager kids. Her approach sees the kids using their imaginations as much as their bodies – taking on the role of jumping frogs, crabs and turtles, and pulling of some pretty impressive yoga positions in the process, without even realizing it. That’s because the principles behind yoga are part of every day life, which is why kids take to it so well, Mandy explains.
While the Funky Fireflies classes are suited to kids aged between four and eight, yoga is something that parents can try with their children pretty much from birth. ‘Yoga is really a way of life and includes poses, controlled breathing, meditation, focus, and so much more, so it really begins in the womb. When you draw your baby’s knees into his stomach to release wind, that’s a yoga pose. When your toddler throws a tantrum and forgets to breathe, as a parent you teach him to take deeper breaths, that’s a form of yoga too. For the physical exercises themselves, small children learn by imitation and will mimic your poses and breathing, which is a lovely way to build trust between a parent and child. At a young age you are working on stability, balance and body – it’s about awareness more than flexibility. It is also essential to introduce good posture and breathing habits. Some of the games serve to teach the children to recognise their bodies and learn how to self-calm using breathing, exercise or sensations. Balances like the tree-pose start to work on focus and concentration and as for meditation, we play mind-quietening games. That said, I wouldn’t tackle meditation in earnest until a child is spiritually aware at around 12 years of age.’
Aside from the obvious benefits for health, fitness and overall flexibility, yoga can affect other, more subtle aspects of a child’s general wellbeing, too. ‘The exercises enhance the body functions and result in a stronger immune system and better digestion,’ says Mandy. ‘If you’re upside down and twisted up, your mind also needs to learn up to cope and “untangle” in these awkward situations. The breathing in particular creates a body-based way of dealing with anxiety.’
The first thing that most parents comment on is their kids’ improved sleep patterns. ‘Children definitely sleep better and are more aware of their bodies, too,’ Mandy adds. ‘Parents will often relate how the children go home and show them poses or do their yoga before bedtime.’ This is one claim we can definitely back up – while we usually have nocturnal visitors in our room through the course of a night, after our yoga session, our blissed-out babe slept through the night and woke up refreshed and well-rested, rather than in her usual grump (as did we). Which sounds like as good a reason as any to go back for another try.
Dhs50 (one-off session), Dhs650 (14 sessions). Tues 3.15pm-4.15pm. Funky Fireflies, Fraser Suites Deluxe Hotel Apartments, Sheikh Zayed Road (nr Media City), www.yogalatesblissindubai.com (050 328 9642).