By Katie Demeria
WOODSTOCK -- Tynessa Hazelwood of Woodstock helped her 7-year-old son Xavier strike the correct yoga pose.
"Xavier, put your knee down, like this," Hazelwood said, mimicking the instructor's pose so her son would understand where to place his legs.
Xavier was having trouble, but soon he, Hazelwood, and another parent participant were all laughing as they tried to teach Xavier while keeping up with the class' fast pace.
Joy of Yoga Dance is a relatively new program offered by seasoned dance and yoga instructor Gioia Pharo through Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation.
According to the Center for Disease Control, studies show that weight gain in children may be accelerated during the summer months due to a lack of activity. According to Dr. Deborah Dunn of Front Royal Pediatrics, encouraging vigorous exercise in kids is exactly what will help them stay healthy.
Pharo said yoga and dance are great ways to get kids moving. She said she hopes to eventually have her students progress to a point where they can perform their dance/yoga moves for an audience, as well.
"I know the parents want that, and I kow the kids want that as well," she said. "I think it's really important, because when you get to the level where you have developed an ability and you can start sharing that with people, it gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment."
Dunn said parents should take advantage of similar classes that build character in their kids -- and that encourage them to get healthy.
"Everything you do at these young ages make a foundation for what you do as an adult," said Pharo, who takes a fitness approach to the class.
Dunn said, in the face of the childhood obesity epidemic facing the country, allowing children to learn that fun activities can also benefit their health is hugely important.
Kids that are overweight at 4 years old, she said, are more likely to be overweight at 14, as well.
"We recommend that kids get an hour of physical exercise a day," Dunn said. "The percentage of kids that actually get that is pretty low, it's really striking and unfortunate."
The health benefits of exercise are numerous, she added. It helps children sleep better, combat emotional difficulties like depression and allows them to concentrate better in order to do well in school.
"I find that children today, who spend their time watching television and playing video games, are losing that mind-body connection," Pharo said. "Having that helps with the immune system and builds health in all sorts of ways."
Dunn pointed out that yoga in particular can be particularly beneficial for children, teaching them the breathing techniques they need to stay calm and relaxed.
Childhood stress is becoming an increasingly more problematic issue. Dunn said research shows that the anxiety level of the average child today is at about the same level of children in the 1950s who were hospitalized for psychiatric problems.
"We're making our kids feel anxious," Dunn said. "Yoga can really help. If they practice when they're not upset, then later when they are upset they have techniques they can fall back on."
The class is for children aged 6 to 13 years. The next class is Joy of Dance: Summer Fun, and the registration deadline is June 27. To register, go to www.shenandoahcountyva.us/parks.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org