By Emily J. Weitz
Any tall tower is built on a strong foundation. If it wasn’t, it would never be able to reach the sky. This is the philosophy behind early childhood education in any sense, but it’s particularly relevant when it comes to bringing yoga principles to babies and toddlers. These building blocks for stretching, breathing, playing, and moving teach more than just physical wellness. They also give little yogis the tools they’ll need to navigate stress and change: realities that start as soon as babies leave the womb.
In the cheery downstairs room at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton, Wednesday mornings are a time when these principles are taught in the most playful, easy way. Kristin Davey, founder of Peaceful Planet Yoga in Sag Harbor, offers a weekly yoga class for babies and toddlers and their caregivers that has grown into a community event. With about a dozen regular participants enjoying the free public class, Ms. Davey is introducing a whole new generation to the healing powers of yoga. At the same time, she’s bringing their parents and caregivers together to strengthen the community.
“It’s important for moms, after having a baby, to get back into physical shape,” said Ms. Davey, “and it’s also a great way to connect to other moms. When I was a new mom, I didn’t have this experience and I wish I did.”
It’s also an opportunity to connect with the baby without all the distractions and obligations of home. With the dishes piling up, emails to answer, and laundry to fold, it can be difficult for parents to pause and spend some special time just playing with their babies. This forum facilitates that.
“Peaceful Planet Yoga ‘mommy and me’ style yoga classes provide a wonderful bonding experience for moms and babies,” said Ms. Davey, “while engaging in activity that promotes a healthy lifestyle.”
Ms. Davey, a mother of three, was a preschool teacher for ten years. She loves teaching children, and she knows that playfulness is essential to the learning process.
“Little ones need to move,” she said. “They respond to music, so we do lots of singing and dancing.”
When class begins, the little yogis sit in a circle and start with a welcome song. Even the ones who are still counting their age in months know to rub their hands together as Ms. Davey begins her song, “Rub your hands, sit up tall, take a deep breath, Ommmm.”
They move through many different yoga poses throughout the course of the practice, from playful sun salutations to a triangle pose series with a special song, all the way into a guided meditation in savasana. Babies laugh, stumble away from the group, and find their way back. Parents find they’re actually getting a yoga practice too. But unlike some other styles of baby yoga classes, this one is really focused on the little ones.
“I am definitely a kids’ yoga teacher,” said Ms. Davey, who has completed three kids’ yoga teacher trainings. “My focus is on making it fun and silly because I want them to love it and keep coming back.”
Ms. Davey has been teaching kids’ yoga around the East End for years, but she finally found a real home in Sag Harbor. Peaceful Planet Yoga, the only yoga studio in the Hamptons devoted entirely to kids, opened last September.
“It’s a magical place for kids to gather,” said Ms. Davey, “and just have a safe place to be. To practice yoga, to hang out. We have a peace lounge where they can just come and sit and color.”
Many of the young yogis who attend her classes at Peaceful Planet have been practicing with her for years.
“I have yogis who started with me at 18 months,” said Ms. Davey, “and now they’re nine and they’re still with me.”
She believes that the teachings they’ve learned through the yoga practice benefit them in all aspects of their life. She’s gotten emails from parents who watched their kids sit down to practice angel breath when they needed to calm down, or do a few yoga poses to help get through a hard situation.
“They can use yoga to reduce stress before tests,” said Ms. Davey. “And it gives them tools to use if someone isn’t being nice. Yoga transforms their lives in a meaningful way.”
It’s hard to believe, looking around the circle at the dimples and gums, that anyone will ever treat these babies with anything but kindness. But yoga offers lessons for life, and these smallest yogis are at the beginning of a long journey. Ms. Davey is arming them, in the sweetest possible way, with the tools they need to grow gracefully, from the strong foundation up.