Mother and child bonded through yoga

Nora Cleanthous, of Idlewylde, is already a yoga practitioner of note — and she's only 2.

"She loves to show off what she has learned," said her mother, Jennifer. "When I change her diaper, she'll stick her butt up and say, 'I'm doing my yoga.' "

Nora also has learned about deep breathing. She does that all the time, her mother said. In fact, she is better at it than her 5-year-old brother.

"If she's in the middle of a crying fit, I remind her to take a deep breath and then tell me what's the matter. It works wonders.

"She calms down and says something like, 'I want my milk.' "

Nora and her mother take part in the Together with Toddler class offered Monday mornings at Yoga on York in the Anneslie Shopping Center.

The yoga and massage studio, at 6711 York Road, offers a variety of classes for all levels and abilities: beginner, intermediate and advanced yoga, as well as yoga for athletes, aerial yoga, and the toddler sessions that focus on children ages 2 to 4.

The class is open to dads and their toddlers as well, but it's typically mothers who show up with their offspring in tow.

Peaceful bond

Yoga on York began offering the class because there appeared to be a demand for it, according to Jayne Bernasconi, a Towson University faculty member who has been active in the field of modern dance and yoga for more than 30 years.

She co-owns the studio with Kristina Auth Paltell, a licensed massage therapist and fitness, personal training and yoga instructor.

"When I was distributing fliers door-to-door to get the studio off the ground, a number of people asked me if we were going to have children's classes," Bernasconi said.

During each session, instructor Spirit Wedmore makes the yoga moves fun for the youngsters.

"We make it play to get them involved in exploring their own bodies to find out what they can do," Wedmore said.

At the same time it's a workout for their mothers. The "together" in Together with Toddler is the parent and child performing in unison.

"It creates a special bond you don't get from other kid activities," said Rodgers Forge resident Ali Peters, who brings her daughters Katherine, 4, and Anna, 2, with her.

"You and your child are totally connected, unlike play dates where the moms talk to moms and the kids play with each other," Peters said. "You're totally focused on your own child."

Wedmore is a certified Karma Kids Yoga instructor who keeps the youngsters enthralled with her singsong voice, chanting and broad gestures.

But the entertainment value of the class pales in comparison to the benefits for the development of the child, Wedmore said.

"Yoga means union — union with the self and then union with others, she explained.

The Karma Kids Yoga philosophy employs animated poses and basic stretching exercises to promote strength, flexibility, coordination and body awareness; breathing and visualization techniques to teach kids how to focus and develop self-control; and interactive games to enable kids to learn about animals, nature and basic anatomy.

It promises inner-strength, confidence and self-esteem, to improve concentration and focus, stimulate the imagination and help kids "release energy in a fun, safe environment. "

Wedmore brings Noah, her 3-year-old boy, to the class, and partners with him as she demonstrates the moves.

"It's wonderful," she said. "I don't have to worry about child care, and he learns about structure and listening and about his own body and about being with other children.

"I'm sure it's the same for all the moms."

Of course Noah has a jump start. "When he was in my womb and I would chant 'ohm,' he would kick," she said.

A bit of a stretch?

Is learning the complexities of yoga too much to expect from a tiny child?

If nothing else, "the little ones just enjoy the bonding," said Anneslie resident Amy Kline, who has been a regular with her daughter Annika, 4.

Annika was nervous the first time, but the class is so upbeat, she loves it now, her mother said.

"I get a workout and Annika is able to exercise and have fun and do things on her own," Kline said. "She'll be showing her two older brothers the poses she learned at the dinner table tonight."

Sometimes the younger children don't appear to be learning anything.

Indeed, 2-year-old Anna Peters just stood there staring and looking forlorn while her mother and her older sister Katherine and the rest of the class on July 18 followed directions.

They "shake, shake shake," "say hello, toes," "rub your hands and feet," "sit up tall," "take a deep breath," "do downward dog," "lizard on a rock" and "froggy jumps," or assume the position variously called "happy baby" or "dead bug."

But that night, Anna and Katherine couldn't wait to show their father the moves they had been taught.

"Anna was very excited," said her mother.

Some of the children are a little young and not totally focused, acknowledged Wedmore, "but they go home and it's amazing how much they remember, and they love it and want to come back."

Sometimes it takes patience on the mother's part. During one class a woman brought her son with her — he looked about Noah's age — and her 10-week-old baby.

The baby watched amiably from the pillow he was propped on, but the little boy was interested in everything but yoga: the car keys and wallet she had left against the wall, the CD player, the shelf on which it stood.

When it came time for him to partner with another child for one of the moves, he almost accepted the invitation … but ended up backing away.

His mother gave up. Obviously discouraged, she packed up half way through the class and left.

"I think she was overwhelmed," said Wedmore afterward. "She didn't allow herself time. You can't have high expectations for a little child. Sometimes it just an unfolding a little bit more each time."

Connected to children

She loves teaching the class, Wedmore said.

"When the children find out what their bodies can do, they feel good about themselves. It's really nice to see them progress," she said. "The mind-body connection they have learned at a young age will take them through their awkward adolescence."

At the end of the class, Wedmore encourages members to become magical butterflies, and asks them to tell her what colors they are. She instructs them to lie down, and close their eyes and imagine themselves flying over the rainbow or a cloud, or sometimes the moon.

Some of the little ones lie beside their mothers, enfolded in their mothers' arms, some lie directly on top of their mothers, and the class is quiet and still.

"I always get something back from teaching," Wedmore said. "I can go in there tired, and irritated because my kid isn't minding me, and I come out very calm and very happy.

"By the end of the class the kids are calm. They just feel so good. Everybody is happy."

Call Yoga on York at 410-372-2828 or visit

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