During our pregnancies, we practiced yoga to try to relieve stress, backaches, and that awful swelling in our knees and ankles. We did specific exercises to help us get our bodies in shape to deliver and keep our minds calm and focused through the excruciating pain of childbirth. After the birth, we attended mommy and me and post-natal classes to whip our tummies back into shape.

Addison is definitely a yogi in training. She slept in relaxed butterfly just as soon as she came home from the hospital, and she’s always exploring her new body by moving it in all kinds of ways. So when she started mimicking yogis in Palisades Park doing downward facing dog, we decided to find out whether our toddler children could benefit from yoga as well.

Developing a yoga practice can help kids relieve stress, increase their attention spans, and start down the path towards a healthy lifestyle, according to children’s yoga expert Helen Garabedian. Garabedian, author of “Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers: 8-Minute Routines to Help Your Child Grow Smarter, Be Happier, and Behave Better,” claims “you are never too young (or old) to enjoy the benefits of yoga.”

Although Santa Monica is yoga central, there aren’t many studios in town that offer yoga for younger children. Addison took a mommy and me class for kids 3-12 months at YogaCo, a gorgeous donation-based studio that just opened on the Third Street Promenade. They offer classes for the entire family, including the novel daddy and me class.

Kelsey Oldershaw, one of the founders of YogaCo, didn’t have much luck interesting Addison in the poses designed to foster the relationship between parent and child, but Addison did have fun playing with the toys. I got a great ab workout, as Oldershaw has created a practice specifically for getting rid of that post-natal belly bump. Since there were no other moms in class that day I got a private lesson, which is not bad for $20.

I wanted to try out some of the classes designed for children, but Oldershaw explained that Addison was probably a bit young for the mini yogis class, which is geared for kids ages 3 to 13. She suggested we check out the family yoga class on Sunday with Ania Mechlinska. So we did. It was also quite small, with just one other mommy and her adorable son, Logan, 2.

Addison and Logan began by showing off their down dogs for each other. According to Garabedian, “many crawlers and early walkers come into downward facing dog pose naturally as part of their development. Down dog helps these youngest children bear weight into their arms and legs simultaneously, and, by doing so, they are coordinating the use of the upper and lower halves of their body.”

So Addison and Logan were off to a great start, but then baby yoga came to a screeching halt.

When Mechlinska tried to help the kids into a cobra pose, Logan took off like a shot to explore his new surroundings. Mechlinska then patiently tried to entice the kids back to the practice with beautiful yoga pose cards from Europe. The kids each chose an animal and we tried to get them to attempt the pose. Addison did fish pose instead of butterfly, but it’s a start, right? Then Mechlinska tried to get her to do double dog, a partner pose where the baby does a dog on top of the mother’s. She must have tried 20 times before Addison would even attempt it, but finally she did. Success! By then all Addison wanted was her sippy cup so we left the kids to wander and play and started on some sun salutations.

It’s normal for children to become distracted, especially when starting out in a practice. Mechlinska stresses, “kids need structure so the key is to keep coming. Even the most tough to focus kids will settle in after a few sessions.” She also suggests getting a children’s yoga book and practicing animal poses with them in the park. Just keep it “simple and fun,” Garabedian urges, so that children aren’t pushed to their frustration point.

Garabedian also notes that toddlers learn from observation, which means that if we do the poses, they will copy us. Sure enough, watching us practice was what brought the kids’ attention back to the yoga. After making castles out of blocks and dancing with Addison (truly beautiful to watch), Logan finally came around and showed us his magnificent cobra.

Although Zora doesn’t practice yoga poses in the park, she could definitely use some calming zen in her active toddler life, so we decided to check out the free yoga class offered by Kelly Cunningham at the Ocean Park Branch Library. Kelly has a high tolerance for kiddie chaos, which she definitely needed as the room was filled with older toddlers and young preschoolers. Some of the young yogis spent the class climbing on their caregivers or just sitting stunned, but many valiantly tried all the poses, which was adorable. Cunningham focused on animal poses, (and what kid doesn’t like animals?) which she incorporated into a story to keep the kids entertained.

With all the twisting, falling, and pretzel-like bending, I wondered if we needed to worry about injuries. There’s no cause for concern, according to Garabedian. As long as the children are “bringing themselves in and out of the pose independently, they are physically unable to move their bodies beyond their natural limits.”

Ocean Park Branch Library Yoga for Kids, Mondays 10:30 a.m., through Nov. 30, free; YogaCo family yoga is at 3 p.m. on Sundays for $16; Other classes around town: Yogaworks on Montana, Tuesday from 3:30 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. for kids, ages 3-6, and Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. for kids 7 and up; Santa Monica Yoga playdate, Fridays 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.; Yo Mama Yoga, Saturdays at 10 a.m., kids, ages 6 weeks to 6 years.

Upcoming events this weekend:

Saturday, Nov. 21: Coastal Clean-Up at Will Rogers Beach, 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 22: Make a wreath at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, 1:30 p.m., reservations required; McCabe’s concert, Randy Kaplan, 11 a.m.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art NexGen 12:30 p.m.; Oliver! at the Hammer Museum, 11 a.m.

Find a local calendar and helpful links at smatoz.blogspot.com, or leave a suggestion for places to visit.

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