Is it OK if my underwear shows?” A pink-and-pigtail-clad first-grader rocks like a Weeble on her bottom, holding both legs in a V to the sky. Forgetting about her underwear for a moment, she finds her equilibrium and nails the pose for a half-second, calling “Look, I did it!” before collapsing to the floor in a pile of giggles.
This is Kids’ Yoga at the Atma Center in Cleveland Heights, unique not only for the calm it inspires in this squirmy group of 6-to 12-year-olds, but also for the teacher who makes it happen each week. Sixteen-year-old Lily Goldfarb is little more than a kid herself, a Cleveland Heights homeschooler who’s been taking yoga since she was 6 and teaching it to kids since she was 12.
“Kids are told what to do all the time by adults,” says Atma Center founder Beverly Singh, who brought the kids-teaching-kids concept home to Cleveland after witnessing it in India. “Having Lily as a teacher, they listen better and develop self-confidence — ‘If she can do that, I can do that.’ ”
On one recent rainy afternoon, seven kids cluster around Lily on yoga mats, introducing themselves with name, age and favorite ice cream flavor before lying down for deep-breathing exercises. She guides them through yoga poses such as the cobra pose and sun salutation, and teaches them stress-relieving “bumblebee breathing” — humming with plugged ears and closed eyes.
“Whenever you’re angry about something, just go to your room and do that breathing,” Lily advises her pupils. “It works, I know from experience.”
With growing evidence of the benefits of yoga for kids — especially for attention-deficient children — Lily’s class is attracting kids from as far away as Parma, in part “because their parents say it really helps them focus in school,” she says. But Lily’s also helping kids even farther away, donating a portion of the fees to Atma Center’s adopted ashram in India for school uniforms and supplies.
“It’s kids helping kids,” says Lily’s mother, Susan. “It’s a karmic thing.”