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Kid-sized pretzels

The students filter into their yoga class at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA wearing the usual assortment of T-shirts and sweats, ready to stretch their limbs, unwind from life's stresses and focus on meditation.

But this yoga class is anything but usual.

"Let's do the boat pose now!" commands yoga instructor Shannon Schnibbe. "Everyone lay down on your bellies and grab your ankles."

A handful of students comply while a 2-year-old plays with her toes and, a blond 5-year-old in a pink ballerina leotard examines a rack of exercise gear.

"I need one of these," says 5-year-old Alix, reaching for a jump rope, hardly looking like a boat.

"I'm doing the boat pose," says 5-year-old Samantha Peterson, of Central Point, beaming at her mother, Luz.

A typical yoga class this is not — but it's yoga nonetheless.

Yoga for Tots, one of a handful of classes to crop up around the Rogue Valley for the youngest of exercise fans, began in March.

With kids and adults facing more hectic lifestyles than ever in a fast-paced, fast-food world, local health and fitness experts are looking to yoga as not only a way for adults to reach their inner self and improve flexibility and balance, but as a way for younger generations to do the same.

At the very least, Schnibbe says, kids' yoga classes offer youngsters a chance to experience a class-type setting and focus on getting in touch with their bodies.

On a bigger scale, yoga for kids teaches youngsters to slow down and recharge mental batteries, stretch to improve coordination and balance while providing a relaxing, noncompetitive activity.

Kids with special health issues, such as hyperactivity or being overweight, can especially benefit mentally and health-wise by taking time to settle down and focus on their bodies.

"It really helps kids learn to focus," Schnibbe says. "They can totally learn to focus at a young age, so it's really good for them, even for just a few minutes at a time."

While similar to adult yoga, child yoga focuses on kids' love of animals and a small-scale approach. Adult poses are made kid-friendly. Downward-facing dog, for example, becomes downward-facing puppy.

And the atmosphere is less formal as kids are asked to hop like frogs and flutter like butterflies.

For anger management, poses like "the dragon" and "volcano," Schnibbe says, teach kids to deal with frustration.

A yoga teacher for more than 20 years, JoyFull Yoga owner Louise Lavergne began offering kids yoga at her Jacksonville studio a decade ago after teaching her own son various poses. Teaching kids to focus and calm down, she notes, helps kids and parents when a tantrum rears its ugly head.

"It's a very creative process," Lavergne says. "The way I work with them is I incorporate levels and songs to really stimulate their creativity and help them learn how to quiet their bodies and manage their nervous system at a young age.

"We do a song about 'yes' and 'no,' and when a kid is stuck in 'no,' it totally takes them out of that stuck place in their brain and can actually bring them out of a solid, terrible-2s tantrum," she says.

Central Point mom Luz Peterson signed up 2-year-old Daphne and 5-year-old Samantha last summer to teach her girls about fitness and knowing how to calm down — even if for just a little while.

"Basically it's a good time on Saturday morning to get them some exercise, and it's just time I can spend with them, just us," says Peterson.

"I've always liked yoga, and they're a little too excited for the adult class. This is just for them, and they really love it. Whenever given the option to do this or something else, they want to come here and do this."

Samantha couldn't agree more.

"The child's pose is like this," she demonstrates, leaning over her knees before, an instant later, rolling sideways and jumping into midair to become a hot-air balloon.

"I like the hot and balloon and the boat pose," she announces. "Yoga is good 'cause it exercises you!"

Samantha Peterson, 5, of Central Point, strikes a pose during a yoga class for children at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA. - Photo by Denise Barata