By Tina Gallagher
Yoga Journeys® -- a weekly yoga program for children airing on WVIA Television -- is dedicated to educating and empowering children as well as adults about health, wellness, and our world. Hosted by Melissa Russo, this program’s target audience is kids aged 7-13, but the whole family can follow along and learn yoga-based breathing and relaxation exercises as well as traditional yoga stretches.
“Empowering children with the experience of yoga allows them the benefits of decreasing stress, improving fitness, and developing a deeper connection with themselves,” says Russo. “However, I feel the greater benefits are that of self-regulation. Children can learn to calm down when hyper, energize when feeling sluggish, relax when stressed, as well as have a better connection with their feelings giving them more control and responsibility over their choices and reactions.”
Musso has practiced yoga since college. After graduation, she worked in a social work environment with teens, employing relaxation techniques. Both she and the teens were amazed at the effects of simple breathing and guided relaxation exercises. For the first time, many of the teens felt empowered with the skill to feel good…and for some, feeling good without the abuse of a substance hadn’t occurred to them.
After that, Melissa grew inspired to receive professional training in this field. She received her initial yoga training through the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA and has continued to study with many traditions and organizations, including YogaEd.
“YogaEd allows me to teach yoga in a school environment as well as work with teachers, empowering them to use yoga-based tools to use in their classrooms for behavior modification and to increase their student’s learning readinesss,” she says.
The great thing about yoga is that children can start doing it at any age. In fact, many young children spontaneously stretch in what we recognize as yoga poses to help them unwind and release, as well as just for fun. One of the most important differences in working with children is the length of time they hold yoga poses. Since yoga stretches are very cleansing, poses are held for a shorter lengthens of time with younger children and many yoga exercises are not advised for kids under the age of 16. The class length is also shorter for younger children and lengthens as their attention spans grow.
“It’s been interesting to find that middle school aged children seem to need a lot of relaxation, although hardly surprising when we look at the amount of stress they truly are under in combination with all the physical changes they are going through as they move towards puberty,” says Russo. “In my experience, they have been hungry to learn yoga exercises that can help them feel more relaxed, stronger, energized, alert, centered, and more in control of their emotions. They can also improve self-confidence and self-esteem.
“For this reason I was inspired to create Yoga Journeys®, a weekly yoga program for kids that is airing on our local PBS station, WVIA, and is currently being offered on a statewide basis this fall. In every episode, we also have either a special guest visit the program or go on a ‘journey’ exploring a variety of topics including healthy food choices, sustainability and environmental practices, positive thinking and creating personal affirmations, and treating ourselves and others with kindness and respect.”
Through the Yoga Journeys® Outreach Program, WVIA offers the entire 13-episode Season 1 of Yoga Journeys® to local member schools, and Yoga Journeys® Productions, Inc., the non-profit 501(c)3 organization that produced the program, offers the Season at a wholesale rate to all other schools and community centers interested in private broadcasting of the series. More information about these programs and other ways to get involved can be found at YogaJourneys.tv.
For more information on Melissa Russo and Yoga Journeys®, visit youryogajourney.com.