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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Family Fitness and Fun for March Break and Beyond!

How Things Used to Be – Only a Few Short Decades Ago (Only 4 Short Decades Ago!)
When I was young, my father used to joke around with us children and say “When your mother was pregnant, she must have been startled by a kangaroo because you children never stop bouncing around!”
All the children in my neighbourhood were active.  We ran endlessly around the neighbourhood playing Hide & Seek, the older boys played Football on the street in the summer and Hockey in the winter.  The girls did Gymnastics, swinging like monkeys on the Monkey Bars and Swing Sets and doing cartwheels and handstands on the grass.  What we all had in common was that we never stopped moving and we could all see our ribs.  We would rather run than walk and were constantly being told to “slow down”.  There was only 1 chubby child in my entire school - although ironically by today’s standards, he would be considered a “standard size” child.  There were only a few kids’ movies that you could watch at the cinema and there wasn’t too much to watch on TV - not that it mattered because we were only allowed to watch 1 hour of TV a week, and we exercised that right by watching Saturday morning cartoons.   
During university I knew I wanted to be a teacher and I worked and volunteered in different children’s programs.  The children were as active as I had been as a child – nonstop running around and having fun.  There were 1 or 2 children whose parents packed their lunches with just a few too many treats and they were a few pounds heavier than the other children but still just as active. 

How Things are Now – The Huge Generation Difference 
What I find astonishing about children today, is how inactive and unhealthy they are.  I currently go into daycare centres, schools, youth groups and yoga studios, to teach yoga to children.  I have been working with children my whole life and the trends in this generation of children are disturbing.  These are some of the surprising things I have witnessed, heard and have been asked by children:

-In a daycare at 9:30 in the morning, children ages 2-4 telling me they are tired after doing 3 yoga poses – less than 5 minutes of activity.
-Children ages 2-4, who I have been seeing on a weekly basis and who have learned the names of the yoga poses from the "What I Can See, I Can Be" yoga book -  request the “Mouse Pose” (Child’s Pose) before we even begin the yoga class.  When I ask why they want to do that pose, they inform me that they are tired – and I can see that they ARE physically tired.
-Children ages 4-5, after a few minutes of moderately active yoga, asking to stop because they are starting to sweat!  This is something that they haven’t experienced before and they are not use to sweating and find it uncomfortable.
-Going into school classrooms and seeing children ages 6-9 with stomachs that look like “Muffin Tops” or “Pot Bellies”, similar in size to men who have well developed “Beer Guts”. 
-Going into elementary schools and discovering 1/4 to 1/3 of the children are either overweight or obese, have laboured breathing just sitting or standing, and are inflexible. 

How Did this Happen?
Children have been negatively impacted by the increasing love affair our society has with technology, TV, the car, and processed and fast food.  Children are given access to and are encouraged to play games on the computer and on hand held electronic gaming devices.  They have a plethora of TV shows and DVD movies to choose from, which can act as a babysitting service for parents needing time to get chores completed or supper made.  Children are driven everywhere, with some parents feeling like they are a limousine service.  The convenience of fast food restaurants and easy-to-pop-in-the-oven prepared foods from the grocery store are too tempting for tired parents to resist when they are in a hurry and need to feed hungry children.                                                                

How We Can Ensure Our Children Stay Healthy for a Lifetime
To turn this trend around, it is first going to take a dawning of awareness and slowly awakening to the fact that there is a current children’s health crisis occurring.  Once we are awake to the fact that “Children being overweight is Not OK”, (just as it is Not OK for children to be underweight and malnourished), we can then start to make some changes.  It is going to take a conscious effort in our homes and in our schools.   It is going to take conscious effort by every mother, father, grandparent, daycare provider, school teacher, and youth leader.
Children are taught what to value and children learn to value what adults’ value.  To save this upcoming generation from a life impaired and impacted by obesity, Type II Diabetes and Heart Disease, it means that adults are going to have to get active with their children!

How Adults Can Lead By Example
Yoga is an excellent activity to do as a family because it can be a “Whole Family Affair” done by all generations – children, parents, and grandparents.  Children as young as 2 and Grandparents as old as 102 can all participate.  This intergenerational activity doesn’t require any special equipment, can be easily done in the living room, and can be easily incorporated into the daily routine.
Just like brushing teeth is taught to children as a daily activity, starting or ending the day with “Family Yoga Time” can be made to be part of the daily routine.   Yoga is the perfect activity, compared to what faces most Hockey Moms and Dads -  getting up to drive their children to a 6:00am hockey practice, standing in the cold arena holding onto a cup of hot coffee trying to stay warm, and watching their child get pushed around the rink.
Leading children by example and doing yoga with them every day can help ensure your children stay active and healthy for a lifetime.

Bio:  Janet Williams is a Certified Primary/Junior Teacher, Yoga Instructor and the author of the book “What I See, I Can Be:  A Guided Yoga Flow for Children”.  She has created easy to use resources for teachers and parents so that they can do yoga with their children in schools and homes. 
Facebook Group: “Childrens Yoga” 

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