Yoga for the whole family

Yoga is supposed to be about achieving complete relaxation. So what happens
if you combine it with babies and small children – or a bulging belly?

With the exception of one toddler who kept trying to escape upstairs, three
mothers and six children ranging in age from three months to eight years
recently enjoyed a peaceful yoga class in Woodbury.

Sisters Mikayla and Miranda Golino, who are 8 and 6, respectively, walked on
their hands into a downward-facing dog pose alongside their little brother,
Mason, 2, and their mother, Michelle, who held newborn, Max. The women and
children were sampling a class led by Michelle Wenis at Woodbury Yoga

Wenis, who moved to Woodbury from Danbury about a year ago, has teamed up
with the almost 25-year-old yoga center to offer a series of “family yoga”
classes this fall. The courses include prenatal yoga, the Bradley Method of
natural childbirth (which Wenis teaches with her husband), baby & me,
toddler & me and young kids yoga.

Wenis, 35, was once an adrenaline sports junkie who went rock climbing and
snowboarding. When she got pregnant with her first of two sons, she sought a
less dangerous activity to stay in shape.

“Swimming would have been great but I didn’t have access to a pool,” she
said. “I hardly thought yoga was for me, but when I started to get into it,
I realized it’s for everyone. Yoga helped me center and focus. Childbirth
really is a turning point in women’s lives. It just feels wonderful to stay
fit and to have women come together in a group.”

She started Green Woman Yoga & Childbirth five years ago after she left her
job in the hotel and relocation industries. Until her recent move, she
taught at different locations in Fairfield County.

Janaki Pierson, co-founder and director at Woodbury Yoga Center said the
nonprofit yoga and meditation studio has offered such classes in the past
but this is the first concerted effort at a program.

“Half the people on our board of directors have young kids and many of them
are looking for ways to present spirituality to their children,” said
Pierson. In the downstairs studio, which features a large open, carpeted
floor and a wall of windows facing the woods, there are photos, paintings,
tapestries and sculptures representing Christianity, Buddhism and Kabbalah,
among other beliefs the center strives to represent.

“Yoga is a way of maintaining balance and harmony. Children come into this
world with it but the negative influences of our culture can counteract that
and make them anxious,” Pierson said. “This is a way for them to slow down
and be in the present moment.”

As she looked across the room at Wenis telling the kids to “be a big red
balloon” and rock back and forth while holding knees to chest, Pierson said
yoga is also a good way for kids to use their imaginations. New Milford
resident Melissa Pergola, who came to the class for the first time, said
practicing yoga with her 2-year-old son, Joseph, helps teach him the concept
of “circle time” and focusing on instructions from a teacher.

Michelle Golino of Oxford agreed. “Anything that gets them in a group
session like this calms them down,” she said.

Dr. S. Mark Albini, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology
and chief of staff at Saint Mary’s Hospital, said prenatal yoga, like any
exercise program during pregnancy, requires that the person who is teaching
the class be skilled and that participants be aware of any pain that would
require they stop.

“I think it definitely helps with relaxation,” Albini said of prenatal yoga.
“We find in general that women who exercise during their pregnancies have
easier labors. It also increases overall strength and flexibility and some
studies show it reduces lower back pain and sciatica and fatigue in the back
and neck area. Some people believe it reduces swelling and inflammation
around the joints. It’s not been well studied in pregnant women, but it
improves emotional well being and aids digestion.”

Dr. Clare Ventre, a Waterbury obstetrician-gynecologist, said she encourages
pregnant women to practice yoga if they are interested in it. “We just
advise that if they are using a yoga tape at home that they use one
specifically for pregnancy because some of the maneuvers, later in
pregnancy, like lying flat on your back could be potentially harmful,”
Ventre said.

Wenis works with women from their first through third trimester and
has them modify any postures that cause discomfort.

“It’s a lot of hip opening practices and giving them the confidence that
helps with the whole birthing process and helps them relax,” she said.

Wenis said it’s also an easy way for moms to fit exercise into their busy
schedules – without having to leave the kids with a sitter.

Info box

Michelle Wenis will teach the following classes at Woodbury Yoga Center:

Prenatal Yoga: Tuesdays, Sept. 2-Oct. 21, 5:30-6:30 p.m.; $105

The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, Thursdays, Sept. 4-Dec. 11, 7-9
p.m.; $275

Baby & Me Yoga (6-8 weeks through pre-crawling); Thursdays, Sept. 18-Oct.
30; 10:45-11:45 a.m.; $85

Toddler & Me Yoga (toddlers to 3-year-olds); Wednesdays; Sept. 17-Oct. 22;
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; $85

Young Kids Yoga (3-4-years-old; caregivers optional); Tuesdays; Sept.
16-Oct. 21; $85

Children’s Yoga (taught by Laura McEvoy for ages 6 to 12); Wednesdays; Sept.
3-Oct. 22; 4:30-5:30 p.m.



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