by Tresca Weinstein
Beth Furman’s blend of yoga and dance gets kids groovin’.
Beth Furman started doing yoga with her children when they were still in diapers—and she never stopped. “They grew up with me upside-down a lot,” recalls Furman, a yoga teacher from Fairfield, Connecticut. “They would crawl around me, and then the yoga practice would turn into a dance party.”
Today, yoga remains a powerful bond between Furman and each of her three kids. She and Eli, 15, share both yoga and break dancing, which he’s passionate about: “We’ll do handstands together and he’ll show me the 6-step,” a key break-dancing move, says Furman, who, in a new take on the soccer-mom stereotype, cheers Eli on at his break-dancing “battles.” With her younger son, Ethan, she does core work on the mat (he already has washboard abs at age 10, she says). And she and Isabel, 14, lead mother-daughter workshops together, incorporating partner yoga, games, and sharing. “My feeling about raising kids is so influenced and inspired by my yoga practice,” Furman says.
She has taken that inspiration into the world, teaching workshops and after-school and preschool classes for kids, working one-on-one with young clients, and teaching YogaGroove for Kidz programs at Kripalu. The benefits of yoga for children, she says, include not only the most obvious—body awareness, strength, balance, and coordination—but also the ability to comfortably navigate the world, a sense of personal space in relationship to others, and, perhaps most important, the self-knowledge and self-awareness that allow them to make empowered choices.
“For example, we might do what I call a ‘walking dance,’ where the kids choose when to enter the space and how long they stay,” Furman says. “The message it gives them is, ‘I get to choose, I get to choreograph this dance, just as I get to choreograph my own life.’ Yoga class is an environment that allows you to explore who you are.”
A former hip-hop teacher and African dancer who trained as a yoga teacher with Shiva Rea, Jodi Komitor, and Michael Bleier, Furman has birthed a unique blend of yoga and dance that encourages spontaneity and creative expression—a youth-oriented version of what Kripalu Yoga teachers often call meditation in motion. An asana might become a jumping-off point for an improvised dance flow, or vice versa.
“Yoga and dance are great partners because exploring movement from a pranic awareness makes the experience that much fuller,” Furman says. “I also love to take forms of movement like shaking, twisting, bouncing, sliding, even full contraction and full release, and bring them into the experience of asana. Kids really groove on that stuff because they can feel the difference, and they have a very clear kinesthetic experience of being in that sweet spot.”
While dance and sports on their own offer multiple benefits for kids, the addition of yoga, Furman says, provides the indispensable element of breath awareness.
“Most sports coaches don’t teach you how to breathe,” she says. “Effective breathing is essential to effective physical exertion. In yoga, we learn that our breath can reveal to us where the space is in our bodies, where there’s room to move, where we’re stuck and where we’re free.”
Furman’s classes combine movement, breathing exercises, and contemplative practice, all tuned to kids’ frequencies. “If we have been moving vigorously for a few minutes, I will have us pause in Tadasana and close our eyes for a moment so that we can experience all the prana that is moving and flowing inside of us,” she says. “I always talk about how the yoga practice is designed to energize us when we feel sluggish, and calm us when we feel wild and crazy.”
Her classes begin with a circle in which the kids can talk about how they’re feeling, giving them an opportunity to express themselves verbally. Sometimes they take the practice home with them; one mother of a student recently told Furman that her family now ends each day sitting in a circle together, stretching, breathing, and sharing before they head off to bed.
Participants in her programs at Kripalu have ranged in age from four to 13, Furman says, with an equally wide spectrum of abilities and personalities. The fusion of yoga and dance seems to work for all kids and all ages, she says, because, along with providing a deep connection to Self, it’s just plain fun—whether they’re dancing to hip-hop music, flowing through a meditative yoga sequence, or moving back and forth between the two.
“You can do a Handstand or Crow, and it can be really challenging, but you can also just be standing in Tadasana and feeling really good about yourself, or bouncing your knees and thinking ‘I rock!’”
Tresca Weinstein, Editorial Consultant at Kripalu, writes about dance and yoga for regional and national publications.
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