Baby yoga strikes a pose in Sonoma

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Free classes

Sonoma Valley Library is offering a series of free yoga classes Monday, April 1 through Monday, April 29. Classes for the 0-5 age group (with caregiver) begin at 10:30 a.m. and classes for the 5-12 age group (children only) begin at 4:30 p.m. No advance registration needed.

For stressed-out adults, the library is offering a free meditation and stress reduction workshop at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 29.

The popularity of yoga for babies and children has increased dramatically nationwide in the past decade. According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of school-aged kids in the United States who practice yoga has almost tripled since 2002.

The national trend is also evident in Sonoma.

Lesley Giovannelli, a local yoga instructor, teaches yoga to all ages, from babies to adults.

“But introducing children to yoga and meditation is my passion,” Giovannelli said.

She, and many experts, believe that yoga helps kids manage stress, increase self-confidence, improve physical health, be present and to focus.

Giovannelli has a business in town called Little OM and is a licensed affiliate of a yoga studio in San Francisco called It’s Yoga Kids which, she says, is “the largest provider of youth and family-based yoga in the Bay Area.”

“When I moved to Sonoma about four years ago, I noticed there was a gap in kids’ programming like this here in our community,” she said. “I started to reach out to schools and volunteer around town to just see if there was interest and I’ve been teaching kids’ yoga here ever since.”

Giovannelli says her ultimate goal is to bring yoga into every school in Sonoma Valley. So far, she has taught classes at a half-dozen campuses, including after-school classes at Presentation and Prestwood elementary schools, introduced Adele Harrison Middle School students to desk yoga and exposed varsity athletes at Sonoma Valley High School to the benefits of both yoga and meditation.

Starting Monday, April 1, Giovannelli is going to bring yoga for kids to the Sonoma Valley Library, with a month-long series of free classes.

“My ultimate goal is for every student in Sonoma to have access to yoga and meditation techniques,” she said. “Research shows how incredibly good it is for kids. It shows us how to relax our bodies, it makes us stronger, it enhances our mind-body connection.”

Library manager Lisa Musgrove said this is the third series offered by the Sonoma branch and that each has been increasingly more popular and well-attended.

“It has been wonderfully successful,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be able to offer it and hope to make it a regular program.”

Giovannelli’s baby yoga classes serve newborns to 5-year-olds, along with their parents or caregivers. Classes incorporate music, movement, and breathing exercises, all of which help babies and small children learn to calm their bodies and promote brain and nervous system development.

“We do a lot of simple movement with songs. I think, at this age, they really respond to that music component,” Giovannelli said. “There’s a lot of interaction with the caregiver and the baby or the toddler. We do a lot of partner poses, so they’re communicating, they’re touching, they’re connecting.”

Even babies who can’t walk yet are able to participate in the yoga classes. “When they’re not a walker yet, I’ll have their caregiver lay them on their back. I’ll have the caregiver move their arms up and down, bend their knees in and out,” Giovannelli said. She added that this movement and stimulation can help babies who have colic or trouble sleeping.

Baby yoga classes not only benefit the babies and toddlers who attend, but also their parents. “I think it’s mutually beneficial for parents and their babies because it helps enhance the nonverbal communication between them. It can really help with that bond.”

Free classes

Sonoma Valley Library is offering a series of free yoga classes Monday, April 1 through Monday, April 29. Classes for the 0-5 age group (with caregiver) begin at 10:30 a.m. and classes for the 5-12 age group (children only) begin at 4:30 p.m. No advance registration needed.

For stressed-out adults, the library is offering a free meditation and stress reduction workshop at 11 a.m. on Friday, March 29.

Nicole Garcia and her 2-year-old have been doing baby yoga with Giovannelli for about six months at Noble Yoga. Garcia had always practiced yoga and incorporated it into her daily life, but stopped going once her daughter was born. “I wasn’t taking too good care of myself because all my energy went to her,” Garcia said.

“Signing up for the class forced me to get out and start yoga again with the incentive of taking her to do it as well. Doing something for myself can be pretty difficult,” Garcia said. “The fact that I can do yoga with my daughter allows me to get some time not only with her, but also to be able to do a downward dog here and there for my own well-being.”

Young mom Lia Mariani first brought her 2-year-old daughter Una to Giovannelli’s baby yoga class at the library and now they come weekly to her class at Noble Yoga.

Baby yoga helps parents like Mariani and Garcia get out of the house to be active and centered while also spending time with their babies.

“For the parents of young babies, a lot of times you’re at home a lot, and you might feel isolated or you don’t have a lot of adult interaction throughout the day,” Giovannelli said. “I think this is awesome for new moms to get out and meet other moms in town, and have that community and connection.”

Giovannelli stressed that yoga is not just a one-time experience, but rather a lasting habit that helps develop one’s lifelong wellness and mind-body connection. “I tell parents that just like anything, it’s a practice. If you really want your kids to be able to pick up these skills, it’s something that should be done consistently,” she said. “It’s not like other sports where you might do a season of soccer and then cross it off your list. It’s a lifestyle and it’s a tool that’s going to give your kids the ability to do all of their other activities.”

“I think it’s really important for kids to do it young,” Garcia said. “I think yoga would’ve helped me as a child. With some meditation and stretching, I think that we can improve a child’s well-being. I think that it should be a lot more mainstream.”

Lesley Giovannelli will be teaching yoga classes for babies and toddlers ages 0-5 and for kids ages 5-10 on Mondays in April at the Sonoma Valley Library. Classes run from Monday, April 1 through Monday, April 29. Classes for the 0-5 age group begin at 10:30 a.m. and classes for the 5-10 age group begin at 4:30 p.m.

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