By Jim Montalto
Mary Kaye Chryssicas (center) believes Yoga teaches her students, who include her two daughters and her son, values that have been sidelined by a young generation consumed with growing up and succeeding too quickly.
As far east culture continues to interweave its healthful practices with everyday workouts and gym routines, those wishing to keep fit have a choice between the exhilaration of high-impact exercises for the body and calm, low-stress meditation for the mind and soul. Rarely, though, will you find a mix of the two. I Love Yoga, the new children’s book by Wellesley yoga instructor Mary Kaye Chryssicas, is that rare gem.
Big, colorful pictures of her and her students in a variety of yoga positions give I Love Yoga an exciting look, while clear explanations of basic and advanced moves make it easy for anyone to follow along—especially her intended audience, seven to fourteen year-olds. The “Power Poses” chapter brightly illustrates a very challenging one-arm-balancing “Mermaid Pose,” but it has simple reasons as to why this move helps the body: “Power poses are a challenge for the body-but also a test for our mind’s ability to stay calm and focused.”
On the simpler side, “London Bridge,” which requires two partners to sit, touch feet, and then stretch to touch each other’s arms, encourages beginners to try out yoga with a friend.
“I think there's a need for yoga at all ages,” says Chryssicas, who initially became interested in yoga after helping a friend with her studio. “The learning skills it teaches can save you a lifetime of anxiety and heartache. It's kind to the soul. And it's helpful to find peace amidst the chaos.” Yoga may also have significant side benefits for kids, as well—beyond merely improving health and well-being. At The Accelerated School in Los Angeles, for instance, where yoga is a core feature of the curriculum of this charter school, instructors Tara Guber and Leah Kalish have long contended that yoga has had a visible and remarkable effect on test scores and overall student performance.
After she started teaching kids and as her own classes became more popular, Chryssicas saw the need for a children’s yoga book.
“Yoga books weren’t as fun as they could be and I realized that the kids were excited about yoga but kept forgetting the moves.”
So, she pitched her idea to DK Press and they loved it.
“There’s a soulful quality to the book that comes through in the text,” she says. It’s somewhat different from what DK produces, but it is more yoga-like. It’s a gentle, spiritual book that helps kids and parents see the value in yoga.”
This gentleness shines through in each chapter, as in the “Partner Yoga” section where Chryssicas writes, “Ashton and Anna love partner poses because they get to work as a team. It feels good to support each other and talk and laugh together.”
The children in the book are experienced in the yoga training Chryssicas provides in her classes, and it shows. Each child is photographed perfecting every stage of a position, which makes it easy to figure out how to accomplish even the more complicated moves in the book.
“You can tell the kids have been doing these moves for years. Their form and alignment serve as good examples for children reading to emulate the moves,” she explains.
Also included are subtle messages of positive thinking. Each section encourages readers to treat others kindly, to smile often, and to thank others, actions that Chryssicas believes everyone should exercise more often.
“Yoga teaches people compassion and how to adapt to changing situations and cultures. It teaches you to think positively. It’s a gentle way of life, and the sooner kids can learn how to achieve a peaceful state of mind the better. They’ll learn to become more tolerant of others.”
“Partner yoga is a reminder of how important it is to give and ask for help with poses when you need it,” reads one section. “Remember to say thank you for the help you receive!”
Her instructions are simple, but not too preachy, an important factor for kids in a stage of life where they are trying to balance obedience with their own independence. Kids can relate to the book’s teachings because it subtly equates each move to its beneficial results.
In the “Lift Up Your Heart” section several children are shown in the cobra, camel, or fish poses, all a variation of either bending at the waist, kneeling, or lying down and looking toward the sky. The supporting narrative demonstrates how these positions can help kids in their own lives.
“These exercises promote flexibility and coordination,” Chryssicas writes, “and help you feel good about yourself.”
Each section offers similar tidbits of positive and encouraging guidance.
“Power Poses,” for example, contains pictures of children in more advanced poses, like the “Crow”, which begins with a child in a squat and ends with her lifting her entire body with just her arms. Light hearted and encouraging words of advice complement the photos: “Remember: Your most important prop is confidence!” and “Don’t give up – you can do it if you practice!”
So far, I Love Yoga has been well received worldwide by the schools and libraries that have previewed it before its official release to the general public this fall.
With this book in final rounds of edits, Chryssicas is already thinking about her next project, a yoga book for teens.