By Bernadette Verzosa


       "Toes to nose," rhymes yoga instructor Waverly Evans to her bright-eyed students. She's leading these youngest of yogis and yoginis through baby bridge, baby plank, baby cobra, baby flip, even flying baby.

       Evans teaches free yoga classes for babies and toddlers at the Houston Public Library (HPL) Central Library branch. "There are lots of benefits to baby yoga. It's relaxing as well as energizing," says Evans. "It helps babies discover different parts of their bodies. It helps develop coordination. It builds the relationship between baby and parent. In a group setting like ours, children see each other and parents see each other. It reinforces and enhances the whole process."

       The Baby Yoga class is a Parent and Pre-Walker group. "I demonstrate with a teddy bear – the classic dolls' knees don't bend. So I show parents the movements with a teddy bear," she explains. "You don't force a child into a pose. You just jiggle and play with the range of motion. If you feel a child is not receptive - they get rigid and stiffen their arms and legs - you just do something else. You can tell they are receptive when they're alert, they smile and they have soft arms and legs."

       Evans also incorporates baby massage and nurturing whispers into the practice. "I encourage phrases like ‘I love you,' lots of sweet words in a soft voice," she adds. 


       The HPL started offering the class last spring. "There are essential motor development skills that children need in conjunction with early literacy skills to learn to read and write," says Michaela Watson, HPL's Assistant Manager of Youth Programming. "Yoga is a fun activity that builds those skills while offering a bonding opportunity for parent and child." 

       Yoga has exploded in popularity in the United States. This form of exercise that stretches the muscles and calms the mind originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. Today, about 15 million Americans practice yoga. Many doctors prescribe yoga to patients and many corporations host yoga classes for employees. In Houston, there are dozens of yoga studios and dozens of youth organizations that offer yoga classes. There are also teacher training workshops and seminars for instructors who want to specifically work with kids. Children who practice yoga are sometimes referred to as "mini yogis."     


      Sheila Hall and her 4-month-old son, James, are regulars at HPL. "I love the class. It is very engaging for both James and me," Hall says. "I appreciate Waverly's efforts to create a good balance between keeping some structure to the class and adjusting based on the energy of the babies. James seems more relaxed there now that we've been a few times. Also, as he develops more movements are available to him. It's neat to see the changes."

      Hall also experiences the benefits at home. "Learning some new ways to calm him down have been very valuable outside of class," she says. "The class expands my repertoire of how we can play together at home, and my husband enjoys learning these moves from me too."

       Another mom, Sarah Perez, drives downtown from Cypress with her 11-month-old son, Bryan. "Bryan either loves the poses or hates them. He especially likes to jump or swing - he'll smile and giggle or even laugh hysterically," she says. "During the stretches and massage portions he will usually suck his thumb contentedly.  It is pretty clear if he doesn't want to do something that day, he'll cry out or squirm to get away, and then we'll skip to something else."

       Perez highly recommends Waverly Evans' baby and toddler yoga classes to other parents. "I like Waverly because she seems to always have something positive to say about everyone's child and their differences in development and personality," she says.  "The class is easy to enjoy because it is such an informal setting. We get lots of chances to snuggle during class and even some ideas of ways to relax that we can try at home.  There aren't a lot of physical activities that an infant can participate in with a parent, and that makes this really special in my opinion."


       The Toddler Yoga class is designed for Parents and Walkers. The practice includes the classic downward dog and triangle, some balance poses and supported inversions, as well as traditional side bends and hip and arm circles.

       "Toddlers work more from imitation. They'll do what their mother or father demonstrates. They're so imaginative, they'll do anything you suggest," says Evans. "It's a total joy seeing their little faces learning things for the first time. They discover a whole new world each class."

      Evans is offering her baby yoga classes at two additional Houston Public Library branches this fall: the Heights Library and the Kendall Library. She says she is excited to work with more parents and babies. "The babies are just so sweet! With adults, you'll teach the whole class and no one says anything. The baby classes are so much fun. Some children don't like being upside down, and others start giggling. Every child is unique and you learn to adapt to different circumstances that come up."

        A big hit with the mini yogis is a simple pose called Divine Drop. Evans says any parent can do it at home. "The parent is standing. They hold the child in front of them, supporting their chest and bottom. Then they simply bend their knees, dropping with the child," she instructs.

       But the yoga position that most embodies the gentle and delightful spirit of her class may be the Happy Baby pose.
       The weekly Baby Yoga class at the Central Library is on Thursdays from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. The weekly Toddler Yoga class at the Central Library is on Tuesdays 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
       The weekly Baby Yoga class at the Heights Library will be Fridays from 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. It starts on Friday, September 7. 
     The Baby Yoga class at the Kendall Library will be on the second Thursday of each month from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. It starts on Thursday, September 13. For more information, visit www.houstonlibrary.org or call 832-393-1313.

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