By Jasmine Linabary, Bigfork Eagle
When Bigfork Elementary School students come home excitedly talking about lions, heroes and downward-facing dogs, parents may think they are talking about characters from books.
However, what the kids are actually referring to are yoga poses they are learning this year as a way to keep them moving and teach them how to be still.
Story By Angela Hawkaluk and Debi Strong
Photos by KG Design/Katie Gunderson
Published by Flathead Living
Most of us are now aware of the endless benefits yoga provides for adults, but did you know it’s also great for kids?
It makes perfect sense. In a kids’ yoga class, all their exuberant energy can be directed toward developing mental focus and concentration, as well as physical balance, coordination, and strength. But most sports programs provide that as well. The big difference with yoga is that kids can learn kindness and compassion at the same time.
Dana Stoddard of Bigfork’s montanabliss believes in yoga’s ability to help children in many ways. For every class she teaches, Stoddard has created ways to incorporate kindness and compassion through teaching the yogic value of ahimsa, a word that in Sanskrit means non-harming, kindness, honesty, and generosity. “It has been my passion to teach these basic yogic philosophies to children when they are as young as possible!”
We all know that growing up can be difficult, and it’s even harder when kids pick on one another, but Stoddard believes that if you can introduce yoga to children while they are still able to express themselves unselfconsciously, then yoga can encourage them to hold on to the good things about being a child.
Montanabliss offers weekly yoga classes for kids as well as instruction outside the studio in our school community’s health classes, the afterschool Leap Program, and Bigfork’s Enrichment Cluster in addition to Summer Yoga/Art Camp and customized Yoga Birthday Parties.
Everyone works to the best of their ability, and Stoddard often reminds the children to listen to their bodies and not compare themselves to others. They are also encouraged to focus on their breathing, one of the most important aspects of yoga. The kids hold their positions as long as they can and in their best form, which helps them relax and get to know themselves. As they get to know themselves, they find ways to know others better—and they learn to treat one another the way they want to be treated, weaving in the values of gentleness, self-awareness, and self-esteem.
At the end of every couple of classes, Stoddard incorporates an art project or another interactive activity with the yoga positions. Students lie on their backs and relax while Stoddard has them visualize a dream, a favorite place, or a story. Later, the kids often get the opportunity to put these ideas and visualizations down on paper, in a drawing or collage.
Occasionally, Stoddard assigns homework at the end of class. For example, the children might be asked to share how they have practiced ahimsa with themselves or others. The following week, the children go around the welcome circle and discuss the assignment.
Montanabliss also offers a summer Yoga/Art camp. Stoddard wanted to offer an entire week of Yoga and Art, so she, along with her husband, Craig, developed the camp in 2006. Held at the base of the Swan Mountains, the camp incorporates yoga, art, kindness, compassion, relaxation, and adventure. Last year’s weeklong camp was a huge success, so there will be two sessions offered this coming summer.
At summer camp, the children participate in outdoor yoga and art activities while enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery. Their energy may be high, but it’s channeled in a fun, safe way, allowing the kids to explore their changing bodies. Activities such as yoga poses, watercolor painting, clayworks, drawing, game playing, storytelling, creative crafts, and light nature hiking keep the days packed with fun.
Deliah Albee, of Deliah Albee Studio and Gallery in Bigfork, teaches art for the second part of the day. Her medium of expertise is watercolor, but she loves teaching the kids many projects in various mediums. “Yoga and art are similar in their philosophy of mind, body, and spirit,” Albee says, noting that art and yoga make a natural collaboration.
Last year’s camp emphasized kindness and generosity. This year, Stoddard hopes to incorporate satya, or truthfulness, by teaching the children not to gossip or exaggerate, not to copy someone else’s homework, and other things of that nature. The importance of honesty is another valuable life lesson that can be learned through yoga.
At montanabliss, they believe that any child should be able to participate in yoga classes. Stoddard has set up scholarship programs so that children who may not be able to afford classes also have the opportunity to learn about the benefits of yoga. According to Stoddard, it simply wouldn’t be right to teach kindness and compassion and then turn someone away from a class. Any child interested in taking classes or attending camp is given a form to fill out, where they have the opportunity to explain why they wish to participate in the yoga class/camp and how are they’re willing to help before or after class/camp. At a time when society seems too full of anger, hatred, and violence kindness, compassion, and honesty are sorely needed. If children can learn the importance of being kind, honest, and compassionate to one another, while also gaining self-esteem, they will surely improve both themselves and the people around them. It’s the Golden Rule in action!
And if they’re having fun and getting fit at the same time, it’s a win-win situation all the way around. Learning about building a peaceful community, healthy and compassionate living, and how to make long, lasting friendships is what it’s all about.
By Debi Strong
Published by Flathead Living
The East Indian discipline of Yoga is thousands of years old, and for a good reason: With a little consistent practice, it can work wonders for both body and mind.
Over the past 20 years, the U.S. has experienced a surge of interest in yoga. As increasing numbers of people have embraced its study, the opportunities for people to participate have become more and more diverse, including a wide variety of class styles, as well as DVDs and videos that enable even the busiest individual to work out at home or while traveling.
But, as with other activities that become popular in our culture, many myths about yoga have also spread throughout the West over the years. Examples of such myths include the idea that yoga is a religion or that it is a gentle, relaxing workout.
Although yoga can be adopted as a way of life (like many Eastern philosophies that blend movement with disciplined thought), it is not a religion. And while some forms of restorative classes may be gentle and relaxing, the majority of yoga classes are serious workouts that progressively build endurance, strength, and flexibility.
Besides being a fantastic way to keep physically fit, there are many more health benefits to practicing yoga. Here are some examples of what yoga can do for you:
—Increase your concentration, energy, focus, balance, and attention
—Increase your strength and muscle tone
—Create a stronger, more flexible spine
—Aid in recovery from injury and trauma
—Help you sleep
—Build self-esteem and confidence
—Cultivate a peaceful, relaxed state of body and mind
—Strengthen your body and focus your mind
—Improve and maintain your physical and emotional health
—Teach you to “let go” of worries and stay in the moment
—Complement training for other sports (e.g. golf, skiing, cycling, basketball)
—Offer healing effects for ailments, such as asthma, headaches, diabetes, depression, arthritis, addictions, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and so many others.
In Bigfork, montanabliss offers a wealth of classes in a variety of yogic traditions. Whether in a class or in one of their special workshops, their devoted, certified instructors can help you reach your full potential. You can enjoy classes in Classical Hatha, Kundalini, Vinyasa Flow, or Restorative Yoga. Each one can help you build and maintain core strength, flexibility, balance, concentration, mindfulness, and breath control.
And don’t assume that yoga is just for grown-ups. The montanabliss Kids’ Yoga program is getting more popular every week. It’s a fun, safe way for children to learn to calm their restless minds and deal with their constantly changing bodies. At the same time, they’ll absorb the skills of cooperation and the attitudes of kindness, generosity, and compassion. It’s a totally win-win situation!
Other great yoga classes include Pre-Natal Yoga––to help practice breathing and relaxation techniques while maintaining strength and flexibility––and the Mommy-and-Me class, which provides a soothing environment where mothers and their newborns can discover a stress-free way to begin their lifelong relationship and stay healthy in body and mind.
Whatever your yoga goals may be, the experienced and knowledgeable teachers of montanabliss are waiting to help you realize them––no matter what your age or level of ability may be. If you haven’t already discovered the wonders of yoga, perhaps now is the perfect time to begin the journey…at montanabliss!
Last week over 30 kids, most of them new students, participated in a yoga/art camp at the montanabliss retreat land. A longtime dream of founder Dana Stoddard, the weeklong camp offered yoga in the morning and art in the afternoon for children five to thirteen years old.
“It was an awesome success,” Dana related. “It was strictly word of mouth, with no advertising.”
The kids practiced yoga postures, played games, and tried meditation and relaxation.
Deliah Albee, the art teacher, chose projects that related to yoga themes for the afternoon sessions.
Since this year’s camp was so successful, Dana plans on holding two to three camps next summer.
For more information on yoga classes for children and adults at montanabliss, call 406.253.4771. We all need some peace and tranquility in our busy lives.
Yoga campers practicing “3 legged dog” pose.
Hanna Moorman and Dylan Schmidt
show off their flexibility.
Afternoon art class
with Deliah Albee.
Isabella Rose and
Paige Thompson at play.
This beautiful location offered tranquility to the children and teens.
to Encourage Kindness in Kids?
by Debi Strong
Dana with Her Class
Photographs by Todd Yamashita - Shigeo Arts
World peace begins at home. Many great peacemakers, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., have basically said the same thing. But if you listen to kids on the playground, or watch the TV news, it’s apparent that getting along and being kind to one another is not a high priority.
“Sandy said she won’t be my
anymore if I play with Lauren…”
What parent’s heart hasn’t been
wrenched by some version of these
words when they are tearfully recited
by their child? Then again, what parent
can’t recall a time in their
childhood when other kids caused their feelings to be hurt by unkind words or actions? In this society, kindness is not a virtue that we encourage nearly enough in our children. But shouldn’t it be?
Dana Stoddard thinks so, and when she teaches her yoga classes for kids at montanabliss in Bigfork, she also incorporates ways for kids to learn the ancient Indian concept of ahimsa, which encompasses non-harming, kindness, honesty, and generosity. “I think it’s so important for people to be kind and caring towards each other, and if children start practicing this behavior early in life, it will become second nature to them as they grow up,” she says. Dana mixes lessons of kindness and compassion into each of her yoga sessions and gives homework assignments centered around encouraging acts of ahimsa. “I am teaching the students to first be kind to themselves, so then it’s easier for them to be kind to others in the class, and then to their family, friends, community, and ultimately the world,” she says.
Surely there’s no doubt that
kindness is a trait that kids need to
assimilate early in life. At a time
when we are seeing tragedies like
school shootings and other violent
crimes masterminded by unhappy
children, it seems especially important
for youngsters to begin learning the skills needed to handle their feelings of insecurity, as well as how to neutralize the sting of other’s unkind words and actions, very early on.
In my experience as a mother, it seems that as soon as kids start to communicate and play with each other, at three or four-years-old, they begin to form references for friends. At the same time, they also start becoming exclusionary, as in, “I want you to be my friend, but you can’t play with her – or else I won’t play with you anymore -- and she can’t play with us!”
It often becomes a vicious cycle,
as any parent whose child is socially
active outside the home knows.
Sadly, it’s hurtful to every child
involved, even the one who’s supposedly
in control of the situation,
because the “controller” is
one who lives with the most fear of being left alone without any friends.
So given these seemingly natural tendencies in children, how much nicer would it be to pro-actively teach ways of being kind and putting others’ feelings on the same level as our own, instead of just letting nature take its course to the lowest level?
Home is, of course, the first place children should see gentleness and respect both taught and modeled in a consistent manner. At school, teachers do their best to teach compassionate behavior, but often find it overwhelming to accomplish given the number of children who aren’t learning it at home. In the end, it will be kind kids who will teach others to be kind, and a different cycle will ensue.
In a kids class at montanabliss, youngsters will definitely experience and learn kindness and compassion, with the added benefit of being in a relaxed group setting away from the competitiveness of the playground or sports field.
Ultimately, ahimsa is really just another version of the Golden Rule – treating others the way we want to be treated, and being kind to yourself as well. Judging by the state of most of the world these days, it seems that more kindness and compassion are needed everywhere. Why not set an example, teach our kids and foster the spread of good will and kindness.
Debi and Xiaoxiao
A freelance writer living
Debie also authored the previous story,
“Yoga for Kids of course!!” in the
Spring Issue of Montana Kids and
montanabliss in Montana Kids Magazine
Some people believe that yoga is for adults only. They think it's a very strict form of exercise, to be practiced quietly with serious discipline, and certainly there's no smiling allowed. No way! Yoga is for everybody, and especially for kids. After all, children's yoga classes are not about perfect postures or sitting in meditation for hours. They're about having fun while learning the fundamental principles of yoga: awareness of breath, focusing the mind, and strengthening the body. And there's lots of smiling, and even some giggling, in every single class!
"Children are naturally filled with joy. They are always in the moment, and that's the true heart of yoga," says Dana Stoddard, co-owner and director of the montanabliss yoga studio in Bigfork. As a yoga instructor for students of all ages, Stoddard sees how adults struggle with their past baggage and future expectations, while the kids in her classes are, ".filled with spontaneity, imagination, creativity, and adventure." She adds that, "While grown-ups find it challenging to be present in the moment, children are already there."
The word "yoga" means "to unite," and refers to the uniting of body, mind, and spirit in a focused manner. This in turn leads to a healthier lifestyle, one that more and more kids need these days, and with all the studies coming out on children and stress-related disorders, the merits of yoga are being touted by magazines such as Psychology Today and CHILD as tools to help kids cope. As so many children are being driven to distraction by literally being driven from school to soccer to gymnastics to Little League to piano lessons and to dance, yoga is increasingly being recognized as the one activity that helps them deal with all the others, and then some!
Connie Piasecki, another instructor at montanabliss , says that children start out ".naturally knowing how to express themselves when they are happy or sad. They are aware of their 'insides' as well as their 'outsides.'" This self knowledge leads to better self-esteem. Thus yoga encourages them to hold on to the good things about being a child, while learning the important life-skills of how to concentrate, how to relax, and how to take care of themselves in a holistic manner - that body-mind-spirit thing, again.
And speaking of spirit, another myth about yoga is the belief that it is a religion. Again, nothing could be farther from the truth. Yoga is a science, carefully researched and developed over 5,000 years ago by yogis in India whose goal was to discover ways to keep their bodies strong and healthy for as long as possible, so that they might better fulfill their purpose in life. In this way, yoga could be used with any religious view or with none at all. Yogi T.K.V. Desikachar writes in The Heart of Yoga , " It is not necessary to subscribe to any particular ideas of God in order to follow the yoga path. The practice of yoga only requires us to act and to be attentive to our actions." (pg. 6)
But with so many activities vying for our kids' participation, why choose yoga? First there's the self-awareness that yoga builds, which strengthens self-esteem, an increasingly important attribute for youngsters in this world of eating disorders and media-based images of "perfection." In Stoddard's kids' classes, students are encouraged to be themselves - each child is expected to do the poses the best they can, as opposed to the same way as the instructor or the student next to them or across the room. They learn to listen to their bodies," Stoddard says, "and learn what is comfortable, what feels good. It teaches them to be aware of their breath."
In fact, conscious breathing is one of the most important fundamentals of yoga, for through breathing fully we charge our life force, which keeps us stronger and healthier. This is easily backed by basic physiology: the more efficient the body is at bringing oxygen into the body and distributing it throughout the circulatory system, the healthier the individual becomes. Thus yoga is also a way to promote self-healing through the combination of postures (asanas) and conscious breathing (pranayama). Pamela Hollander, creator of the Fine Art of Teaching Yoga to Children program, says yoga is like, ".cleansing the body from the inside out. As the breath oxygenates the organs, muscles, and all the cells of the body, it also soothes and calms the nervous system.
Besides building self-esteem and respiratory efficiency, yoga also builds muscle strength, tone, and flexibility, balance, and stamina, all of which compliments other physical activities. Soccer, football, basketball, skiing, hockey, gymnastics, and dance all require healthy lungs, strong bodies, and focused minds. While yoga helps create all these qualities, it also provides the child with a way to relax when necessary.
Through learning the art of relaxation, children also learn how to put some balance in their lives, and so yoga teaches balance in life as well as physical balance. Kids discover that there is more to life than go-go-go. They find that there is a time and season for everything, to put it biblically -a time to work and a time to rest (something we can all stand to learn!).
And if all that isn't enough to convince you of the benefits of yoga for kids, consider the results of a study based at The Accelerated School (TAS) in inner city Los Angeles . A test program of the Yoga Ed. system, created by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish, astounded the school system with its results that led to the school's ranking highest in its district, for fitness evaluations and academic achievement scores, and to TAS being named TIME magazine's Elementary School of the Year, in 2001.
Of all these great reasons to get some yoga into your children's lives, the best one may be this: when your child starts showing the wonderful benefits of yoga classes, you might want to get involved and reap some of those rewards yourself.
montanabliss in the Bigfork Eagle
(click to enlarge)
montanabliss in the Lakeshore County Journal
story and photo by Jan Krause
Ive read a bit about yoga in magazines and have listened to a few
practitioners talk about its benefits. I even tried a class once a couple
of years ago but didnt feel comfortable with it at the time, mostly
because everyone else in the room had been practicing for several months
or more and I felt inept alongside their agility. Mostly, I forgot about
yoga until six months ago when montanabliss opened its doors in Bigfork.
Last December, before their official opening, owners Dana and Craig Stoddard
offered complimentary classes with different teachers. For whatever reason,
whether due to a schedule conflict or forgetfulness on my part, I didnt
take advantage of a free class.
Last week that changed when I visited with Dana and Craig at montanabliss to talk about what led them to open a yoga studio here in Bigfork.
The Stoddards moved here from Southern California twelve years ago after visiting the area on vacation and falling in love with it. About three years ago Craig and Dana began practicing yoga with tapes at home. Once, when they were in New York City together, they attended their first yoga class. Dana continued attending classes while traveling on business and came up with the idea for montanabliss from the various yoga studios she visited around the U.S., Europe and the Far East. Every time I walked into a yoga studio anywhere around the world I immediately felt welcome and at home. The other people were there for the same reason and I became a part of each group so quickly.
Back then she was working full-time in the jewelry industry, traveling
weekly in the U.S. and to the companys factories overseas. She still
works part-time for the company but shes been able to cut her traveling
back to once a month, allowing her to concentrate most of her energy on
montanabliss. Craig, a builder by trade, also helps on a regular basis.
Dana envisioned montanabliss as a local place where she could bring many of the teachers she had met around the U.S. to conduct workshops and where local yoga teachers could teach different yoga traditions. Local teachers immediately offered their services to lead classes, such as Debra Sykes who specializes in Anusara Yoga, a tradition with very specific postures started by John Friend. In addition to her Anusara class on Monday evenings, Debra also teaches therapeutic yoga which can help speed recovery from certain accidents or help with different kinds of pain. Debra also leads experienced yoga practitioners in a three-hour class on Saturday mornings called The Practice.
Dana teaches a basic Hatha Yoga class on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings
and Friday afternoons. We sometimes practice challenging postures,
but the most important thing is not how beautiful or how perfect the poses.
Its about breath, about being with your breath in the moment and
experiencing the practice of yoga. I do teach a little more strenuous,
challenging class, but its for all levels. Every single posture
we teach here can be taken to ones own edge [the point where you
need to stop] but no further than that. Some people can go all the way
to the floor and some just go two inches. No matter how far its
Craig then expanded on Danas explanation. The purpose of that is to get to that edge where your breathing actually starts to change. Thats the challenge. I cant go nearly as far as Dana, but I can still get the same experience as Dana can because I can go to my edge. The beginners who have come in since weve opened have come so far. You see it in their posture, in the way they handle themselves. Theyre happier. There are just huge changes.
Connie Piasecki demonstrating a pose in the beginners/seniors
(Photo by Todd Yamashita)
Debbie Huntington offers a free group meditation on Wednesday evenings. When you bring a lot of people together in the same space to meditate the energy is that much stronger, Dana explained to me. To anyone who has never meditated before, Debbie would be the perfect voice to explain how to pay attention to your breath and being centeredclosing everything off from the outside and just being in the moment. The whole purpose of yoga is preparing yourself to go into meditation. A lot of people dont know that because the benefits of yoga are that you become healthy, stronger, more balanced and flexible.
After the meditation Debbie teaches a Kundalini Yoga class for all levels. She describes Kundalini Yoga as the yoga of awareness through postures, mantras, breath-work, and movements, to bring up the energy located at the bottom of the spine, making you feel more vibrant and radiant. Cheryl Dawson, a nationally certified massage therapist in Bigfork and one of Debbies students told me how much she enjoys Debbies classes. I appreciate the opportunity to experience a special body/spirit/mind connection that stays with me long after I leave class. I feel grounded, energized and eager for my next Kundalini Yoga session with an excellent teacher and delightful classmates!
Besides her Wednesday class, Debbie teaches Fridays from 7:30 - 9:00
AM and offers a complimentary (donations only) class on Monday mornings
from 5:30 - 7:30 AM, with all the proceeds donated to the Bigfork Food
Pantry. In addition, Debbie is a licensed esthetician, offering result-oriented
facials that are combined with ancient healing massage techniques.
Deirdre Murphy has just begun teaching a Vinyasa Flow Yoga class for intermediate and advanced levels on Tuesday eveningsa meditation in motion that takes students far beyond where they thought they could go. Christine Schimpff offers core conditioning/Pilates classes on Monday and Wednesday mornings and Thursday evenings.
Last, but certainly not least, is Connie Piasecki from Bigfork, a favorite yoga instructor at montanabliss. On Thursday mornings she teaches Beginning Yoga, perfect for seniors and for newcomers, like myself. She likes to explain to new students how yoga differs from exercise: Yoga is gentle. Yoga is done without striving to achieve or forcing your body. Yoga is non-competitive; there are no yoga Olympics. Yoga can be adapted to anyone. Yoga honors your body limits and does not push through them. Yoga focuses on maintaining awareness in the present moment. Yoga emphasizes breathing techniques throughout the practice. Yoga maintains an internal focus. Yoga focuses on being rather than doing. Dont just do something, sit there. Yoga does not prescribe to the no pain, no gain theory. Yoga requires no special equipment or clothing.
Last Thursday I took Connies 90-minute class, and it was an encouraging experience for me. Connie is the perfect instructor for beginners and for anyone wanting a gentler class. The class size that day was smallsix women and one manand Connie explained each technique slowly, demonstrating each move for us, stopping to answer questions whenever one was asked. She was patient with our awkward poses, suggesting what we could do to improve our form, allowing us to stop when we reached our edge, all the while reminding us to breathe, breathe, breathe. When the class started 90 minutes seemed like an eternity to me, but at the end, when we lay on our mats on the floor, calming ourselves, listening to the soothing music and to Connies quiet voice, I was sorry it was over. I plan to return to her Beginning Yoga class as often as possible. Connie also teaches a Hatha Yoga class for all levels on Saturdays.
Classes are held at montanabliss six days a week, Monday through Saturday
at different times of the day and evening. The drop-in charge is $10 per
class ($7 for students); a series of five classes is $45, and a series
of 10 classes is $80.
Starting July 29 a five-week Yoga for Children class is being offered on Thursdays from 3:00 to 4:00 PM for children ages five to eight (plus or minus), and the cost is $40. Space is limited, so sign your child up early.
The first workshop at montanabliss, held last month with master teacher Mas Vidal from California, was sold out but he will return in December for another workshop. Dates for an Introduction to Hatha Yoga workshop with Celeste Chiappetta Pasca will soon be finalized.
A beginners/seniors class
(Photo by Todd Yamashita)
In addition to the yoga and Pilates classes, montanabliss also offers the services of Doctor of Chiropractic Ryan M. Wigness of Whitefish, and nationally certified massage therapist Rachel Cooper. (The combination of yoga and/or Pilates with Rachels healing hands can further enhance ones ability to relax while increasing strength, balance and flexibility.) There is also a boutique on site offering an assortment of yoga supplies, clothing made from organic cotton, books, music, essential oils, candles and incense, skin care products, locally designed jewelry and jewelry from Danas day job. Boutique hours are Monday 1 to 6 PM, Tuesday.
A book club has just been started that meets two evenings a month. Check
the montanabliss website, www.montanabliss.com for a list of classes, workshops, book club meeting dates, instructor
bios, and basic information about yoga, or call them at 406.253.4771. montanabliss
is located at 108 Crestview Drive in Bigfork.
Id just like people to understand that yoga is not a religion, its a science. Its been around for 5,000 years. The Yogis will tell you that its for people of all religions. It helps you practice your own religion that much deeper, that much stronger, and with more devotion, Dana explained.
The montanabliss website lists the many benefits of yoga: it increases
concentration, energy, focus, balance and attention; it increases strength
and muscle toning; it creates a stronger, more flexible spine; it aids
in recovery from injury and trauma; it helps you sleep; it reduces stress;
it builds self-esteem and confidence; it cultivates a peaceful, relaxed
state of body and mind; it strengthens your body and mind as you become
more flexible; it improves and maintains your health physically and emotionally;
it teaches you to let go...and stay in the moment (increases
mindfulness); and it complements sports training. If youve ever
thought of learning yoga, now is the time to try it for one or more of
the above reasons. Its never too late to start improving your mental,
emotional or physical health. Its the only activity in which
one actually progresses as one gets older. Even the masters in their 70s
and 80s are finding themselves in new poses for the very first time, Dana concluded at the end of our interview.
- Friday 11 AM - 6 PM, and Saturday 9 AM - 2 PM.