A new yoga program has moved into the neighborhood, but it's more SpongeBob SquarePants than Lululemon.
Called Stella Kids Yoga, it's a project from Stella Xujia Niu, who's now offering yoga classes at the Academy of Tae Kwon Do at 988 Oak St. The classes are designed for children between three and 11 years old.
Grandmaster Bill Dewart offered to share his longtime martial arts space with her. “He and his wife support me and are willing to give me the opportunity to make my dream come true,” Niu says.
She kicked off Stella Kids Yoga with some students this February, but plans to offer more classes from January onwards, after children return to school from their winter break. Niu wants to reach out to elementary schools in the neighborhood to build a relationship. “You have to trust someone, when you let them teach your children,” Niu explains.
Last year, Niu worked for the UC Berkeley summer camp, where she gave yoga classes for children as well. They often shared their ideas for the class with her and asked: “Why don’t we do that pose?”
Niu will also ask her future students to share their ideas with her, because she wants to support creativity. “Children always give me positive energy,” she says.
She also explores different learning styles that include visualization and storytelling. By incorporating play, children improve focus, autonomy, and confidence, Niu explains. That way, her students are also able to gain more control over their bodies for flexibility, strength, and coordination.
Classes take place from 4-5pm Wednesday to Friday, and 2-4pm Saturday and Sunday. As soon as she has more students, she plans to divide them into three age groups, because it's easier to teach that way.
Niu moved to the Bay Area a couple of years ago, but has practiced yoga since high school. When she came to the U.S., she experienced some health issues, and her doctor encouraged her to do more yoga. That’s when she started Bikram Yoga classes, and became inspired to do more and become an instructor.
Niu designed the yoga class by herself, since getting and keep kids’ attention is the tricky part, she says.
The first minutes of the hour-long class are spent with meditation, where she plays a song and asks the children to listen carefully and maybe close their eyes. Then she moves on to yoga basics, wrapping up the class with music and games to keep the children’s attention, as well as different apps that show children doing movement.
Niu likes that she never knows what her young students will ask her during class. For instance, as a student once wondered: “Stella, why is there only a downward-facing dog pose, but no downward-facing cat?”
Parents can book weekly or monthly packages on the website; drop-in classes are $29, weekly packages at $49, and monthly packages are $169.
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