Erica Montoya

YoKid yoga instructor Erica Montoya (center right, facing camera) leads a group of Henderson Middle School (Richmond, Va) students through a 45 minute after-school yoga class. Photographed Monday afternoon, February 13, 2012. (Skip Rowland Photography, Inc., Chicago Tribune)

But the child-focused classes are very different. After all, it would be difficult to persuade a child to hold each pose silently for upward of 5 minutes while concentrating on nothing but his or her breath.

So instead, they are instructed to look like their favorite animal — and hold that crouching position. Or, they are led through a story based on the yoga postures, Hawk said. They might even color in pictures of people doing yoga positions so they become more familiar with the various moves.

Soothe vs. remove stressors

Not everyone is so convinced of yoga's magical cure for children, however.

Dr. Michelle Riba, professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, said teaching yoga to children for stress relief is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a tumor.

"One might say, 'Why don't we de-stress them instead of doing something to fix the stress,'" Riba said. "It's like giving a medicine — and then giving another medicine to fix the side effects. Maybe people should look at trying not to put so much stress on the children."

Cutting back on after-school activities would be the first step, Riba said.

But at a time when "tiger mom" is a household name, it's hard to be the mother who's keeping her children at home instead of at music class.

So yoga gives them the tools they need to take a break, no matter what they're doing.

"It's easy for kids to feel overwhelmed with busy schedules, academics, hectic home lives and increased social pressures," said Laurie Jordan, director of kids programs at Kaia Yoga in Connecticut. "Yoga helps them release excess energy, tension and stress while instilling a sense of calm, and helping kids develop self-awareness and self-soothing techniques which they can use in any situation."

Easy yoga positions for kids

Give your kid a quick fix with these easy yoga poses designed for children by Lisa Flynn, founder of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms, which are programs used in schools nationwide.

Big white star visualization: While lying in bed — or even sitting up with your head resting on your desk, imagine a big, bright, white star. Let the light of the star travel to your head, your shoulders and down your body, filling you with light and love with each breath. Notice how it feels to be filled completely with love.

Washing machine: Standing with your legs hip distance apart, keep everything from your waist down still while you swing your arms back and forth like a washing machine. Close your eyes, and try to wash away any bad thoughts with your washing machine. Go back to the standing position, and with an inhale, lift your arms up. Exhale and bring them back down to your sides.

Mountain pose: Stand tall and strong like a mountain, and find something to focus your eyes on. Inhale, and raise your shoulders to your ears. Exhale, and lower them down again. Inhale, and lift your arms up over your head. Exhale, and reach your arms to one side, feeling a nice stretch. Concentrating on your breath, do the same to the other side.

sunday@tribune.com