Yoga ideas from a galaxy far, far away

“Mom, did you know that at school we do Star Wars yoga?”

My 5-year-old son rarely shares any details about his day at kindergarten, so this was a big deal.

“No, I didn’t know. What is Star Wars yoga?” I asked.

“We breathe in and out like Darth Vader,” he said. “And, we can be R2-D2, like this!” He bent over into a downward-dog pose and started making beeping noises.

I was intrigued, so I asked one his teachers, Susan King, about it. She explained that the class has been trying out some yoga exercises as a way to calm down and have a “brain break” in the afternoon.

“The moves are challenging for balance, coordination and flexibility, but we have been working on the idea of not giving up,” Susan said. “I encourage them to keep trying and get as close as they can to the pose. It teaches them not to judge themselves or others, but to try their best every time.”

While she sometimes leads the poses herself, Susan explained that the Star Wars version comes from Cosmic Kids Yoga, a series of free online yoga videos designed specifically for kids. The first video was posted on YouTube in 2012, and today there are 29 episodes available online and on DVD.

The host of each video is Jaime Amor, a certified yoga instructor based in England. In the Star Wars episode, she is in front of a space-station backdrop with her hair done Princess Leia-style. During the 25-minute segment, she demonstrates stretches and yoga poses (all aptly chosen for the Star Wars theme) while re-telling the story of Episode IV: A New Hope in her friendly British accent.

“Teachers tell us that adding yoga to the school day refreshes the students’ minds and offers relief from the pressures they may feel,” Jaime explains. “It basically helps them into their bodies so their minds feel clearer, which enhances their ability to learn. It’s also a great way for kids to achieve some of their daily physical activity when they can’t go outside due to bad weather.”

When it comes to choosing a video for a specific grade or age group, Jaime says the animal-inspired episodes like “Squish the Fish” and “Popcorn the Dolphin” seem to appeal to a younger audience, while older children gravitate to the Star Wars and Harry Potter themes. Other episodes may connect to curriculum content – for example, “Frank the Frog” is set in a rainforest in Costa Rica, while “Norris the Baby Seahorse” has an anti-bullying message.

Since Yoda yoga may not be everyone’s first choice, Jaime and her team are receptive to fan feedback when planning future episodes. In response to requests for a Jurassic Park dinosaur adventure, their latest release is called “Tiny the T-Rex.” Also in the works is a yoga session inspired by Disney’s Frozen. Regardless of theme, “I try to make sure each and every story has a moral message or insight into life,” Jaime says.

It is easy to see why Jaime’s earnest and enthusiastic on-screen presence appeals to her young audience. “I think it helps when kids feel that yoga is something we share, rather than it being another situation where they are told what to do,” she says. “When I teach, I always start instructions for poses with ‘We bring our feet together’ or ‘Let’s all try this.’ I think kids respond better when they feel equal and respected.”

Movement breaks, mindful messages, and creative themes. Now that’s using the Force.