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All aboard! : ClimbTime Yoga nurtures the parent-child bond

March 15, 2011 5:35 AM

On a recent weekday, a group of seven moms gathered in a sunny Milpas Street studio.

They cooed, smiled and made silly faces at their newborns, as any parent would. But unlike just any parent, they were perched atop inflated exercise balls.

Some tried sliding on top of the balls, belly first, with their arms extended, looking a bit like flying superheroes, only decked out in yoga gear and giggling.

One mom, balancing her torso on a ball, pushed her arms off the floor and clapped her hands a few times, while lifting her legs — a challenging move for the abs, legs and backside.

"Hi," she said, gazing and grinning at her baby as he rested on the plush mat floor in front of her. "What's Momma doing?"

Momma was doing ClimbTime Yoga, a new form of parent-child partner exercise, created by Marty New, a Santa Barbara-based certified yoga instructor.

It's the kind of class that can create a respite for busy moms and dads, while fostering the bond between kids and their parents, as everyone gets a workout.

While the babies in this class weren't doing a whole lot of yoga themselves — they rested on their backs and in their mother's arms or were gently lifted overhead — the older kids in other classes can get really active, with intrepid tykes crawling, tumbling and even launching off their parents' bodies.

Ms. New started offering the classes after moving to Santa Barbara a year and a half ago.

She developed the curriculum in New York City, where she was a professor at New York University, teaching movement and voice for actors.

ClimbTime grew naturally out of her rigorous yoga practice as a single parent.

"I was a big yoga mom," she told the News-Press later. "It was just too expensive to pay for a yoga class and a baby sitter and do it on a frequent enough level."

She noticed the way her son, Somerset, now 7, would grip onto her when he was an infant. As he grew up, he'd climb on her while she was doing yoga. At the time, she simply thought it was amusing.

"He would climb on and flip off and (friends) would go, 'Oh my God! What are you doing here?!' and I'd go, 'I'm doing climb-on-me yoga.' "

Encouraged by friends, she thought she'd take a year off from teaching actors to develop a parent-child yoga class. "Of course, it took five years," recalled Ms. New, an alumna of the Yale School of Drama, laughing.

Along with her son, she developed sequences for children and their parents involving stretching, toning, strengthening, relaxation and more.

She drew from traditional yoga; acro-yoga, in which one partner often balances on top of the other; exercises using inflatable and solid balls; Thai massage; and different forms of movement.

With ClimbTime, of course, it's the kids who clamber onto their parents. For example, in the Butterfly Asana, a child can balance, airplane-style, on top of his mom's outstretched legs and feet, or in the Mad Cow, a youngster might sit on her dad's back while he moves his body in different ways.

It may look a bit like horsing around, but it has a well-defined structure and the safety of participants in mind.

The classes are held in Aikido of Santa Barbara's studio, which is padded with thick mats over a sprung floor, so students are free to tumble and experiment. Each class has no more than seven adults and seven children; one adult is paired with each child.

While creating ClimbTime Yoga, Ms. New consulted with experts, including a child psychologist and speech pathologist, to develop an approach that pays heed to the developmental needs of children, including their cognitive and language skills. She tries to model conscious parenting techniques, like healthy nonverbal and verbal communication, in class.

"I took five years to develop ClimbTime, because I really didn't want to be like Baby Einstein where I created something and it did the opposite of what I said it was going to do," she said.

Separate classes are offered based on age group: newborns to 6 months; 6 to 18 months; 18 months to 3 years; 3 to 5 years.

Ms. New created two additional classes in Santa Barbara: ClimbTime Family Yoga for kids 5 and older, which includes the whole family, and ClimbTime Adult Yoga. She's also working on a class for special needs children.

Each section is offered about two or three times a week, and Ms. New now teaches 13 classes, with help from several assistants whom she's been training.

Vivian Valentin, a certified yoga teacher, began taking ClimbTime classes about four months ago and has started assisting some classes.

"It's like a stress release and a good core workout, all at the same time I'm playing with my baby," said the Santa Barbara resident, as her 7-month-old, Cianne, crawled around on the floor before the infant class began.

She brings her 3-year-old daughter, Evi, to another class. With Evi, "I see her laughing and giggling, she bounces on the ball and does flips and things," she said.

A central tenet of ClimbTime is focusing on the individual participants' needs, based on their skill levels, abilities and energy.

The idea is to work incrementally and steadily on building strength and flexibility without any pain or injury. People often go beyond their limits to keep up with the person next to them in yoga classes, but Ms. New feels that goes against the spirit of yoga.

"If you're pushing yourself too hard, you're not being compassionate and not connecting to yourself," she said.

At the same time, she tries to keep the classes interesting and vary the sequences so there's some challenge and stimulation.

With ClimbTime Yoga, "you can do a gentle practice that is still vigorous. And an advanced yogi could come in here and get a really good workout by approaching the asanas (or sequences) differently."

"It's important as a human being to have that feeling of ... doing something you never thought you could do," she added. "It opens up your eyes in a way you can't believe. The confidence you get from doing a really strong physical practice, it teaches you. It reassures you in other parts of your life."

And parents can be role models for their children when they challenge themselves and take risks.

In classes with newborns, an emphasis is on creating a supportive, relaxing environment for moms.

"As much as having a baby is so exciting, it's also deadly exhausting and stressful," said Ms. New. "The first five classes are about really de-stressing the mothers, making them feel supported, in a place where they can talk about things."

They learn that they don't have to show up exactly on time and that it's OK if their kids are "screaming and gassy."

With the toddlers and older kids, "there's a lot of free play," said the instructor. "You watch how they're playing and what they're playing, and you create the games or sequences from them. What you see in front of you is what they're ready to work on."

One day, for example, some triplets started running around, jumping and sliding on the exercise balls. She showed the boys how to roll off the balls and fall in a safe way, while their parents guided them.

There's a sense of community in the classes, as adults take turns keeping an eye on each other's children. The teacher might swoop in and soothe a crying baby, as his mother works on a pose.

And throughout the classes, Ms. New weaves in songs that she wrote, which she teaches to participants and encourages them to sing. They range from earnest songs about respecting and loving life on the planet to silly ditties about how fun it is to tickle.

"Squeeze me, rock me, roll me," goes the song "Climb on Me." "Lift me to the sky/Every day I'm climbing higher/ With you by my side."

" 'Cause I love you, love you,/ love you, oooh yes I do.

"Oh, I love you, love you, love you,/ Child, and I know you love me too./ Climb on me."