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(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Thousands of years ago, deep in the Himalaya Mountains, lived the first yoga masters, reads the first line of Osnat Israeli's introduction to yoga for children. Israeli, who created a line of cards to help teach yoga to youth, has been using storytelling and games as foundations for successful learning for many years. But her passion for yoga is a more recent affair.
After years of practicing Pilates, Israeli attended a yoga class in 2000. "It was partially out of boredom and wanting to try something new," she says. "I thought I would try it for three months and then go back to Pilates." But once in the studio, it only took a few seconds for her to understand that yoga would be forever. Pilates was history.
Growing up on Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh, Israeli spent a lot of time outside doing sports and gymnastics. After graduating from Tel Aviv University with a degree in film studies, she worked as a scriptwriter and director creating educational computer games for Educoncept. "The company's goal was to educate children in the form of a story, using the concept of symbols." Israeli coordinated the text, animations and voice-overs in the games.
In the late 1990s, Israeli changed companies and gained her first experience with marketing at an advertising agency in Tel Aviv. Because her work was part-time, she had the opportunity to fulfill her passion for yoga and start a three-year yoga teacher training course at the Wingate Institute.
In 2004, she lost her part-time job at the ad agency and decided to work in a nursery school in Ramat Hasharon while she finished her certification as a yoga instructor. "I always liked children. I laugh a lot with them and enjoy playing games. I was always the favorite baby-sitter. So when a friend suggested creating a yoga course for children, I thought why not? I didn't realize it was going to change my life."
In the nursery, Israeli's yoga course was a big hit. Nevertheless, she was missing colorful accessories to help the children understand the positions properly. The homemade flash cards she brought in just weren't good enough.
She decided to make professional cards. They would serve as both a final project for certification at Wingate and as a tool for teaching children. Using her background in writing, production and marketing, she got to work on her first set of yoga4kids flash cards.
"I had the knowledge I needed to make the cards - from hiring a professional photographer and illustrator to choosing yoga positions - and once I had the idea, it only took one month to complete the first set."
The cards, which include 19 different yoga positions, come in pairs. In each set, one card uses an illustration, such as a dog or fish, while the other side is a photograph of a child in that specific yoga position. In addition to a yoga instructor or teacher employing them as a learning tool, children can also use them alone or in groups to play numerous games involving yoga. They can also be used as a memory game.
"These cards are designed to help children understand where the poses come from and why they are called a dog or a cat, etc," says Israeli. "Games are an excellent way to teach, and when the children see other children in the pose, they realize they can do it too."
Most of the 19 poses are traditional yoga positions, but Israeli and her colleague, Sivan Kedmi, chose to make a few adaptations of their own, including the "stork" and the "mouse."
The first set of yoga4kids cards was sold at a yoga convention in the summer of 2004. "We thought we would sell 200 and we only sold 30, but today, I know that is actually a lot." To sell the remaining cards, Israeli and Kedmi walked from store to store. "We had backpacks on stuffed with cards. We felt like Beduin women."
In 2005, Israeli and Kedmi created two more sets of yoga cards designed for pair work (children with children and parents with children) using the same concept of illustrations and photographs. In addition to Hebrew, the cards are available in German, Swedish and English.
Now a full-time yoga instructor, Israeli also writes a monthly column for children in Teva Hadvarim. In each article, she explains one pose and gives its ancient Indian story.
Making yoga fun and easy to learn through colorful cards and games has great appeal for children, but Israeli also says the health and mental benefits are excellent. Practicing yoga is touted by practitioners as building strength, improving flexibility, increasing concentration and adding to a sense of inner peace and well-being.
"All of the benefits for adults are also true for children doing yoga," says Israeli. Flexible like snakes, stable like mountains and colorful like butterflies are just a few of the examples she gives to help them attain those benefits.