Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 4
 
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
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All in a Day’s Work

NURTURING FAMILIES: Nicole Calvano, Soma yoga teacher and founder of the Infinite U, “provides a space for kids to be themselves and to discover the joy of being who they are. There is no ‘wrong way’ here.”

Nicole Calvano believes in the power of yoga. In private and group sessions in homes, schools, Y’s, at birthday parties, and after-school programs, she works with “typical kids,” as well as children on the autism spectrum, their siblings, and their parents to “re-connect them with their inner calm.” By “uniting in a safe and comfortable environment,” she says, “each person comes away feeling more connected to themselves, to their family unit, and to others.” According to one parent, placing her special-needs child in one of Ms. Calvano’s classes was “one of the best things I’ve done to help her. Miss Nicole is so patient, so endearing; the children respond to her.”

Ellen Gilbert

Yoga opened up a whole new world for me. I don’t mean just physically; I believe it gives us strength in our minds, so we can be more focused as we go about our day. You might think of adults first in this regard, but it’s a much more stressful world for kids. I see kids, eight and ten years old, who are stressed. It’s great to be able to offer them tools that are really helpful.

Yoga helps kids in dealing with peer pressure, and in understanding their physical and emotional strengths. Kids tend to be disconnected from their bodies, so they sometimes make disappointing choices. Yoga grounds us in our bodies, so we feel more connected to the physical world and aware of our gifts.

Children on the autism spectrum have an even greater feeling of disconnection, and their families often feel alone. My current class, “Yoga for Families Living with Autism” at the Center for Relaxation and Healing in Plainsboro, offers a peaceful retreat. Through a series of movements and breathing, the special needs children relax in a safe environment, and their families, who often feel a sense of isolation, connect with other families. If a child has a meltdown, it’s just kind of reassuring to see that it happens to others. The community connection, and the knowledge that they’re not alone is vital.

I sometimes call it “a retreat from the day” for the parents of children on the autism spectrum. Often, the siblings of these children — who themselves may feel very alienated — gravitate towards each other. It’s very joyful, but also very gentle and soothing for children who are hypersensitive to stimulation.

Getting in touch with the body has a lot to do with getting in touch with one’s feelings.

For example, kids may have a gut reaction to a particular situation, but if they’re empowered to trust their own feelings, they will trust themselves to make the right decision.

The other day I taught a class for six different “typical kids” ages five to 13. At the beginning, I asked them to rate their happiness on a scale of one to five, with “five” being “very happy,” and “one” meaning “I’m feeling very sad.” At the end, when I asked them to rate themselves again, four of the kids who started at “four” were now at “five”; one who started at “three” had become a “four,” and the boy who was most resistant to participating and started out at “two” ended up reporting a “five.” They did it. I’m the teacher, but they tapped into themselves.

I was always drawn to children, working over the years as a camp counsellor and sports specialist. I have a B.S. in Biology, with a minor in Gender Studies. At first I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but my interest in the mind-body-spirit connection drew me to become a certified yoga teacher. I started out with adults, and then created a yoga program for kids at the local Y. I found that kids respond really well, and I became eager to expand my practice with them.

I’m often struck by the fact that very athletic boys, who you would expect to be the least interested, are the most excited about yoga. There’s a flexibility component missing in a lot of athletic programs. Yoga makes them feel more at ease, more stretched.

Half of my business is with families with children on the autism spectrum, one-fourth is with parents who have children on the autism spectrum, and one-fourth is with typical kids. Yoga has a place in the classroom, the after-school center, and the home. It’s versatile and adapts to accommodate different ages and abilities.

I’m always watching people’s faces. I love to see them become calm.

For more information, visit www.theinfiniteU.com. To pre-register for Ms. Calvano’s ongoing Yoga class “for families touched by autism,” email her at nicole@theinfiniteU.com, or call (732) 407-2847. Ms. Calvano also offers workshops for educators and therapists.

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