WHEN YOGA TEACHER Tasha Lalvani instructs her students to adopt the Lotus position, they cross their legs immediately, placing the soles of their feet on their thighs quickly and effortlessly. There is a bit of wobbling when it comes to the Eagle pose but after Lalvani tells them to focus their minds on what they are trying to achieve, they barely move a muscle. It doesn't sound any different from any other yoga class - and it isn't. Except that Lalvani's pupils range in age from five to 10. There was a time when children were ushered into the garden and expected to amuse themselves. They might have had the odd piano or ballet lesson if they were lucky but nothing like the wealth of activities they have at their disposal today. Able to take part in everything from swimming lessons aged dot to 'master chef' cookery at kindergarten and open-water diving when they reach double figures, modern tots, toddlers, tweenies and teenagers tend to have more hobbies - and even a better social life - than their parents. With yoga experiencing a renaissance among adults, it was only a matter of time before their children would be literally following in their footsteps. 'Kids like copying their parents and when they see their mothers and fathers practising yoga at home, they want to do it too,' says Lalvani. 'It promotes a huge range of benefits such as flexibility, good posture, mind-body fitness and increased self-esteem - and can be a great way for families to bond.' It teaches children how to relax and concentrate - feedback from parents indicates that homework is done more efficiently following yoga classes - and helps to alleviate breathing problems such as asthma, hyperactivity and difficulties with sleeping. In the United States, where yoga for kids has taken off in a big way, research has shown that it can prevent exam stress and improve class performance and has eased psychological tension following the events of September 11. It has also helped children with special needs, including Down's Syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, to develop bodily strength and become calmer and more focused. Lalvani, who hails from Los Angeles, started doing yoga when she was 10, imitating her mother, who practised regularly at home, because there weren't any specific yoga sessions for children then. She subsequently studied various disciplines including hatha, iyengar, ashtanga and bikram yoga, and started her Yoga for Youth classes a year ago after moving to Hong Kong and needing something to fill her time. What began as a word-of-mouth experiment with a handful of her friends' children - Lalvani admits she had no idea whether it would catch on or not - has snowballed into a regular business. She holds an hour-long class for five- to 10-year-olds every week at the German-Swiss International School on The Peak and three classes at her Mid-Levels home - two for five- to 10-year-olds and the other for children aged 11 to 15. She has a predominance of girls, but boys are welcome and there are no more than 10 children in a class so Lalvani can give ample attention to everyone. Although the music for the younger kids features Kermit the Frog rather than any New Age croaking, the poses are the same as those featured in an adult yoga class. 'All the asanas [positions] I teach the children are practised by adults but the pace and focus are different and I don't stick to any particular style,' explains Lalvani. 'Kids, especially younger ones, have a very short attention span and the last thing you want to do is make them hold one pose for several minutes. It's too boring for them - it's often boring even for adults - and once that happens they don't get the benefits of the exercise and eventually won't want to come back to class. I make each session fast and fun.' To this end, Lalvani intersperses standing with seated positions, with each exercise being held from 20 seconds to a minute, and incorporates games, stories and music into each class. For example, she gets the children to do the Downward Dog pose (hands and feet on the floor with buttocks lifted) in a line next to each other so a tunnel is formed. She then crawls through it herself or chooses a couple of kids to wriggle through. In another scenario, she tells them to imagine going to the beach and spotting different animals. Each one she calls out (shark, seal, crocodile) corresponds to a certain pose, which the children adopt. 'It's very handy that most of the exercises imitate nature and wildlife, which they love,' says Lalvani. 'Parents often tell me their children don't consider yoga as exercise but as learning about animals.' The kids also use yoga straps for stretching ('They don't have to buy the real thing - most use an old tie of dad's'), and at the end of the class they have about five minutes of lying down and trying to be quiet and still - which most of them find is the hardest part of the session. Lalvani believes that if children start practising yoga from an early age, their flexibility, posture and ability to concentrate will stand them in good stead as they get older. 'The older children especially like the relaxation and calmness of yoga,' says Lalvani. 'Once they get into the habit of coming, it becomes a way of life and they find they can't do without it. I've had children who have fallen ill crying on the phone because they can't come to yoga; others ask me how they can practise at recess without a mat. One of my seven-year-olds told me she was teaching her dad how to stretch out his bad back. It is great to see the kids enjoying it during class but to know that it stays with them at school and home is even better.' That the children enjoy the yoga and seem to be learning from it is evident. They get into the poses the second Lalvani calls them out; they all want to read the story; they know how to rectify bad posture (keep your arms back) and there is much giggling as well as touchingly serious concentration. 'My favourite bit of yoga is everything,' says Riya, seven, at the end of the session. Yoga for Youth classes are $100 each. For more information contact Tasha Lalvani (tel: 2810 9001 or 9190 9658), or Petra Bauerle, afternoon activities co-ordinator, German-Swiss International School (tel: 2825 8158).