In the calm, colorful environment of her Clarence, NY, yoga studio, Elizabeth Blinkoff MS ’11 instructs children two to eight years old.
At Little Lizzie's Yogis, Blinkoff says just like adults, children can become more aware of their breathing and learn important skills such as concentration, sensitivity and self-acceptance.
“Children sometimes have a hard time managing their feelings and don't learn how to express themselves in a healthy way, which can result in negative behavior,” she says. “Yoga allows children to relieve some emotions that are stuck inside in a way that nothing else can. Different poses are designed to do that.”
Before becoming a certified children’s yoga instructor and opening her studio in 2018, Blinkoff was a behavioral specialist for children with special needs, particularly autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). She has a master’s degree in counselor education from Canisius and did her post-graduate work in applied behavior analysis at Penn State World Campus.
The 15-year veteran yogi knew the powerful changes that practicing yoga has made in her life. Blinkoff struggled with anxiety, depression and ADHD from the time she was a child. She says those disorders started to take control until she researched trauma-based yoga.
“You hold your pose and feel what is going on in your body,” she says. “I have learned to accept my feelings and move on. The difference is unbelievable.”
Elizabeth Blinkoff MS '11, aka "Miss Lizzie," teaches her yoga students the tree pose
When her young son Calvin was three, Blinkoff wanted him to reap those rewards.
“I wanted Calvin to learn self-love, discipline, compassion, and how to label what he’s feeling,” she says. “These things are much harder to learn as adults, and I believed yoga would benefit him.”
Now, Calvin and dozens of Western New York children are gaining strength, flexibility, and body awareness at Little Lizzie's Yogis. Yoga classes last 15 minutes, then children learn mindfulness through such activities as meditation, art and music for the rest of the hour.
“I keep the yoga portion short so the children don’t get bored,” says Blinkoff. “Art is something that is therapeutic for even the youngest children who cannot talk, and it is a simple way to express how a child might be feeling.”
In the resting room filled with teepees and pillows, Blinkoff instructs her “littles” on how to calm their minds and bodies during a 15-minute meditation period. One of the biggest benefits of her program, says Blinkoff, is for children to be able to gain control of their emotions.
“One parent told me she was at the store with her two year-old boy and he got upset when she refused to let him have something." But instead of throwing a tantrum, she says, the toddler incorporated techniques Blinkoff taught him. He took deep breaths and tapped his little fingers together, which calmed him down.
“The positive effects of deep breathing, being aware of your feelings, voicing your feelings, and expressing them in healthy and positive ways are immeasurable,” says Blinkoff, who has seen huge strides in her own son. “Instead of melting down, Calvin will say ‘I am upset because my tummy hurts.’”
Blinkoff adds that she is grateful for her Canisius education, which gave her the fundamentals she uses today at Miss Lizzie’s.
“At Canisius I learned all of the therapeutic aspects that I incorporate into my business,” she says. “It just reinforced my passion and the desire to make a difference when it comes to the lives of children.”
Through that passion, Blinkoff hopes to give her students inner peace that they can then pay forward.
“I love how you can see the light of their souls through their eyes,” says Blinkoff. “I want to give children the skills to spread their love and light to everyone around them.”