The Little Yogis program

In Amie Koronczok’s “Little Yogis” class, the sound of a child’s laughter is the surest sign of peace and well-being. Amie is piloting a special program for pediatric cancer patients undergoing aggressive treatments at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Her goal: to alleviate stress and physical pain, improve quality of life and make cancer treatment more bearable for patients and their families.
The Little Yogis program is a joint effort conceived by MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Program and the Division of Pediatrics following discussions with patients and families about potential new programs that could improve their experiences. It began this past summer and is believed to be the first of its kind to use yoga to help children with cancer cope with the emotional and physical side effects associated with treatment. Initially designed for patients ranging in age from 6 to 12, the class is now also offered to children as young as three years old and as old as seventeen.

“The program provides the kids with a much-needed break from their illness,” says Amie. “For me, it’s an amazing learning experience: I can’t come with a plan in mind. I have to adapt and adjust based on who is in class on any given day – a toddler or a preteen, or a patient who had chemotherapy that week, for instance. Or, I may have a patient from another country who doesn’t speak English.”

Amie developed creative teaching methods especially designed for children. She teaches yoga poses and principles through stories, pictures, drawings and plays. With older kids, Amie uses yoga as a way for them to have fun and relax and, at least for a moment, forget that they are patients. She tailors each class to fit the age group, patients’ moods and unique abilities or challenges, such as treatment-related disabilities. Parents and siblings are welcome to participate.

“Little Yogis represents a new approach to integrative medicine at MD Anderson, and we are excited about its potential to help improve our youngest patients’ quality of life during cancer treatment,” says Catherine Powers-James, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at MD Anderson in the Integrative Medicine Program and co-designer of Little Yogis. “For families, it offers an unexpected time of relaxation in a place and situation that is anything but – the pediatric arm of a cancer hospital.”

An avid runner, Amie began practicing yoga in 2008 at the encouragement of a friend who suggested it could help boost her training regimen. Initially skeptical, after a few months Amie was hooked and realized that yoga had become a way of life. She joined MD Anderson in 2013, a year after she received her yoga teaching certification.

Amie Koronczok“I think of myself as a caretaker,” says Amie. “I listen to patients’ stories and learn about their lives all while helping them cope with cancer. It’s a very fulfilling experience.”

Amie also works with adult patients as part of a yoga research program led by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, director of MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Program. In this role, she teaches mind and body relaxation techniques with breast cancer patients. The classes include light physical exercises, guided imagery, and breathing techniques to decrease the side effects of radiotherapy.

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