YOUNG YOGI:

In­spired by his mother’s can­cer bat­tle, 11-year-old Tabay Atkins now teaches yoga for char­ity

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - FRED SWEGLES

Tabay Atkins, 11, had no inkling in 2012 that he had in­ad­ver­tently se­lected his mis­sion in life. He was 6. His mother was bat­tling can­cer.

The son of Larry Atkins and Sa­hel An­varine­jad ob­served first-hand the dra­matic emo­tional and phys­i­cal lift that his mother’s dis­cov­ery of yoga con­trib­uted to her re­cov­ery from non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma.

By year’s end, she was can­cer-free and had com­pleted a 200-hour cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as a yoga in­struc­tor. Tabay, be­ing 6, tagged along at some of her train­ing and soon found him­self as­sim­i­lat­ing the flow.

To­day, Tabay is a cer­ti­fied in­struc­tor — per­haps the youngest in Amer­ica, or any­where, as far as his mother can tell — hav­ing earned his cer­ti­fi­ca­tion when he was still 10.

He doesn’t charge for his ser­vices. He puts out a do­na­tion jar, all pro­ceeds go­ing to chil­dren with can­cer.

“He is the sweet­est per­son you will ever meet,” said Tay­lor Carey, 11, who at­tended one of Tabay’s re­cent classes at the fam­ily’s stu­dio, Care 4 Yoga, in San Cle­mente, Calif.

“When he told me he was an in­struc­tor, I said, re­ally?” said Kim Hanley, who is Tabay’s sixth-grade English teacher at Vista Del Mar Mid­dle School. She has been do­ing yoga for 16

years. She de­cided to try one of his classes.

“I had a hard time not cry­ing the whole time,” she said. “He did so well. He said all the right things at all the right times. He taught me a few new tricks to­day. Very im­pres­sive. Six­teen years and I learned some­thing new to­day.”

Yoga may seem an un­usual pas­sion for the nim­ble 79-pound son of a re­tired six-foot-three, 250-pound Na­tional Foot­ball League line­backer. But Larry Atkins, for­merly of

the Kansas City Chiefs and Oak­land Raiders, said he is proud of his son and is sold on yoga.

“It has ben­e­fit­ted me a lot,” he said. “I wish I had started this early on, when I was play­ing. Now my body is a lot more flex­i­ble than it ever was. This takes it to another level, not only phys­i­cally but men­tally.”

Tabay said his mother lost her hair to chemo­ther­apy and couldn’t walk on her own in 2012. He watched her take up yoga and dive into train­ing in­tensely. “She healed men­tally and phys­i­cally,” Tabay said. “She could walk on her own.”

Once cer­ti­fied, Sa­hel be­gan teach­ing. She also be­gan of­fer­ing yoga for phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in Tabay’s se­cond-grade class, earn­ing

spe­cialty cer­tifi­cates to teach chil­dren, teens, can­cer sur­vivors and chil­dren with autism or other spe­cial needs. Tabay ac­com­pa­nied her at some of these train­ings. At­tend­ing one in its en­tirety, he so im­pressed the teacher that she cer­ti­fied him in that spe­cialty.

Tabay be­gan as­sist­ing his mom at her classes. “At first I was a lit­tle ner­vous,” he said. “Af­ter a while, it’s eas­ier to do.”

When he grad­u­ated fifth grade, his mother of­fered him a sum­mer trip to Europe or an in­ten­sive 200hour full yoga in­struc­tor cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course in Los An­ge­les. Europe will have to wait.

Made­line Mac­chia, 11, who has known Tabay since the first grade

and prac­tised yoga since then, said there isn’t much dif­fer­ence be­tween Tabay’s classes and his mom’s. “I love be­ing around them,” she said. “He has gained a lot more knowl­edge about yoga and has def­i­nitely grown as a teacher.”

“You could tell he had some­thing spe­cial, teach­ing,” said Rachel Pat­tin, 13.

As word about the 11-year-old yogi has spread, the Atkins fam­ily has sud­denly found it­self field­ing in­quiries from news re­porters and tele­vi­sion sta­tions.

Tabay said he has up­com­ing travel dates for tap­ings of TV shows he isn’t at lib­erty to di­vulge. “He is an amaz­ing boy,” his mother said. “He touches ev­ery­one’s heart. He has love for ev­ery­one and wants to share that. He wants to help peo­ple who are sick.”

Sa­hel said the do­na­tions her son col­lects to go to Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal of Or­ange County, to can­cer fam­i­lies the Atkins fam­ily knows or to a bas­ket of other char­i­ties they are con­fi­dent will ap­ply the pro­ceeds well.

“I am with him 100 per cent,” said his dad.

“I played pro­fes­sional sports — what I did was tem­po­rary ... a few years, and then it’s over. What he is do­ing can last a life­time. He can do a lot more than I did, as far as in­spir­ing peo­ple.”

PHOTOS BY JEFF ANTENORE, TNS

Tabay Atkins, 11, leads a class in yoga, breath­ing and med­i­ta­tion ex­er­cises dur­ing a class. He has found his mis­sion in life.

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