Inspired by his mother’s cancer battle, 11-year-old Tabay Atkins now teaches yoga for charity
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.”
Tabay Atkins, 11, leads a class in yoga, breathing and meditation exercises during a class. He has found his mission in life.