Kids and Yoga. Who would have thought? I for one, never would have. It’s just that I wasn’t used to having kids around me; except for seeing some kids of my friends, I didn’t really have any interaction with them on a regular basis. I guess that is fine. Until a physician friend (who happens to have three of his toddlers at a local kindergarten) came to me with the idea of teaching kids yoga, I was focused on adults only. Adults were my world, all I knew. Frankly, I also didn’t think I had what it took to deal with children. I liked them, sure, but I always thought it was a different set of skills that one needed… It was an area I hadn’t tapped into yet. My friend asked if I would consider meeting the kindergarten principal and have a talk, give it a try. He had already mentioned me. He had this vision of it being a first in the area, that this would make the kindergarten stand out, as well as truly benefit the kids. “How old would the kids be?”
I asked. Born between 2009-2011. “That’s little!”
I thought (or gasped). How the heck could I do anything with them? How do you communicate with kids at that level? I can’t say that I knew for sure.
I met up with the school principle, we talked about what I could bring to the table, he was open about things and encouraging, ok with things evolving, me learning along the way. Next thing you knew, I was leaving my workplace an hour a week to teach kids yoga, changing from work clothes into yoga clothes, transforming, as I usually do, into a yoga teacher for that one hour. What I discovered is that kids’ yoga is a lot of fun, even better than adults’ yoga in some ways. What makes it fun isn’t the fact that the kids are simply adorable and that you want to eat them up sometimes from this cuteness (which also happens to hold true), but because they are such vivid reminders of what I try to instill teaching adults. So it becomes a lesson for me too, an inspiration at times:
-Kids are highly adaptable. They have no expectations. They are used to being in the moment; in fact they have not been conditioned to be outside
the moment yet. Therefore they get into yoga fast. You don’t see the resistance you find in adults.
-They have no prejudice: they don’t judge you. They’re honest, as is. They don’t expect you to do anything but be yourself, see them and notice them, nourish them with your time and care. Therefore there is more trust and an easier flow established right away. Again, this can take time with adults.
-They’re not closed up yet, they receive you with arms wide open. They do not build up barriers. They don’t reject certain movements—they try anything.
I could go on with this list, but I’d rather share what a typical day with them looks like, and add some visuals: I start with the 2011-born group around 11:00 am, and we go for about 10 minutes. What can one do in 10 minutes? you may ask. I thought so too, but we imitate the animals: cat, dog, frog, ladybug, turtle, lion, and butterfly. We always try to personify the animal and they usually love that. I think their favorite is lion, where they get to stick out their tongue and scream! How fun! We also pretend we are a growing sprout, stretching as we stand up. In only ten minutes, we’ve worked their hips, spine, pelvis, and jaw as well as learned how to chant. We not only roar, but we finish with an OM, too. Thus we’ve worked on vibrations and self-expression through the voice. Om tends to resonate with all age groups, they all respond nicely and everyone’s more centered after. We keep this group short since they are so little and it is hard to keep their attention fixed for a long time. I could easily say they are the most “in-the-moment” group. Next, I’m with the 2010-born group, which consists of more boys than girls. I get 20-25 minutes with them. We also do similar things but it’s more interactive, they speak back to me, they offer alternatives, they get a little more creative with the poses. (E.g. if we are doing airplanes, the boys like to make the planes crash and fall!) If we’re cats, they tend to crawl around or even better, crawl under me! This group is a lot of fun, and they seem to enjoy both the more expressive poses like the lion as well as switch easily into more contemplative poses like the turtle. One time I almost left without Om’ing, and a boy reminded me, with genuine concern on his face: “but we didn’t OM!!”
So after that , we ended each session with a few rounds of Oms and them lining up, each getting to chime the chimes once, getting to appreciate both self-created vibrations (the OM) and external ones (the chimes). The expression on their faces once they chime is priceless: they’re proud of the sound and look at me for approval. Such a precious moment.
Then I move on to about half an hour with the 2009-born group: the most interactive ones where one can get really creative. This is the group that reminds me what poses, in fact, tells me what poses to do, and before I even say anything, they actually just get into the pose. We leap like frogs and they jump so high, I sometimes think the floor will crash down onto the bottom floor! They really embody the animals. They love becoming a table, and we get into story-telling: everyone tells me what color their table will be, what food is on it, and we try to make the tables not collapse (of course the table has to collapse at some point…realistically!) We “zip up” our legs and become reverse planks, which we call slides. The lions REALLY roar, they let it all out. The dogs become three-legged dogs. They say a lot of funny, unexpected things you wouldn’t expect to hear. For instance, while in the turtle (where your face is close to your feet) you may hear a kid blurt out “my feet are smelly!” and then a few others join, “mine too!” and it’s just something you don’t expect, but quite funny. Kids’ yoga is full of silly moments like this.
So to teach kids yoga, you basically need to forget everything you know about adults’ yoga, and be open to responding to what comes up in the moment. Don’t have any preconceived ideas about what it should be like. Then you can have a lot of fun and be reminded of what really matters. You will be confronted with purity and innocence, and remember what it was like to play and have fun. In the end: yoga doesn’t have to be so serious for adults, either. Why not play a little more in your class next time?