I’m halfway through two of my yoga for kids sessions, and I have achieved a level of comfort and ease with my preschool yoga routines. We begin our half-hour together by finding our names on pieces of construction paper cut out in the shape of our class theme. Yesterday was carrots to go with the bunny stickers that were passed out at the end of the class. A story follows, and yoga is often incorporated into the narrative. We play games and take turns teaching poses. Hardly anyone runs off the rug or talks out of turn. It’s magical at times and quite fun. Each week I try to add another element of the philosophy of yoga to our practice. Yesterday, we listened to a chime and observed how long we could follow the sound waves until they disappeared. Three times our sense was tuned to the chime in attentive stillness.
This half hour is followed by a forty-five minute elementary school class. I must gather my things into my bag, hurry downstairs, and assemble myself for the awaiting students. Kids who are restless and talkative await me. Although the class is smaller, with about half as many students as my preschool class, it is at least three times as challenging. I find I struggle to fill the minutes with yoga, and find myself turning into a recess monitor. The five or so kids are full of kinetic energy. They want to wrestle and explore their bodies in ways that feel disruptive to the natural flow of yoga I am used to. It takes me out of my comfort zone.
I have one child who farts audibly throughout the class, and there are no windows that open to clear the air. He refuses to go to the bathroom. I have another who touches everything I bring with me. When I turn my attention away for a moment, he is digging into my belongings, flipping through the pages of the storybooks, rearranging yoga cards, and banging my chime. I know he probably needs yoga more than the rest, but he tries my patience like no one else can.
Group energy feeds the individual and collectively it grows. Sometimes this can be wonderful. When a circle of people are joined in the energy of love a space can fill with the embrace of its powerful light. Alternatively, I often feel as though I am in the midst of a small gang of hoodlums whose chaotic energy reverberates off the walls in this yoga class. It feels like everything yoga should not be.
The children whine and argue with one another. They condense space so that bodies bump and push together. Unlike the preschoolers, they pay little attention to storybooks, and half of them refuse to engage in yoga postures even when I ask them to lead. Yesterday, they were particularly challenging. I discarded my attempt to do storybook yoga with them and moved onto one game and then another. Bodies continued to argue, push against each other, and ignore my instruction. I felt frustration and irritation grow its ugly form inside of me before the class was halfway over. The voice of anger began to creep its way into my throat. Someone had just handed me a ripped yoga card from a deck that had been lovingly gifted from a dear friend. I took a deep breath.
I didn’t care who ripped the card. I didn’t ask. Instead, I quietly asked for tape.
Kids like to help, in general, when asked. I felt the energy begin to shift to the small mission at hand. Soon a roll of scotch tape was retrieved from some mysterious place in the classroom and placed in my hand. I ripped off a strand and slowly began to mend the cardboard. I ripped another and reinforced the back. I gathered the deck together and placed it inside my bag, then sat on the floor.
“Sit on the rug with me,” I told my students. “Close your eyes. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Breathe. Good. Breath again. One more time,” I urged. “Open your eyes. Take your arms in front of you and place one over the other,” I demonstrated. “Hold them like this without touching.” We took another deep breath. “Can you feel the energy move through your hands?” I asked. “I can feel it swirling through mine, can you?” All attention was focused on this mudra designed to calm. It felt like magic.
I didn’t pause to doubt or question what I felt and observed, allowing myself instead to slip past constriction into the fluid space of the intuition. We had transformed our collective energy of chaos to that of calm. “Reach your hands to the sky and breathe. Exhale and twist.” We were doing yoga. Together. Arms followed my voice and bodies turned and stretched in their own space. For the last ten minutes of class we moved in a rhythmic wave, our bodies peaceful, our minds settled into our practice. The miracle that can be yoga had been discovered together, and I think we each left the room transformed from when we had entered it.