What Should a Yoga Practice with Kids & Teens Be? #Yoga #KidsYoga #TeenYoga

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

This week will mark the end of my first sessions of full-immersion into the world of teaching yoga to kids. What has felt like an initiation by fire, with five different classes of kids ages 3-17, has left me with more questions than answers. What is, I find myself wondering, the “correct” way to teach yoga to kids and teens? Or, is there one?

Each day is different. You can arrive with a lesson plan, sets of props, and a bag filled with yoga-themed goodies, and some days this will be grand. On other days, you may as well throw it all out the window. At least that’s how it was for me.

Humans are creatures driven by their emotions, which can be impacted by not only their own internal state of being, but by the emotions of those around them, and the energy pervading the planet. Children, in particular, are highly empathic beings, easily influenced by the inner and outer emotional body.

Some days, I would arrive to a yoga class and find the energy of peace and happiness pervading the classroom. Joy easily filled us, and our yoga practice would flow like a stream of clear water. On other days, the air would be thick with humid emotions. Restless bodies trapped in an airless room were all striving for release. Who could blame them? If I were five, I too would rather be outdoors running free. Heck, even at 45, my body prefers freedom when it feels trapped in a space of confinement.

So what does one do on these days? I don’t have all the answers.

Ideally, yoga would travel to meet us where we are, at any given time. We would take it outdoors when the weather calls us to plant our feet on the grass and align our pulse with Nature’s. But, sometimes we must make do with what we are given. Closed, airless rooms.

There are days when I pretty much gave up. Threw in the towel, you might say, and mostly observed and accepted, as best I could. Taking the few precious moments when they arrived to engage a wild child in a yoga asana or breath.

They became moments of self-observation too. I would notice my own emotions, tipping toward frustration, futility, and sometimes anger. Unruly children can be cruel and disrespectful, often without intention. I found myself searching for the rare moments when I could reign them in, and teach them that there is more to yoga than moving the body into animal-like postures to find the seed of goodness within and grow it.

Even the kindest child can turn into a monster when their peers are unruly. It is not fun to watch. It is, just the opposite. Yet, we learn and grow from these moments as best we can. Moments when I found myself resisting the urge to yell. To take a small body and shake it into awareness after it reached into a bowl to grab a helpless fish, or stuffed tissues up its nose while grinning wickedly in my face.

Oh yes, there were those days when anything and everything that felt like it could go wrong did, and I would wish for a miracle that never came. Although I don’t believe in corporal punishment of any form for children, I do believe children in the society I live in tend to be over-indulged and, for the most part, lack an understanding that there are consequences to actions, even though punishment of any form is not given. And herein, perhaps, lies the gift for me.

I have found, as much as I try, that although I love to make yoga fun in creative ways, I am not a yoga teacher who finds home in the make-believe. Elaborate stories filled with action, songs, and props are not my thing. When I create these types of classes, I find that the children easily get bored unless you change the scene and plot each week. To me, this takes too much effort and feels contrived. It feeds the over-stimulated mind I am working to calm.

This, to me, is not yoga. Yoga, for me, is finding the seed of each essence held inside those restless bodies and allowing it to bloom into being. In whatever small, or big way, it is willing to bloom. And, sometimes we simply need to take away what does not work, including the children who are not ready, or wiling to engage in the practice of yoga. In each class I taught, there were always at least two children who were not ready, or interested in yoga. At least not this stage in their lives. Or, with Miss Alethea. And, that is okay.

On those rare occasions when these children left the classroom, the energy transformed.  Children who would normally follow the reckless leader(s) when present, were now engaged  and attentive. Their sharp mind tuned to my soft words inviting them to find their own yoga dance as I gently guided them along.

Sometimes an entire group needed to leave. Last week, I found myself down to two students in the last fifteen minutes of one class. Two five-year-olds who could be as unruly as the rest, remained with me while their four peers left, one-by-one, to join their other classmates on the playground. They were fifteen magical minutes. Two bright minds focused on my voice as they danced from pose to pose. “Show me how you would go from Dog Pose into Cat Pose?” “From Warrior One, into Warrior Two?” I simply sat, watched, and gently asked as the magic unfolded through their bodies.

Sometimes, the ideal yoga class is two students. Sometimes it is only fifteen minutes. And that is okay. More than okay.

The same thing happened during my middle-school yoga class last week. More than half the students were not present, due to a sport’s commitment. A group of five girls, all friends, who would rather socialize and fool around with each other than practice yoga together were absent. Instead, I had four students, two boys and two girls, who were engaged for an entire class without interruption. It was a thing of beauty.

And so I find myself asking if it is unfair, or fair, to request true engagement in the form of commitment to yoga when the person is a child? I think, perhaps, it is. From what I have seen, even a three-year-old can be engaged. There is a reason I have not mentioned my two preschool classes in this post yet. They are my largest classes, but they are also my “best” in many ways. Yes, there are challenges. The wanting to hug the teacher, and sit next to her. The friends who need to sit apart least they wrestle the entire class….but, for the most part, they are perfect in their imperfections. The students young enough to listen to their teacher without resistance, still hold a desire to please and learn. It’s easy to release the inner child when there is joy dancing around you, and a half-hour passes quickly with these children.

And so, I find myself at that point of endings that calls me to assess and evaluate before I can determine the next path to take. Still, there are more questions than answers before me, but I know I want to keep walking the path of yoga with children.

 

Breathing into Stillness & Magical Mudras #KidsYoga #yogamudras #yoga #mindfulness

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Yesterday’s Theme. Photo Credit Pixabay

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.

Fluid 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.