The Union of Yoga with Kids: It’s Not Just About Asana #kidsyoga

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

I think sometimes parents and teachers are surprised when they pop in at the end of my classes and don’t see a group of children engaged in yoga postures such as “Downward Dog” and ” Warrior.” Instead, we’re often gathered on the mat looking at colors settling in a jar, rocks or feathers. Sometimes our hands are taking turns tapping mallets to metal bowls or rods as we listen for the final sound. Today, we were coloring. Valentines. Six bodies sitting around a floor table the size of a large book focused on a task together.

Yoga, by definition means “to yoke,” or “bring together.” It is, in essence, union. Union of the body, mind, and spirit. It is a union of all the senses present in the moment. And, as was exhibited in the later portion of today’s class, it is union with others.

There were a few polite questions, “Did you do yoga today?” And a few surprised smiles. We did yoga, and we were still doing yoga at the end of the class, even though were were not actively stretching our bodies into asanas. Instead we were creating Valentine’s for our loved ones. Together.

Earlier, we also gathered together and read a story about a sloth teaching his friends how to slow down. And we talked about how that was yoga too. Later, when I took out paper cut into hearts and we gathered around a small table no bigger than a book, everyone was happy to slow down. No one pushed or shoved. No one stole the one color everyone wanted. No one threw their papers or gave up on their masterpieces. It was union. It was yoga. It was a harmony that rarely can be achieved with six young bodies that want to run, bump, wrestle and and be silly during the active part of yoga that we often think is the only form of yoga.

So, I didn’t worry that it might look strange to have five students and their teacher sitting in a very cozy circle around a tiny table, sharing stories, markers, and stickers while creating symbols of love for brothers, sisters, and parents. Our small space was permeated with palpable peace and joy.  We were practicing yoga. Together. Long past the end of our half hour of class time.

Due to low enrollment this session, preK and elementary classes have been combined into one on Mondays, which means I could leave a half-hour earlier than I used to. Instead of rushing out the door, I have found there are benefits not to linger. To allowing the children to teach me what they need from the afternoon. Today, it was creating hearts of love instead of joining their other classmates for recess. “I don’t have boots today.” “I don’t have boots either.” Sometimes it’s okay to stretch the truth a little. To find an excuse not to go run around and to just be still in union with others. Creating some love to share. And, so, we lingered together. Surprised teachers popped in to make sure that we were okay. “You sure you want to stay?” They asked. How could I not?

This was yoga.

Perhaps it a  bit confusing for those who observe small moments of our classes to see that we are practicing yoga together, but I think the kids understand. They know that yoga is not just about jumping into silly forms and balancing on one foot. They know that yoga is sharing and observing. It is movement but it is also stillness. It is laughter, but also silence. And, most of all, yoga is union in its many forms.

 

Breathing into Stillness & Magical Mudras #KidsYoga

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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.

 

 

Yoga with Kids Week 2: Finding My Rhythm with Frogs #KidsYoga

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Image Credit: Pixabay. The frog that became a sticker.

I spent the bulk of the past five days in a worried funk. Pretty much all I could think about was yoga with kids. Although I only wrote about experiences with the younger preschool and kindergarten classes in my last post, the next day brought two new classes. One filled with middle schoolers. Let me first say the high school class that followed it was simply lovely. I had three polite and eager young ladies who were attentive and respectful. It was a huge and welcome breath of fresh air.

The middle school class, on the other hand, proved to be just as challenging as my classes with the younger kids. It consisted of a large group of girls who all knew each other, and a trio of boys who didn’t know the girls, but knew one another. The girls gathered in a crowded group in the back of the classroom, while the boys queued up in front of me. The giggling intermixed with bold commentary began from the group in the back of the room as soon as I introduced the “Cat & Cow” warm up poses. “Downward Dog” proved to be even worse.

“I’m not doing that.” “I don’t want anyone to see my butt.”

The wall-to-wall mirror behind me became an unavoidable source of distraction, and our hour together felt much longer than it should have.

Seasoned yoga teachers will know that teaching yoga to kids is nothing like teaching yoga to adults. It’s an entirely different game. Actually it’s a series of entirely different games. Each age group has its separate rules and obstacles.

I’m still learning the games.

By the end of the week I was more than doubtful that I would grow to love teaching yoga to kids, and whether I would discover a magical formula to do so well.

The next class I had ahead of me was another preschool class. A fresh opportunity with ten new and eager faces who had never met me.

I just needed to convince myself that I could have a different experience than I had with my first two classes.

I did some more research and started to listen to that inner voice that rarely leads us astray.

I asked for help, and got some really good advice. Especially the tip about using sitting circles or mats, which serve as a magical anchor to keep restless bodies in place.

I ordered the mats knowing they would not arrive in time. I worried, but I need not have. The inner voice spoke louder, offering me alternatives my logical brain refused to find.

One day, I went to the library and found myself drawn to books about frogs and toads, even though I was there to find any and all books on yoga with kids they had available. I took both sets of books home.

Another evening, I found myself walking the dogs at dusk, so enthralled by the chorus of frogs at our favorite pond, I impulsively took my phone out to record nature’s symphony.

A theme was developing for me.

Another day, still in my fog of stress, I went to the dollar store and mulled over the arrays of cheap toys. I thought maybe I should get some stickers, so I bought a sheet of colored stars and a blow-up globe.

After I took my purchases home, I began obsessing about how I would use them. I thought about giving stars for good behavior, but it didn’t feel yoga-ish. The globe, well, I thought maybe I could use it in some sort-of game, but visions of kids throwing the nearly weightless ball at each other caused me to leave it on the kitchen counter as I readied my bag.

Instead, I begin to realize I have all I might need. I have my frog, well actually toad, book in verse, and I’ve found that the first page has a wonderful poem about them singing in spring. I’ve got my live recording  of an amphibian chorus from the pond ready to go on my phone. Instead of obsessing about my lack of sitting circles, I realize I can might be able to make lily pads to go along with my theme. In fact, I know I have at least a few pieces of study green paper. Ten minutes later, I have ten lily pads bearing the names of my new students. I also have ten new stickers. Not the stars, but frogs, which I’ve made myself thanks to Pixabay and a stack of printable labels in the same drawer that held the green paper. Frogs on lily pads. Perfect.

I pack all of these up, along with my chime, portable speaker, water, roster, animal yoga pose cards, and my pink rose quartz frog that sits near the water fountain in my home yoga studio.

Still, I think I may need more props. I don’t want to be under-prepared. I eye the bin of Beanie Babies. Nope. Not going there again. Instead, I open it and pull out one dog to use as a mascot, just in case. I eye the globe one more time and put my magic chakra ball in the bag instead. It slings easily on my shoulder. Light and manageable.

I arrive early. There’s amble time to set up. I’m greeted by the director, a friend of mine, who shows me around and allows me to select a space that feels right. I tell her about the sitting circles I’ve ordered but have not arrived, and she shows me a stack of quilted mats. Perfect.

I select five and arrange them around the square rug. The lily pads are placed atop, alternating as best as I can guess, boy, then girl, around the rug. Next, I take  the yoga pose cards out I’ve prearranged, and set them in back of the sit mats. Finally, I sit at the front of the rug with my phone, roster, quartz frog and homemade stickers set beside me.

Small voices begin to mingle from the front of the room, and I know my students have returned from their outdoor recess.  I am lucky today the rain has held off and these young bodies have had a chance to run outside and play.

“Can you find your name on the mats?” I ask them as they line up before me. They are all so darn cute, but I know better than to let down my guard. Instead, I smile and welcome them with the warmth of a teacher. Hey, I think, maybe, just maybe I can do this.

And, I do. Ten little bottoms find their lily pads and look at me with anticipation. No one gets up until I ask them to, and barely a voice talks out of turn. We have fun together. We learn and we play. When one child unexpectedly cries during our game of musical mats, she finds her way to my side, nestles in for a hug, and clutches the magical pink frog I place into  her hands until all is well. Soon she is smiling again. We all are.

Even though it’s not a perfect class, to me it’s a near-glorious half-hour, which is over too soon. Stickers are left for the end ,and find their way on faces, lily pads, and clothes. Tiny frogs thank me as they dance out the door. I can hardly wait for the week to pass.

 

I Begin my Adventures Practicing Yoga with Kids… #KidsYoga

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

I thought I would be writing another post about my recent travels to Italy, but instead my mind is filled with yoga. In particular, yoga with kids. Two Februarys ago, I felt a calling to move from my long  comfortable role as a yoga student, to that of a teacher. Although I could sometimes see myself standing in front of a classroom of students teaching yoga, I had never really given teaching serious thought. That is until the relentless  inner voice called without ceasing…

And so here I am, more than two years later. A certified yoga teacher, who, as of last week, has taught (or has attempted to teach) yoga to students from the ages of 3 to 80+. Just when teaching yoga was beginning to feel as comforting and familiar as preparing and drinking a warm cup of tea each morning, I have now leapt, once again, off the cliff of The Fool into the rocky terrain of the unfamiliar.

And, it’s okay. It’s what I signed up for. But, oh how much I have to learn as I stumble my way along. My week of full immersion into the spectrum of younger ages has left me feeling tired, hoarse, and a bit bewildered. What do I do know? I keep asking myself.

Let me see if I can attempt to explain why.

I’ll begin with my first non-adult class of the week.

It’s Thursday. Another rainy day in a long string of rainy days. The school day is just finishing at the Montessori nearby where I live, and I am lugging my bucket filled with Beanie Babies, animal yoga cards, a Bluetooth speaker, roster sheets and a chime that would prove to be woefully useless. Eleven preschoolers await me.

They’re adorable, as all children are at that age. Almost irresistibly cute. A near equal mix of boys and  girls with glowing faces perched atop restless bodies. Wholly mine for 30 minutes. Thirty minutes that I have tasked myself to teach them yoga, in some form. My mind swirls with ideas. Over the past few months I have watched videos and read books. I have dug out my notes from teacher training and know games and props are essentials for this age group. What I can’t recall learning, as I spin through the whirlwind thirty minutes, is that a loud, assertive voice is also important, or that the power to choose should not be an option…Or maybe I just forgot, because it’s not in my nature to place restrictions and to shout.

Nor is it in my nature to sing in tune, which is also a great gift to have for kids’ yoga, but I thought playing the voice of the lovely Kira Willey would be an adequate compensation.

I soon discover no one really cares about the music coming from my speaker. They care more about the props I have brought.

I’m pretty sure I read to only bring one…

We begin in a circle that defies all definition of a circle, but it’s good enough. All eyes are turned to me as I introduce myself, then roll my magical color ball to the child next to me and ask him his name and if he’d like to tell me one thing that makes him happy. We move smoothly along, at first, passing the ball down the line until our circle is 2/3 complete. A girl with vast blue eyes stares at me and tells me her name and then goes silent. She cannot come up with something that makes her happy, even though I can tell by her outer appearance that she is likely well-loved and cared for. Instead, she appears to be caught off-guard and stumped. Rendered mute in a way that makes us both feel uncomfortable and searching for reprieve.

I give her space to think. Distracting chatter begins to erupt within the circle, and the blue eyes continue to stare back at me. “Would you like to think about it some more? It’s okay if you don’t want to answer.”

I can tell she is torn. That she wants to find an answer for me, but somehow she can’t retrieve it. Perhaps it’s contagious, because the next child is also unable to come up with one thing that makes her happy.

And so I begin to question my choice of a mindfulness introduction. I thought perhaps some children would struggle a bit, but with gentle suggestions and listening to the words of their peers, they might easily slip into that space of joy.

And, I realize how desperately, perhaps, that I want to bring them all to that state of joy. To make them realize how fun yoga can be in its myriad forms. That it can be both individual and shared. But not something that takes striving and competition…

So we begin to play our games. Soon tiny bodies are hoping about and vying for my attention in their efforts to show me how much yoga they already know. When the illustrated pose cards come out, there is a scramble to have just the right one.

There is even some arguing.

“I don’t want this one.”

“That’s not how you do flower. That’s butterfly.”

Oh my, I have much to learn.

Follow the leader with the chime goes smoothly until someone decides to skip the line.

Then the chime is rendered useless. The noise of voices too high. My own is already growing hoarse and unheard, and I am at least grateful I have brought along my water. I have another class waiting for me after. And, it’s 45 minutes long…

When I open the tub filled with stuffed animals, five million hands reach inside. Suddenly I’m feeling the weight of my 45 years of life and I count the minutes left.

Do not leave room for choice. Of any kind. I file the lesson inside my tired brain.

I think perhaps I should have brought along a gong. You know, one of those enormous ones that you can’t hold and need a mallet to bang?

And a miracle.

I’m not Kira Willey. Not even close. Nor am I the beloved and talented Jamie of Cosmic Kids who knows how to keep the overstimulated minds of young kids engaged while practicing yoga through her wonderful videos.

I am also not a drill sergeant. Nor do I want to be.

I’m simply Alethea, searching for her own magic cards to bring to the circle of young eager faces.

And I think, perhaps, I need to stop looking in the bags of others, and dig inside my own…