During my yoga training, it was often suggested I share my yoga and work with children. However, I viewed my yoga practice as a quiet time for introspection and adult company. I had spent the past twenty years teaching young children and raising my own. I expected the next chapter would bring a change in demographics. I was open to whatever outcome arose, but in retrospect, I did have certain ideas about what that outcome might be.
As it turns out, organic ways to use yoga with children began to creep into my life. With my three-and four-year old preschoolers, I started using yoga as a way to provide some movement and energy release. We worked on focus and how to teach focus. Each time, my little friends reacted positively and eagerly, so we tried breath work, using small rubber ducks on our bellies to watch the chi move in and out of our bodies so we could practice how to just breathe. Eventually, we worked up to a series of about 8 poses we could do in a 20-minute period.
As my daughter’s summer sailing season heated up, I found myself suggesting to her and others that they might want to incorporate some yin poses into their pre- or post-race repertoire. I walked around massaging shoulders and gently tugging on ankles to release hips. On a few occasions, they entertained the idea of trying some yoga, but in the parking lot surrounded by legions of teen sailors, none were ready to take that leap. Quietly, though, a few tried the breath work I suggested to stay calm and focused before races. Early one Saturday as I drove six to the sailing venue, one suggested they listen to a sailing meditation cd. I witnessed this team of sit in silence for a half hour as they followed this guided meditation, which they had obviously used before. I was amazed…or should I not have been so surprised?
This winter, I was approached to teach a tweens class. I wasn’t particularly excited about it, but I was beginning to get the message. I figured I could handle that, so I got to work researching poses, sequences and strategies. It didn’t seem that different from my approach to teaching kids and I knew the asanas. I finally had the sense that it was something I could do, without the worry and fuss of learning something new.
In the minutes before we started class, the four students we expected grew to double digits. During this hectic arrival, I went into teacher mode. I gave each student a piece of paper and pen and asked the to imagine it said, “Yoga is…” and to complete that sentence with words or a sketch. Once we were settled, I without previewing or editing. I read them aloud:
- Different relaxing exercise to relax the body and brain
- Stretching and focusing
- Helps loosen the muscles and helps you relax more
- Meditation and stretching
- Finding your inner chi
- Doing things to calm yourself and be at peace
- To be relaxed and fit while being happy
- Mind of being
I exhaled deeply and looked around at smiling faces. I knew I had something special in front of me. We weren’t going to proceed with the very basic class I had meticulously outlined. For the first time in my yoga teaching, I was really okay with that idea.
I did begin with my thoughts on our ground rules for class. I asked them to do their best to support their own yoga practice and our group’s work with four ideas in mind:
- Respect: For themselves, they’re bodies and each other. This is a time to focus on themselves and understand we are all different an on any give day, our bodies are different. Accept and respect where your body and other people are with their practice.
- Advocate/Assert: Yoga is a personal practice and while I’d guide them, they also needed to speak up and tell me what they need or how they feel. This important skill in middle and high school, and for life.
- Effort: this practice takes effort, but it shouldn’t be painful. Like most things, with some effort, there’s growth. Give it your best.
- Kindness/Care. Yoga means showing care and kindness for yourself and others.
We had a delightful and fast hour. I acknowledge how stressful and hard life can be at their age. I showed them ways to calm down with some simple poses (legs up the wall) and breathe work and how to get some energy flowing (forward fold before a test). We ended with smiles and well wishes for the week. And one of my boys came up to say thanks and later, to give me a hug, confirming that I had a really special bunch of young yogis who were open to learning more about a beautiful practice. It also confirmed that even when we think we are open to what arises, we can always release those expectations to find the universe brings us what we really need as well as authentic ways to serve others.