September 13, 2010

How I Came to Understand Children’s Yoga. ~ Lindsay Fields

“Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.” ~William Stafford

My Children, My Gurus

As a mother of two, I know parenting to be one the most challenging and rewarding endeavors one can experience in life.

I am grateful to have found myself seeing the world through my children’s eyes as they explore with reckless abandon and plenty of giggles. There’s nothing quite like a big squishy hug and an “I love you, Mommy” after a long day of enforcing boundaries and worrying about their safety.

As a yoga teacher, I find sharing yoga with others to be incredibly rewarding as well. You can learn a lot by having to explain something to someone and by seeing people become empowered to participate in life mindfully and compassionately. Why it never occurred to me that combining the two (children and yoga) could be such a profound experience is beyond me.

So, it happened by chance that I stumbled upon the amazing gift of teaching yoga to children and I have my beautiful 6 year old daughter, Tobin, to thank for it.

As most children do with their parents, my kids see me “dorking-out” over yoga and will connect with me and my enthusiasm by expressing an interest in yoga as well. They will invent postures for me to observe and help them with (I like flamingo, starfish, and super hero poses, for example). This, of course, delights me.  After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Knowing the benefits of yoga practice personally, I have encouraged my kids to practice as well. My daughter has attended some yoga classes for kids and has a yoga DVD she practices with on occasion. Most recently, Tobin has created her own kids yoga program complete with a logo of her own design.

The benefits of yoga for kids (for physical fitness, stress relief, body awareness, hyper-activity, self-confidence, community and support) seems like a no-brainer to me. I have even considered teaching yoga to children. I hadn’t, until recently, considered the possibility that practicing yoga with children could end up teaching me about life, creativity and forgiveness.

One day as I was practicing handstands in my kitchen, admittedly not the best venue for this activity but it’s the only room in my house with enough open space and no furniture to maneuver around, my daughter sauntered into the room and, noticing my improving skills, proceeded to compliment me. I thought this was really sweet and listened as she described some things she has been working on herself. She then asked me if I wanted to know more and I enthusiastically said, “Yes!” Nothing out of the ordinary, as this kind of thing happens frequently in our home, but something was different this time. I stepped out of my parent/teacher role and I really listened to what she had to say.

What happened next was nothing short of incredible. We entered into an impromptu yoga class where we were both teachers and both students as well. We would take turns coming up with postures, some traditional and some of our own invention, and one would evolve into the next with stories and games. What I noticed was that Tobin knew instinctively in which way her body needed to move, how to explain it, how to make it playful and fun and exhibiting a confidence and ease throughout. She was never fearful of remembering the sanskrit name or which side, left or right, needed to be stretched and in what order. It was totally natural and incredibly free.

I thought, “Why the heck did I drop oodles of cash on yoga teacher training when perhaps all I needed to do was remember what it was like to be a kid, fearless and free?” Of course, there are plenty of sound reasons for completing a teacher training but this experience sure brought about some insight and a fresh perspective for me.

After our little yoga session, in the days to follow, I observed my children using their bodies, playing, and dancing. A lot of it resembled yoga postures with stretching, backbends and inversions. They will periodically come into headstands as if they are so connected to notice that, “Hey, this is what my body needs right now.” and self-nurturing enough to just do it.

I have noticed since, with my newly found awareness, that young children live completely in the moment. What seems to us grown-ups to be erratic and hyper-active behavior is simply them staying present and inspired with every moment—no need for meditation at this age. They are not afraid of getting hurt or of what other people will think. If they fall or mess up their experiment (whatever it may be in any given moment), most of the time, they laugh it off and don’t beat themselves up at least not for very long. They are incredibly forgiving of themselves. To them, the world is a vast ocean of possibility and wonder and being critical of themselves is a waste of time and completely counter-productive to their fun-having.

I suppose the idea of always having fun, seeking eternal youth and seeing the world with the eyes of a child is not a new concept. But this particular experience put it into a new light for me. While, it is our responsibility to be good examples and to teach our children about life, our children have a lot to teach us if we are simply willing to listen.

Lindsay Fields is a yoga teacher and blogger currently residing the the beautiful mountain city of Asheville, NC. Her writing is an extension of her learning. A devoted student of yoga and life, Lindsay has found that the best things in life are made even better when you share them with others. To learn more about Lindsay, visit her blog.

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