December 28, 2012

Can Children Do Yoga?

Why I Teach Family Yoga.

Teaching yoga to kids is nothing like teaching to adults. It’s ten times harder—but often that much more rewarding.

Kids won’t fake their way through a class that isn’t meeting their needs. You’ve got to connect or you lose them.

But, oh, when you get them.

My family yoga class was scheduled for Saturday at ten. At 9:55, a mom corralled two bouncy toddlers into the studio.

The boys took one look at the large, empty room and began racing around in circles. I juggled introductions, payment and new student forms while suggesting the boys downshift to a brisk walk or skip. I showed them where we keep the mats and helped them unroll two.

By 10:05, it was clear no one else was coming.

So I reviewed our “yoga manners.” Then we sat with legs crossed, hands to heart center and began breathing in and out through the nose. Well, their mother and I did anyway.

One boy rolled his mat around him and then sat up, a sloppy burrito with bed-head. The other little guy hopped up and resumed running around the room.

Okay, Plan B. Maybe a story would engage them. I began to tell a tale about a mountain, a favorite from Shakta Kaur Khalsa’s Fly Like a Butterfly.

I popped up into Down Dog and peeked under my arm to see whether the boys were following my lead. Nope. The burrito pulled the mat over his head. The other boy stuck out his lower lip and narrowed his eyes.

“Where are the other kids?” asked the burrito, looking around suspiciously as if he thought maybe I had eaten them for breakfast.

I explained that they were probably doing something else with their families. Most likely, they were still in bed, which is where these kids (just home from vacation) looked like they needed to be.

I suggested we try some partner poses. The burrito rolled away but the two-year-old gamely grabbed his mother’s hands. They began to row back and forth wildly.

After a few minutes, I modeled how to fold forward over our legs and then open up like a sunflower. The lip popped back out. The look I got was decidedly angry this time.

The four-year-old had ditched his mat tortilla and was wandering around the room. Their mother reminded him of the rule about staying on the mat.

I glanced at the clock.

“What are these for?” the towhead asked, pointing up at the shelved blocks.

“We use those to help with yoga poses,” I answered. “Would you like to build something with them?”

Finally, a smile.

We piled the foam blocks on the floor and then the boys began to stack them on top of each other. When the towers reached over their heads, they smashed them to the ground with loud, happy shrieks.

Repeat. Repeat again.

Sitting on the floor amidst the scattered blocks, my agenda obliterated, I realized why I feel compelled to do this.

Sure, some of it has to do with teaching healthy habits and building positive associations with the practice of yoga. But, more than that, it’s my own practice of learning to deal with the chaos that young children bring to the mat (and every other inch of the room, especially any that aren’t quite childproofed).

Yoga isn’t a series of poses or stories or games. Yoga is how we respond when nothing happens the way it’s supposed to.

Many of us practice yoga because our attempts to control the world and the people in it have rendered us tense and brittle. Yoga gets the prana flowing again.

Kids are straight-up prana. And they’ll share it with you, if you’re willing to get down on the floor and let the blocks bonk you on the head.

The story of this class has a happy ending. I rang the bells and we gathered up the blocks and retreated to the mats for relaxation. Then I walked the drowsy boys through an imaginary garden to a lake with a boat waiting to take them for a ride. Their visualizations were so intense that I could see the sparkle of sunlight on the water and feel the deep resonance of their sighs as they rode the gentle waves.

Was that yoga? You bet.

And when they sat up, rubbed their eyes, folded their hands, and said “Namaste”? That was yoga, too.

And when they seized my hands, jumped up and down and then leaped into my arms?

That was yoga, and then some.

But so was the rest of it.




Assistant Ed: Caroline Scherer


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