Since I started teaching children's yoga, I've been asked the same question more times than I can remember; "how does that even work? Yoga is quiet and meditative. Kids are not quiet and meditative". When I first started, I just shrugged my shoulders. “They seem to like it,” was all I could come up with. I really didn’t realize that most people thought what I was doing was strange and maybe impossible. But over the years, I sit a little easier with my explanation. “Yoga stills the mind, so why not start early?” We need all the help we can get. Stillness, sitting still, quieting the mind, finding a center, are skills that most adults struggle with everyday. I do, more than most.
Yoga helps adults, so why not children? Sure, the yoga that I do with children looks very different from the quiet interplay between adult yoga teacher and student. Adult yoga uses fewer balls, scarves, yelling, dancing and loud music. Nonetheless, yoga is a skill to which children can be introduced early in life. As they grow, the yoga grows with them. Yoga games, dancing, and playing in the younger classes slide toward more advanced poses, philosophy, and meditation, as the kids hit middle and high school. I still make the older kids dance though. They hate that.
Alright, but how do you get kids to be quiet, to sit still, when their inclination and energy is to play, run around and explore? Or when older kids are naturally guarding against appearing vulnerable, preferring the armor of an eye roll, rather than to engage. The answer is to work with the energy that kids bring naturally to the table. In some of my yoga classes, we play, sing, dance and sit quietly. In others, we talk, laugh and dance, all the while doing asanas and breathing. But it's all about balance. Let the energy come, and then guide them gently back to stillness, again and again, and again. To assume that kids can't be still, can’t be open to learning new ways of thinking, can't breathe to calm themselves, can't learn Sanskrit words, can’t do five minutes of completely silent sun salutations or meditation...well, you understand. I’ve seen it all. And I’ve seen two-year-olds do it.
Exposing kids to different ways of approaching the world gives them more resources to accept and manage the world around them. As you know, children have stress - sometimes academic, sometimes social - emotions that overwhelm them, easy access (perhaps too much) to multimedia sources, and of course a front row seat to the demands and often impossible expectations that parents face. But I hope that this yoga, a yoga specifically designed for kids, just might be able to provide one more resource, one more way of coping, as they grow and navigate this complex and changing world. I can hope.
I've had countless parents tell me that children have parroted things from my class. They might use breathing to calm themselves down, they might lie in savasana (corpse pose; also known as a parents' favorite pose) or sing a song to relax before bed. But what's been truly revelatory to me is that kids take this information and tell their parents to do the same. All real quotes.
“Mom, I think you need to breathe and calm down.”
“Dad, if your back hurts, you should use Ahimsa and lie down.” (Ahimsa is the concept of doing no harm, to oneself or others.)
“Mom, do down dog with me. It will make you feel better. And it's fun.”
I’m sure that after your kids do yoga with us, you will hear about it at home. Maybe not from the teens, but they’ll carry it nonetheless. And I hope every kid can bring a little yoga home because it really is a special gift that can help everyone breathe just a little easier.