For the past year, I have been teaching yoga to children ranging in eighteen months to twelve years of age. Since I have worked with kids most of my life, I figured teaching them simple poses would be a fun and easy task. I was so right, yet so wrong on many levels. My largest obstacle was getting past the stage of judgment with my students, seeing as they had a yoga teacher before me. We all know how we become attached to our very own teacher, even when there are other great ones out there. Basically, little humans (without filters) judged everything I did. They had one set of ideas of what the names of poses were and when I used different cues, a mini crisis would break out. Focus would always be on the person next to them or behind them. They would walk into the room in disarray if allowed. Once on the mat, I would have to model breathing exercises. Regardless of what I was modeling, if a friend decided to fall over on the mat, the next student would as though they were a train of dominoes. Then, there were the kids who modeled every single thing I did. If I tucked back my hair, they would, too. If I stepped off the mat (even if they were supposed to be in child’s pose), a sea of children would be rushing off of their mats. Since when did child’s pose involve walking off of the mat? I realized that what they needed was yoga philosophy first, and movement after.
Benefits Of Yoga
Quickly, the kids established a routine of pulling out their own mat, sitting down, and starting their own breathing exercises. We worked on different types of breathing (lion’s breath is a favorite) along with explanation for everything we do, and meditation. I explained the “ego” to them, why different teachers use different names for asanas, and how Sanskrit is used in practice. I gave them options, which is something they didn’t always have before. My students can start and end their practice in a seated position of their choice. They learned arm options for chair, tricks for better posture, or modifications to help them individually fit into a pose. They found their drishti and took their eyes off me. Eventually, after a few weeks of being sick, they learned to practice from verbal cues instead of physical cues. I could walk around the room during a full practice without constant staring mimicking. They were able to own their poses. We also learned to take a Vinyasa between asanas in Hatha flow. I can ask for a “Vinyasa,” and they know what to do. My kids also realized that even though a classmate can be an excellent gymnast, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are an excellent yogi. Even the etiquette of respecting fellow student’s space is apparent. Heaven forbid someone steps on another student’s mat, especially their instructor’s!
Through teaching children and adults, I have learned that yoga is essential for every age for shared reasons. Child classes present the same challenges that we face working with adults: we all strive to break the barrier of the ego-mind to allow the authentic self to come through. When it comes to kids, sometimes you just have to throw in a “moo” or “meow” into the cat/cow sequence, or sing a song about a butterfly while bended knees flap up and down. Laughter and amusement encouraged during a child practice, and when done well, the end result is priceless. Twenty-plus kids in Savasana, melting into their mat, unaware of the world around them for just a few moments is just the beginning of progress. Focus, awareness, and reduced anxiety seem to be among the shared benefits of a yoga practice for any age. Like adults, these kids benefit from positive body image and ego awareness. “We practice yoga because it allows us to be our best selves; mentally and physically.” Before we conclude in saying Namaste with hands in angeli mudra (prayer pose), we acknowledge this meaning of our practice. After a small bow, we practice rolling up mats to return quietly. Their great vibes and sense of accomplishment after a session reminds me of the many reasons I am honored to be part of their discovery and practice.