Missives From the Mat #10 — Yoga with Children

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My mind is relaxing today; it’s trying to catch up with all the yoga I’ve practiced and taught recently.

I have been teaching children yoga and I have been teaching adults yoga.

The teaching of little kids, k-2, which I thought would be harder because kids are so wiggly and everything, is turning out to be not only easier but terrifically rewarding.

I enjoy teaching adults too, of course, because they have a reason to be there; they are choosing to be there. They are on a journey to something, and that’s private to them and I dig that.

The kids? Their parents signed them up. Their parents thought it would be good for them. The kids let it all hang out. They are just ON. They are open, nonjudgmental, true, totally in the moment, curious and delightfully spontaneous. They hug you because they feel like it. They squeal with enthusiasm because they feel like it. They giggle when you say “butt.” I can’t imagine what they’ll do if I say “fanny.”

What am I noticing? My journey thus in teaching both adults and children is teaching me.

With adults, it’s all about connecting the feeling of the breath with and within the movement. That is what we say is yoga; that when we notice the connection of the feeling of the breath within the movement, we are noticing something about ourselves… what we allow ourselves to notice and what we save for later because we’re just not there yet. And of that allowing? It is a conscious allowance, meaning we are aware of the choice to allow or is it more subtle? (Is your brain spinning yet? Shake it off. Come back to me….)

With kids, I don’t bother with the concepts and esoterica of “what are you feeling?” or “connect that movement with your breath.” They look at me as they should: like I’m nuts: What do you mean connect my breath with my movement? “If I couldn’t breathe, I wouldn’t move,” one of them wisely said to me.

Yeah.

Lesson plans. Teaching. Imparting. Leading. Following.

I am a creative person; I can create a lesson on the fly. Teaching the children reminds me that doing so is as natural to me as sipping water from a cup.

I will readily admit I have been/am petrified when I teach adults. In the beginning, I was all Adam Sandler, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!” about it. That was a confluence of ego, fear, ego, ego, ego annnnnnnd ego. I wanted to be NEW! I wanted to be EXCITING! I wanted to be SPECIAL! I focused on being Not The Previous Teacher! instead of just being me. It’s getting better. I’m finding my groove.

With the kids, I thought, “How can I make this interesting?” I devised a strategy of the most amazing concept ever: remember what it’s like to be a little kid. Everything is awesome (one way or another) when you’re a kid.

“What does exhale mean?” one of them asked on day one. NnnnNnnnnn. She was totally right. What the what does a little kid know from exhale? I went back to my early days as a mother with my first son when he had croup and how my cousin, a doctor, whom I’d called eight states away in almost the middle of the night with total fear and panic in my voice said to me, in possibly the calmest voice ever, “sssssstaaaaay caalllllllllmmm, Mollllll and heeeeee WILL callllllm with yooooooou. Get him to breathe in through his nose and out his mouth. Eventually, he will relax and his throat will calm too. …”

I visualized my instruction and “smell the flowers, blow the bubbles” instantly came to mind. That was our mantra, before I even knew it, I had a mantra for life.

My cousin continued, “Get him into the heated shower mist and then out in the cool night air or open your freezer for him to inhale after you both calm down.”

I did as my calm cousin instructed and Thing 1 did as I told him, and we all got through six or seven years and bouts of croup thanks to that mantra.

“When in doubt, breathe it out.” -Me

Subtly teaching kids the gorgeous gift of conscious breath

So I bought a Hoberman Sphere. Have you seen one of those? They’re fantastic and the kids and I use it to demonstrate breath and breathing. I haven’t asked them yet, “have you noticed how calm we all are when we concentrate on breathing along with the growth and the shrinkage of the sphere?” I want them to enjoy the sensation they create in themselves without preaching yet. It will come, but not yet. We have about six more weeks before we depart for summer.

So right now, these days, these lessons, we are sharing the sphere. First I show them. I demonstrate the expansion and the contraction. I ask them to do their best to follow the growth and diminishment of the sphere. They’re little kids. They have little lungs. They watch — Ooooo! How they watch! They are intense, and competitive and SO eager to learn. I expand the sphere, I see their eyes get big and their chests expand. I hold the sphere expanded and they wait. I slowly close the sphere and they mimic it. I pause, they pause. When I release the sphere, they take in a few breaths and smile or just stay neutral.

So we all take turns. Each child opens and closes the sphere at his or her pace and design. We all participate, we all follow along and each time, each breath, each experience we all get a little calmer. But I say nothing. I don’t need to. Not yet. Body memory is so much smarter than the brain. Don’t sully this somatic experience with intellect, I tell myself. Don’t “teach.” Don’t need to impart. Let your ego ride this out. Learn from them, from all of it, instead. I hear my parents growling impatiently (yet understandingly) at one another while listening to Wagner or Rachmaninoff or Brahms when the other one couldn’t help but impart some observation during a crescendo or other rapturous moment in the music.

Man plans; kids laugh

While I have organization and an overall plan, I do let the kids run the show a little bit. I remind myself and if I don’t, they will remind me that kids at this age, appropriately, are very self-absorbed. Yesterday, several of them were all about their upcoming spring break trips to see grandparents in Florida. So, as we did last week, we boarded a “flight” to see family. (Last week we went to NYC. Landing at LaGuardia was a real pain.)

It’s such a kick in the pants. I used to do this when my kids were very young when we would wait in the car for someone else.

I was the control tower; I cupped my hand over my mouth and announced the runway clear for take-off. Their eyes LIT UP. They COULDN’T believe what was going on. I was ACTUALLY sounding like I was coming out of a speaker. I watched and smiled deeply inside and outside. We all giggled a little. I continued, prompting “Captain Bipsy” (fake name) to fly us out.

Bipsy was a pilot. She cupped her mouth as I did, giggled a bit and then she flew that plane over the rest of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and then landed somewhere near Disneyland, of course. She beamed like a lighthouse. Full of shine and confidence.

The children who were visiting the Sunshine State asked us to close our eyes and they each shared three things they saw when they landed. Another kiddo flew us back home and we had a bumpy but very safe landing as we flew in to our respective airports. During all this the children were either in and out of locust pose or balancing on one leg with their arms outstretched or in child’s pose because they don’t like to fly. (Who can blame them, really?) We chartered our flights because we don’t want to mess with all that TSA nonsense. 😉

I do other things with them, we play “red-light / green-light” and I call a pose. Or sometimes an animal puppet I have calls a pose. They love the puppets I bring. They, as we all do, love to be heard and to be seen. Their positive behavior is affirmed with a little “peck” on the cheek or forehead by the puppet-me at the end of svasana; the special guest puppet can’t “wake” them if they’re not still and resting; so they naturally settle down, no matter how difficult and exciting because of the building, intense and absolutely comical anticipation waiting for that peck. When they do settle,they are rewarded by a loving and gentle contact with the puppet.

I still do this with my kids. My almost 16-year-old physically crinkles up with anticipation when I have a puppet or teddy bear who’s determined to say hello and crack his cool, teenage exterior. I recall my mother doing that with my 6’5″ brother when he was 40. It worked even then… My mom was like that: a child at heart. I think on the other hand, I was born at 42 sometimes because we were so often at odds. I regret that I was that way; I feel I’m recapturing it, my youth, as I work with these beautiful children who allow me to share an hour with them each week.

I don’t normally dedicate posts. But I want to dedicate this post to my beautiful Children’s Yoga teachers Shakta Khalsa, Kartar Khalsa, Lisa Brodrick, Jyoti Bajaj, Mary Beth Quick; and my grown-up yoga teachers Kelly J, Vicki C, Annette H, and Dianne F who passed the adult classes torch to me; those people out there who told me to keep going, keep at it and just do this thing: Shana E, Terri L M, Terri S-M, Laura L, my husband and my kids and to my dogs, who show me how to do the best Down Dogs ever. This whole thing happened to me because I attracted it; I wanted to be of service to people who were ready to receive it. I put it out there, that I was ready to give it… and I am humbled by the answer.

Thank you.

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