I remember a group of kids I taught that loved to fall! They were 2-4 years old and whenever I asked them to balance on one foot, they’d go, “Wha-, woe, woe, whoa, whoaaaaa!” and come crashing down dramatically as if they were trying to balance on a bucking bronco. They thought it was hilarious!
But I also wanted to find ways to help them practice control and calm, slow movements. So I would prompt them to walk in place or move as if they were in Jell-O or underwater. It was one way to contrast their falling extravaganza with slower movements. In retrospect, I see that there was so much behind the urge to come crashing down. Kids love bouncy houses, trampolines, jumping in the pool, Ring Around the Rosy, Red Rover…kids make friends with gravity and love to dive headlong into its arms! They play with it, challenge it, relax into it.
It got me to thinking about autumn and leaves falling. Nature loves falling things too, not just leaves, but also waterfalls, rain and flying squirrels that don’t actually fly, but fall with control and precision. One thing I point out to kids is that these things love to fall just like they do, but in an aimed, intentional way. I thought, we love incorporating nature themes into kids yoga. Why not do this to help them fall with some imagination? After all, what goes up must come down…and then back up again, at least in yoga!
Then there are things that fall gently, but at the whim of a breeze. Think the close up of that feather floating at the beginning and end of the movie, Forrest Gump. This can be a nice visual for the concept of soft surrender. Think surfing, or flowing along river rapids. This type of ‘falling’ can be a great inspiration for some yoga activities.
It used to annoy me when the kids would just goof around and fall all over the place. Then I started playing capoeira and the teacher explained to us that many of the moves are just ways to fall with purpose, with grace. That clicked for me. Falling became beautiful. I began to appreciate it as much as I admire the falling leaves of autumn.
Here are some ways to incorporate the motion of falling into your kids yoga:
- Demonstrate bodily representations of ways that different things in nature fall: autumn leaves, rain drops, waterfalls. Make up your own ways of mimicking these with your body. Let the kids practice these as you call out each one. Then play a game of Simon Says using these types of falling. Phrase it creatively, like “Simon says fall like a leaf! Simon says cascade like a waterfall! Sprinkle like rain!”
- Play musical Yoga Dots. Explain and demonstrate to your yogis how they will pause on each dot long enough to do tree pose for 1-2 seconds while the music is playing before they hop onto the next dot. When the music stops, everyone ‘falls’ like leaves (slowly). The difference between this and Musical Chairs is that there will be enough dots so that each yogi has one to stand on. No losers here, just falling leaves!
- Sing the song Ring Around the Rosy (or make up your own yogic version) and when you call out, “We all fall down!” the kids ‘fall’ slowly and carefully into a yoga posture that is low to the ground.
- Buy a pack of feathers used in making crafts. Each yogi gets one feather and on the count of 3, they toss it up in the air, then get into a pose to catch the feather. For example, reverse table pose to catch it on the belly; staff pose to catch it on the legs; warrior or another pose to catch it in a hand.
- When I used to do Acroyoga, I came across a fun trust exercise used as a way for the group to bond and learn to work together. One person stood in the middle of their group who formed a circle around them. The person in the middle closed their eyes and began to lean and fall in one direction. Whoever they fell towards would gently catch them and nudge them in another direction, where someone else would do the same. Picture a pendulum that doesn’t just swing back and forth, but in all directions; or maybe it’s more helpful to imagine pool balls or an air hockey puck slowly ricocheting around the table. This is a fun one for older kids who have the focus, strength, and empathy to support the person in the center. If the class is large, divide it into groups so the circle is small enough to support that person in the middle. Take turns so that everyone gets a chance to be in the middle.
There are so many ways to modify old favorite games and songs to suit the practice of ‘falling’ yoga poses. The idea is to teach kids a variety of ways to fall: slow and controlled, sudden and fast, and in creative shapes or even with sound effects. I bet the kids themselves even have some great ways to embellish on the ideas above. Tap into the inventiveness of your young yogis and remember that falling is part of a yoga practice. It gives kids the opportunity to learn persistence, try again, and explore the spectrum between control and release in their bodies.