When I tell people I am a Yoga teacher a lot of them answer things like: “I can’t do that”, I am not flexible enough”, “Yoga is too slow- I am more the energetic type”…. So I made it my mission to tell (and show) people that Yoga is for EVERYONE. Same applies to kids’ Yoga. Kid’s Yoga is not only for the well-behaved kids out of educated and wealthy families (even though we all know that’s a stereotype) but for every kid that needs peace in their lives. Kids’ Yoga gives the opportunity and the tools to teach Yoga to kids in every setting and every place.
Always being excited about making Yoga accessible and beneficial for everyone I was more than happy to join Haris Lender, creator of Kidding Around Yoga, on her recent trip to the refugee camps in Berlin, Germany. The increasing lack of political stability and growth of radical groups mainly in countries like the Iraq, Syria and Libya gives a lot of people no other option but fleeing their homes and countries. After their very dangerous, exhausting and long journey they end up in various places in Europe. Having spent all their money for shifty smugglers and sheer survival, they are dependent on everything they get from governments, communities and volunteers in the hosting country. Sometimes they live in provisional housing like big tents, fairgrounds or any other bigger building squeezed together with no privacy. The kids, most of them heavily traumatized, crave any activity that keeps them occupied. And we knew Yoga would be the perfect way to help them.
The volunteers for child-care in the shelter welcomed us with excitement. They devote a lot of free time, sometimes in addition to their regular jobs, to help and care for these refugees. One after another, the kids arrived and joined in the Yoga poses introduced by Haris (otherwise known as Momma KAY). We had a lot of instructions as to what was and was not allowed. For example, we were told to avoid chanting “OM” because of religious reasons, but as soon as they heard the word “Yoga” and we sat down cross-legged, they started to do the OM all on their own. Haris and I were not sure what to do – we can’t do it, but can the kids? Also instructions like “not touching them” became irrelevant when the kids started hugging us and jumping on our back the minute we walked in that place. Kids are kids, no matter their location, background or experiences.
As the group got bigger we started some games and songs. Yoga Limbo made a great start because most everybody knows Limbo and they could just copy the poses without any verbal direction (there was an obvious language barrier). For the introduction of the next games, however, we needed the translators. Yoga Nagaila was a winner as well as playing with pom-poms (even though the minute we put out the pom-poms there was no chance for explanation or the actual game we were planning, Toe-ga). And Red Light, Green Light ended up in a big fight about the colored scarves we used, having at least 5 kids pulling on and fighting over each one of the scarves. But luckily, pretending to make a pizza brought them back in a circle (because “pizza” seems to be international). All the animal poses and games were easy to introduce just by making the sounds. They were all soaking up any movement and had a lot of fun even before we came to Laughter Yoga. Seeing these burdened kids just laughing and having fun was like a light all of a sudden turned on that had switched off a long time ago. You could see some relief in their little faces and bodies. They all joined the meditation chanting “salam” (one of the Arabic words for peace). Savasana (we call it Secret Garden in the kids’ classes) made them quiet and peaceful, resting for a few precious moments in a nice, loving atmosphere.
We handed out colored pencils and the KAY- coloring pages, which caused chaos again. I guess having to fight for everything to survive and learning they don’t get anything without being first and being firm made them ruthless when it comes to possessions. I have to admit it frustrated me a lot and I kept trying to be fair and loving while distributing the packages of pencils as possible. But seeing one little boy, who had started crying while pushing his demanding hand towards me over and over for more pencils sitting on the table drawing peacefully and holding his five packages tight in his other hand made me smile again. One of the little girls, instead of drawing, kept sitting on Haris’ side just wanting to absorb more Yoga.
It was a heart-warming and joyful afternoon. And even though there was chaos and following our class plan was an impossible mission, you could see the deep impact this hour made in their lives already.
I went back to the same shelter two weeks later with my husband to bring some more colored pencils and share more Yoga. When I got to the kid’s area a little boy came up to me, tapped me and asked me “Yoga?”. He seemed to recognize me. This time I was lacking a translator and some of the activities I had planned just didn’t work. My husband, while helping with my sound system, had a little monkey-like kid hanging on his back. Luckily, I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve and I found other games the kids really liked. Laughing Meditation was a must again this time, too. After the class was done I had some kids following me around so I stayed to teach them some more poses.
My experience proves again Yoga is beneficial for EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. Teaching refugees is one path but they are many, many more. Going to schools in underprivileged areas might be just as challenging and important. Our duty is to spread love and peace by teaching as many children as possible in various places.