I’ve been practicing Yoga for nearly 15 years. I’ve been a Yoga instructor for 8 years now. I’ve read about chakras and nadis. Patanjali and Iyengar populate my bookshelves. I’ve lost track of how many mats I’ve used (and lost). But nothing, no teacher, no book, no workshop, has taught me more about Yoga than teaching Yoga to children.
This realization dawned on me shortly after the birth of my son. One evening, after several continuous evenings, of his desperate crying (he had reflux and unknown food allergies), I was sitting on the floor of his nursery, cross-legged with my head in my hands, trying to keep myself together as he turned red and wailed incessantly in his crib. My daughter, a precocious three year old Yogini, got on the floor with me, held my face in her two chubby hands and said, “I think you need to Om, Mommy”. She was right.
How humbling. A decade of practicing and teaching Yoga and a pre-schooler provided me with my first real-world Yoga lesson. A Yoga practice is so much more than how deeply you fold or how technically precise your pose is. Yoga only “counts” when you practice off of your mat.
Once I began teaching kids’ Yoga, my real education began. Here are 10 lessons teaching kids’ Yoga has taught me:
- There is no word synonymous with “butt” that isn’t infinitely hilarious.
Bootie, caboose, tushy, bum…it’s all funny. Especially if your tuckus is up in the air. So laugh along with it because, admit it, some of our Yoga poses are ridiculous looking.
- When you look at the world upside-down, the deepest frowns turn upside-down, too. A change in perspective can turn a problem into an opportunity. Hanging upside-down physically lights up the brain, sparking creativity. The next time you find yourself in Downward Facing Dog or Forward Fold, really look around. People, décor, even the sky looks different. Oh, and look under the sofa while you’re down there. You’ll probably find that flip-flop you lost last week.
- Balance is not just a verb.
Kids are so busy these days. Lessons, sports, homework, clubs; their schedules rival the busiest executives. But when they have to slow down and balance in Tree Pose or Eagle, all of the busy-ness fades into the background. Their focus is only in the moment. Balancing teaches us to find balance in our lives.
- Savasana is like dessert. It tastes better after eating a few vegetables.
Even the most energetic kids love settling into savasana, after eating their vegetables of poses and breathwork. We, as adults, deserve a luscious dessert, too. Don’t skip it or try to eat it without first eating a few bites of broccoli.
- Play with your practice. It’s just yoga.
It’s called a Yoga “practice”, not a yoga “performance”. We aren’t trying out for Cirque du Soleil. So relax! It’s fun to fall out of poses. Make noise! Dance and sing! Lighten up your expectations and enjoy your amazing body doing whatever it can do today.
- What you say to yourself matters.
We don’t let kids say “I can’t do it”, right? We know that words are powerful. So why are we letting our inner voices narrate such a negative story? Constantly criticizing your physical appearance, strength, and flexibility doesn’t’ help us find inner peace! Fill yourself with positive words. Ahimsa toward yourself. Speak to yourself as if you were speaking to your own child.
- There’s nothing so refreshing as a good, deep breath.
Watch kids as they file in and begin to settle into their Yoga practice. That first conscious breath brings them onto their mat. It empties their hearts and heads of the day’s chaos. They wake up and settle down at the same time. Conscious breathing works for us, too. Set a breath goal for yourself. For example, at every stoplight take three long, delicious breaths.
- Animals are the best yogis.
Observe animals around you and see why the ancient Yogis used their movements as inspiration. Then, be like a child and become that animal when you practice. Extra gold stars for making the appropriate animal sound while in the pose.
- If it feels good, do it.
I used to feel very loyal and protective toward certain cues in poses. You should have your toes pointed a certain way! Never let your elbows bend! I was very regimented (some might say rigid). And then my kids would take a traditional pose and jazz it up, calling out to me, “Hey look! I’m going to call this Twisted Banana. It feels so cool! Try it you guys!” How could anyone resist a Twisted Banana? So I tried it. And it did feel “cool”, so I did it on the other side. I’m such a rebel.
- Friends don’t let friends practice yoga alone.
It’s lovely to develop a home practice, to move at your speed, and explore your own body. But it’s so much fun to share your practice with others. We tend to respond to the energy in a room, and the positive vibes from a group Yoga practice can really get us buzzing.