I was invited to teach several movement workshops for a local synagogue’s high holiday children’s programming. Little did I know that my favorite age group would end up being the third to fifth grade group. The programming was open to any child who didn’t wish to be in the adult services and so, I had no idea who would arrive. The workshop was just about to begin and in ran one, two, three, four boys! They were all friends. Their feet smelled. I was definitely the odd one out in this group. Although, sometimes my feet do smell as well.
Since all were new to me, we began with the Name/Move Game, in which one by one, each person shares his/her name and a cool/silly/beautiful dance move. I shared my name and a silly move and was followed by the first boy sharing his name and an even more silly move. The others laughed and continued with the trend of silly moves. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that not one of the boys had meanly made fun of each other. We were all simply laughing since it was silly!
After our three ShalOMs in criss-cross-apple-sauce (when I’m in a Jewish setting we chant ShalOMMMM three times in lieu of OMMM), we transitioned with different types of boat pose, which they loved due to the two facts of the challenge of balancing on one’s bottom and being able to shout out whatever type of boat came to mind.
Our “Sargent Salutations” came next. Wowza! This was a hit. The boys jumped right into the repetition and the flow’s challenge. We stayed in Plank for a good long while because well, they liked it. I welcomed them to shout each pose’s name in response to my calls. Many kids, boys and girls, love to scream and yell. I like to yell too but I’ve had to nix games before because they’ve simply just gotten out of hand. Yet, with Sargent Salutations, the children need to continuously move their bodies and therefore, simply can’t be as loud with their voices. Their concentration must go to where their bodies need to be. Inviting this call and response in the Sargent Salutations is a structured method that still satiates the need to be boisterous.
Next we played Toe-ga and then, as per usual in my classes, each student created a piece of pom-pom art with their collected pom-poms. Oh my, these were creative boys. Each boy became all-consumed in his own world of designing the coolest creature. When they were done, we got on the “Art Tour Train” and choo-choo’d to each art piece. Each boy shared thoughtful feedback in on our Art Tour.
I hadn’t planned to give that much time to Toe-ga and the art afterwards, but hey, they were totally into it and that’s really what matters.
After the Toe-ga game and art, we needed to relax in the Secret Garden. While wondering if this would work or not, I saw the boys quickly lie down on the rug and close their eyes. Yeah, they peeked around quite a bit but their bodies appeared to appreciate the time of rest. As this was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I encouraged them to make a sweet wish for the new year. Their eyes tightly closed during these moments in deep concentration.
The following week I returned to the synagogue for another workshop for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and was greeted by the same boys for the third – fifth grade group. During our game time, I allowed them to choose between playing Toe-ga again or playing Blow the Pom. They wanted the new game. We sat on a medium-sized rug with colored squares and so, the Blow the Pom game (that came to me in the present moment, as the silliest games often do) entailed using one’s breath to blow a large pom-pom from one side of the rug to the other. Each boy had his own section of the color-stripped rug. When each boy got to the other side they needed to share a fact about Yom Kippur. Almost out of breath, they spurted out facts they had learned. This could easily have instead been facts about animals, outer space and astronauts, or history!
We then upped the stakes in the game: each boy now needed to blow his pom-pom around all four edges of the rug as quickly as possible. One by one the boys wiggled like snakes chasing the pom-poms with their breath. The challenge was exhilarating for them. They couldn’t stop playing it and didn’t have a care for who was winning or losing, even though I pretended to time each of them.
During the second workshop, one of the boys asked me if I liked teaching boys or girls better. I truthfully shared with them that these classes were two of the most fun classes I had taught. They were quick to listen, very open to learning new poses, and had an incredible amount of energy. “So, did I like boys or girls better?” he asked again. I said I like teaching boys and girls for very different reasons.
I enjoyed teaching these boys because I could see that I served as an important role model. I was able to be a strong woman through my actions, words, and interactions with them. They saw me as someone to respect and listen to. Someone who could be silly and meaningful. In these times in which there is so much violence specifically against girls and women, I see it as crucial for adults to teach boys at a young age how to be respectful, connective, and listen to girls and women. I see it as a double win for me, as a woman, to be able to teach boys in real time how to listen, talk with, and respect. Boys will only learn these skills if we as a knowledgeable teachers, caring women and men, strong leaders step forward to teach them. And guess what, so many of them want this.
With my personal and professional need to bring kindness, respect, and love to all of humanity–no matter what gender, race, creed, or religion–these boys shared with me that they want to be taught yoga and guided through challenge, games, and much, much laughter.