After teaching my first couple of Yoga classes to kids almost a decade ago, and watching them close their eyes and practice calming breath work - that was it - I was hooked! I knew there was a gap here that I wanted to fill.
“Namaste Miss Victoria!”
Bright, smiling eyes. Tight knee and belly hugs from the kinders. High 5's from the older kids.
This is the reception I often receive when I arrive each week to teach at one of my public or private schools. I adore teaching Yoga and Mindfulness to children, whether they are classes for toddlers or young teens. Children need these tools now more than ever, especially in this world of hyper connectivity and “on-line, all the time” culture that they are being raised in.
Many people ask me how to get started with kids yoga. There are many different approaches. But if there was one thing I would offer for sure, it would be this – that if you want to do this work – it needs to come from your heart. Children are intuitive, and they know if your intentions are pure. Also important, just like teaching to any population – have a daily Yoga/Mindfulness practice yourself. It just won’t work without it!
I have been making inroads into schools for almost 10 years now. But when I first began it was not without obstacles and the response from schools was lukewarm. Many schools were “ok” with me teaching yoga club at lunch, on a volunteer basis. So I did that for a while. Some schools did not have the funding or the appetite to build these types of programs into the school community.
A few schools I approached were wary of offering a Yoga program in their schools because of the Hindu lineage that it rises from, or Mindfulness programming because of its Buddhist roots. The impression that meditation is “brain washing” or “a waste of valuable learning time” came up a lot. The fact that it may interfere with cultural beliefs and religion. Occasionally parents would complain, or ask to have their child removed from the class. This is heart breaking, especially for the child who only sees that they are missing out on mooing like a cow, hopping up and down like a frog and laying peacefully on the floor, relaxing.
I find the resistance is less and less these days, now that yoga has moved so far into the mainstream. And since discovering and formulating a more secular approach to my programs, many of these initial challenges have subsided. Secular Mindfulness training is a growing trend these days, in all sectors and the research on the incredible benefits in education just continues to mount. In addition, school administrators, teachers and parents are now also understanding its profound benefits, seeing the results first hand in their kids.
Children derive huge benefits from yoga. In addition to soothing frazzled nervous systems, Yoga enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. Mindfulness practice improves concentration, focus and impulse control leading to a sense of self-regulation, calmness and relaxation.
Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with their inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. Yoga brings that marvelous inner light that all children have, to the surface. And it’s super fun! But know – a children’s yoga class in nothing like a quiet, serene class that adults may be used to!
If you poke your head into a kids yoga class you may see us dancing wildly, or you may catch the children in stillness, breathing buddies on their bellies having a “yoga sleep”. Or you may see us creating beautiful arts and crafts, talking about the kindness chain, or learning about how the body works. Perhaps we will be learning new yoga postures with the help of “Mr. Box”, or maybe we will be talking about how to handle difficult emotions, and how we can use Yoga and Mindfulness to help us. You will definitely hear laughter – lots of it! And uplifting and upbeat music for sure. We may be loud … or we may be very, very quiet. But one thing is for sure, the kids will be creating memories, making new friends and laying a firm foundation for bringing all the jewels of yoga into their lives. To be in a safe, supportive, non-competitive environment is a breath of fresh air for children. A place for them to express themselves fully and openly. I had a student once who told me that yoga class was the one place where he felt really “at home”…
And in schools, whether I am teaching Yoga or in-class Mindfulness sessions - feeling the energy of a full class of kids, many who have no idea what they are about to learn, is so joyful. The sense of relief (and sometimes confusion!) on kids’ faces when I tell them we are going to “learn to do nothing today!”. “Huh?” I love it! To watch the children trying to calm their jiggly bodies, hold their eyes closed, and pay attention to their slow breathing is very gratifying. We often discuss how quiet it got in the classroom after a 1 – 2 minute mindfulness practice. Many kids comment on how they have never heard that kind of silence EVER in their school. And for the most part – they love it. They definitely need it. Schools can be battlegrounds these days.
I am so excited about how the demand for Yoga and Mindfulness in schools continues to rise. Can you imagine? If all, or at least some children, can learn to meditate, understand that they have the tools for self-regulation and are able to make peace with their inner worlds – what kind of world we may just have? Exciting and hopeful!
We are planting the seeds of Yoga and Mindfulness when we work with children. Sometimes that seed will take root and sprout immediately, or sometime down the track, maybe when they need it the most. But opening up our children to their inner landscape is as important than all the academics in the world. It prepares them for their lives, inspires compassion, kindness and generosity and helps them to gain a better realization of the inter-connectedness of all things. We can at least hope, that this renewed sense of awareness will inspire us and them, to take action against injustice in the world.
It is my deep wish to see Mindfulness and Yoga practices added to EVERY school curriculum, every school … every grade, everywhere! There are indeed lots of opportunities if you are called to this work.
You too can make a difference in the lives of children …