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In trying to come up with meaningful lessons that kids can take off their mats and into their lives, I recently bought a great book called 10 Minute Life Lessons for Kids. The lessons are divided into categories such as Things We Value, Potential and Self-Worth, Love and Kindness and Attitude to name a few. When applying ideas from other sources into my class, I always try to find a yoga slant.
I decided to give my students a lesson on attitude. I strongly believe that what we think about and what we say influences our perspective and the outcome of different situations. This idea was not one that I was taught as a child but really would have helped me growing up.
I first made sure that none of the children had food allergies. I gave each student a Smartie (I chose this type of candy because it dissolves slowly but quickly enough to move onto other things in class when we finished this lesson). The kids were not allowed to eat it until I gave them the go ahead. We all then got into chair pose or a standing squat with backs against the wall. The idea behind this exercise was that while our legs started to burn from our position, we were to suck on the candy and try to keep our thoughts on the sweetness versus the pain.
There will always be difficulties in life but by training ourselves to focus on the sweetness in life even when things are hard we will create a more fulfilling and happier life in the long run.
As I sit here writing with what I think is a pulled groin muscle, I thought I’d point out how important it is for us as adults to warm up before teaching classes. Adult yoga classes ease students into poses — the classes build up to a pose of difficulty. In children’s classes, we jump, we twist and we bend with enthusiasm. Without properly warming up it is we, the teachers, that could get injured. I am a runner and triathlete, and in truth, my injury may very well be the result of adding too many miles too fast… but I was doing a lot of butterfly, sea shell and flower poses recently which all stretch the groin. Coincidence or not?
I always incorporate sun salutations in my classes. Not all of the children find them interesting (even with the silly song and barking that we add), but the repetition of a sequence is an important part of yoga. Some children enjoy knowing what comes next while others are ready for games and savasana that follow. As in life, play is a lot more enjoyable after you have put in a lot of hard work. Doing the “work” of yoga makes the games and savasana all the more special. I like to start with sun salutation A and then add another sun salutation or sequence with variations. I remember feeling this particular classes anticipation of the fun to follow. The class that I may have injured myself in is an all boys class and a couple of the boys have been taking yoga for a few sessions and are always very rambunctious. They were vocal about not wanting to do sun salutations and I remember the feeling of wanting to move quickly through them. The sun salutations in class are not enough of a warm up for us as teachers. I typically get to class early enough to do 15-20 minutes of yoga on my own before class starts. It prepares my body and mind for the yoga, the fun and, sometimes, the challenges to come. I did not have time that day to do a proper warm for myself. Although I made sure that the class warmed up with our fun kid oriented sun salutations, it was just not enough for me.
I found Sydney Solis‘s book Storytime Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story very valuable when I first began to teach. The book contains two class curriculums divided by age and class time. It was a reassuring guideline to my initial class planning. The book also had very creative warm ups, and centering and relaxation exercises for children of different ages. The stories themselves were a fun way to introduce poses to students, however, I struggled a bit with how to use the stories — read the story first, then introduce the poses as I reread the story or introduce the poses and then have the kids do the poses as I read. I generally do the yoga with the kids in my classes as it helps the kids see me demonstrate the poses and usually they are too eager to get going to watch me first before diving in to the fun (I do make exceptions with inversions or poses where the child’s neck and vision must remain up so they do not turn to look at me!). Ultimately I found it best to memorize the stories as then you can tell the story while doing the poses without a book interfering with the flow of the class.
I received my childrens yoga certification from Karma Kids Yoga which is based in NYC. I love the Karma Kids approach to childrens yoga and the training left me with an unbelievable amount of material.
Training was fun and exhausting. Getting into a playful mindset in a room full of children is a lot easier than in a room full of adults. I worried that maybe I needed a theatre background or an elementary school teacher’s background to be able to connect to the children in my classes. My instructor, Jessica, was so animated and in the know of so many animal and childrens pop culture facts that I was a little intimidated. I may know my asanas but do I know enough about Sponge Bob to relate to my classes?
Everyone developes their own style and the only way to find out what that style is is to teach. The real training for me started when I applied what I learned in some summer classes in my home with the children of friends. I was able to work out my initial nerves, plan some classes and work on how much material was needed for the length of time I was teaching, as well as, try out adding music and books to the mix. It was a gentle introduction to teaching and it helped give me confidence when I went out looking for places to teach outside of my home.
There are many certification programs out there. I have found that I use material from many sources. I am always looking for games to make into yoga games and ways to teach the poses that are fun and playful. Pick a program that intrigues you or works into your schedule and use that certification as a starting point not the be all end all. Go online and research the programs out there. Think a little bit about where you want to teach, what population you want to teach. If you don’t know. It is OK. I think that if you are not sure what age group that you would like to teach then a program that has a broader appeal is important. If you want to bring yoga into the public school system then YogaKids would be a great choice as it has a integrative educational slant to its certification program. It is also more intensive and costly. For me Karma Kids was a great place to begin. I am soon to add a mom and baby certification to my credentials and was searching for a program that resonated with me. Again there are many choices out there. Take that leap, pick one that works in your schedule, budget and lifestyle and just go for it. You can always go back for more.
I began my own yoga adventure when I was in my 20s. I spent two glorious weeks at an art school called Penland in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The school is tucked up into the mountains and the atmosphere is just plain cool. There were art students like myself, art teachers, working artists and a feeling of awakening and blossoming as everyone’s creative energies bounced off of each other.
Every morning before breakfast and every evening before dinner the school offered yoga classes. In the adventurous spirit that surrounds Penland, I decided to try them out. The morning class was held outside in damp grass. The gentle flow helped remove the kinks from the night before and focused my mind on the creative challenges of the day while the evening yoga helped stretch out achy body parts that were sacrificed during the day in the name of art. I remember having actual out of body experiences during savasana. The relaxation was intense and the instructors sensitivity to our needs was something that I hadn’t experienced before.
Upon my return home, yoga became just one of many fond memories of my art school experience in North Carolina. I didn’t take class again until I was almost 30 and had my first baby. I signed up for a vinyasa yoga class and again found bliss in the experience. I would drop off my often screaming or fussing son with my mom and enter the studio where my mind would calm. For the next hour and a quarter, I was not mommy. I was in the present moment, sweating and breathing. Savasana was the deep rest that I craved post baby. With my mind and body cleansed, I came back to my baby refreshed and ready to be “on” again. I started supplementing my class time with videos whenever I needed a dose of calm.
With life speeding up as my child was growing up, yoga again fell by the wayside. I found running again to be my choice of exercise in my limited time and experienced the same mind cleanse. After starting triathlon racing, I returned to yoga to help me balance the impact of running and cycling on my body with the stretching of yoga. My yoga of choice is still heated vinyasa flow. I love the workout, the sweating and the mind release while breathing through the asanas. This time I found that yoga strengthened both my body and my mind. The messages of yoga were often translated back into my life off the mat.
It is these messages that I want to share on this blog and to the kids that I teach. I hope that as I sort out my years worth of lesson plans, successes and challenges, I can provide ideas for those of you who teach yoga to children now, mothers or fathers who are looking to yoga as a means to connect with your own children or teachers in schools who need ideas to help focus and inspire their children.