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Photo by Drewski Mac

My yoga journey had a lot of starts and stops initially. When I finally became a true yogi, it was because of running. I was always a runner first and yoga was only a way to stretch for a long time. Even after I became a teacher, running was still my first passion. I began to have an unsettling feeling about this combination of running and yoga. This duo had within it a built in struggle. It was a struggle both in mind and body. But I ignored it. I ran and trained and pushed until finally succumbing to my yoga journey when running was no longer an option. And as they say “I saw the light and I never turned back”. Well not really.

You see, running and yoga are truly yin and yang both mentally and physically. Runners push. Runners compete with themselves and others. They compare. Runners turn off the mind because our bodies CAN do more, do faster, do longer. Runners don’t stop at pain but use pain as a test for mental toughness. Don’t stop. Run faster. Run longer. Rest if you need to but then get back on the track. Running compacts the muscles in the body. It tightens the muscles in the legs. It ignores the upper body. It creates imbalances.

I bought the runner’s message and lived that message. I ran when sick (though my running partner got my wrath that day), I ran in the heat, I ran when my leg had a strange pain, I kept on running. Speed work, long runs, tempo runs, trail runs. I woke up every morning with foot and leg pain. And then I couldn’t run. I had injured myself to the point that it was just not possible.

I turned to yoga. I listened to my body. I saw the alignment issues that were part of my running problems in my yoga and I patiently kept coming to my mat, working on my alignment. I got stronger. I got more flexible. My body began to open up. My hips released. My hamstrings released. I didn’t push, but patiently worked. I woke up without pain. I woke up.

So now I am running again. I love the freedom of being able to put on running shoes and take off. I love running on trails in all weather. The surroundings absorbs me. Mindfulness is necessary as to not trip. I now sometimes walk up some hills. But now, I always make sure that I get into the studio as often as I can to be in class. That takes precedent overrunning, but my need to get outside and fill my lungs with fresh air takes me to the trails. I have started to get the urge to push a little more. Maybe because it is marathon season and just a pattern that I have created. But yoga is what makes me able to run. I need both running and yoga in my life. The yin/yang. The dance. The balance.

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I work at a great place called Midtown Athletic Club. I was hired last year as the only children’s yoga instructor to teach yoga which was the only children’s programming that they offered (besides tennis). Midtown just put in a gorgeous outdoor pool and has since been working hard to attract families. They will begin to offer an abundance of children’s classes from kick boxing to boot camp to zoomba and yoga. The yoga classes offered will range from mom and baby to storybook yoga, pre-k, 5-7 , 8-11 and teen classes. It is a wonderfully diverse and full schedule. Starting this Fall I am also lucky to have a new and very talented teacher to help me.

Last night there was a great kick-off party for the kid’s programming and I played yoga for an hour and half with children rotating between different class demos around the giant pool deck and garden near by. It was a blast and everyone seemed to really enjoy their introduction to yoga. To keep it moving and fun I alternated between some very active yoga games. I started with yoga poses using the first letter in each child’s name, then we did yoga using animal cards and for some of the groups, especially the dubious older boys, I took out one of my Thumballs and we played letter yoga with the ball (you do a yoga pose to the letter on which the catcher’s thumb falls on the ball).

The next morning, my friend (and amazing power vinyasa yoga instructor) mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing me in action and said that it was great that our boss had seen how kids yoga “works” because it was really clear how valuable it was to have someone specialized in teaching kids yoga versus just pulling instructors from adult classes to teach.

It did make me think about the differences between children’s and adult classes.

I think that as children’s yoga instructors, we know how different it is to teach to children than it is to teach to adults. It requires a different way of thinking about yoga. It is yoga play.

• In adult class it is important to walk around your class and make adjustments and talk your students through the asanas. In children’s yoga you are on the ground moving and mooing! Talk about alignment is kept short and adjustments are rarely made.

• In adult classes repetition of a vinyasa is typical, as students we are willing to hold a pose for a long time and our bodies and minds benefit from doing so. In children’s yoga you have to put a lot of effort in keeping the class interested and moving with the changing energies. Attention spans vary with age. A good guideline is age x 5 minutes.

• In adult classes, with few exceptions, everyone is there to find that centering and calm. Class discipline is a non-issue. There may be moments of laughter and fun but we are seriously working toward a peace of mind and a body sans tension. In contrast, in children’s classes you have to develop some strategic class management techniques and you need to laugh and make silly faces and sounds—the louder and sillier the better.

• In adult classes there is a lot of talk about daily stresses and relaxing and focusing on the moment. Children can understand some talk about how to relax and get rid of stress but it is almost more important and more helpful as a children’s yoga instructor to be in the know of all things “kids”— being able to talk about animal facts, tv shows and music helps you to make the class user friendly for kids and the kids see that you understand their world and can relate to them.

• Yoga Journal is a great source for inspiration for adult classes and sometimes even some of the older children’s classes. I spend a lot of time looking at blogs on parenting, teaching and children’s yoga. I read a lot of psychology based books on child development, teaching children life lessons and how to encourage children to succeed and be happy people. The information I gather from these resources fuel my classes.

It does require a lot of passion and energy to teach children. But, let me tell you, hearing “Miss Jen!!” screamed from the crowded pool last night by one of my recent yoga campers makes all the hard work (or should I say hard play) so well worth it.

IMG_0187IMG_0221IMG_0227IMG_0231IMG_0179IMG_0263IMG_0271The kids and I had a lot of fun in the park. We did yoga poses using animal cards. We saluted the sun and during savasana the class listened to a relaxation script that I read to them from a great book that I’ve mentioned before called “Ready, Set, Relax: A Research-Based Program of Relaxation, Learning and Self-Esteem for Children” by Jeffrey Allen.

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Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

I was reading this morning about how most children are not spending enough time in nature in a piece called How To Lick a Slug written by Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.  I really believe that it is up to us as parents to expose our children to nature starting from an early age for them to really appreciate being outside in all of its natural glory. Sometimes that means getting uncomfortable in the heat or the rain. Sometimes that means not sleeping so well because of the root digging into your back or the rain dripping through the tent or the cacophony of animal sounds that descend once darkness arrives. It means we as parents must make nature important. We must take the time to take walks or bike rides with our children. We must remember to put the alarm on to see some natural wonder in the mid-night sky. I also know that sometimes life is really busy so if we as parent can’t take the time to be the nature guides, then summer camps can do wonders to help a child connect with the millipedes of the world.

Here is great news… yoga connects kids to nature! You can begin to teach your children how to connect with the natural world in your own home. You can start at any age and it’s free. Yoga poses were created long ago as a way to appreciate and connect with the world. The asanas we take to our mat visually and physically represent animals and objects seen in nature.

Here is a fun yoga game that gets everyone moving and thinking about how everything is connected.

Yoga games that are inspired by nature:

Walk Like This: (I adapted this game from Barbara Sher’s book Self-Esteem Games.)
In this game, you call out various animals and the kids have to move like that animal.

Have everyone stand in a line across a wall. Mark a “finish line” across the way.

  • Duck: Squat down with your hands behind your back and waddle to the line with the heels of your feet touching.
  • Crab: Sit in the traditional crab position. Turn sideways and walk to the finish line.
  • Kangaroo:Standing with your feet together and elbows bent with hands clenched jump to the finish line keeping your feet together.
  • Elephant: Bend forward with hands clasped in front swinging from side to side, walk with straight legs.
  • Lobster: Sit in crab position moving hands first then feet move toward your hands.
  • Caterpillar: Starting in child pose, transition into down dog, then slide your arms out until you are flat on the ground, then scrunch back into child pose and repeat.
  • Chicken: Squatting with feet together and knees apart, grasp your ankles from inside your knees. Walk and cluck.
  • Other animals that work well are bunny, seal, horse, and donkey.

Go on a yoga journey: This is an idea that works with 3-8 year olds. Have the kids help navigate the journey. How will you get there? Use many transportation poses. What did you see? Mountains, volcanoes, forests, jungles, all kinds of land or aquatic animals. You can take the journey to the desert and talk about desert plants and animals and weather, you can go planet hopping by rocket ship, you can to your nearest zoo or garden and become the animals, insects, flora and fauna that you encounter. The ideas are as limitless as your and the kids imaginations.

In class we also salute the sun, get down with dogs, stand still and strong like mountains and defy gravity in crow. We also have a lot of fun and its even better when you take class outside and use the wind for music during savasana.

Current Classes:

MIDTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

Mondays:
6-7:15am Power Vinyasa (H)

Thursdays:
6-7am Power Vinyasa

Story Time Yoga
1-1:45pm

Sundays:
5-7 year olds
9:45-10:30am
8-11 year olds
10:45-11:30am

STUDIO MOVE!

Wednesdays:
10:30-11:30 Power Vinyasa

Fridays:
Yoga for Athletes
9-10am

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