There are few things as emotionally satisfying as teaching yoga to children. They totally get it. Closer to the source than most grown-ups, they are better able to open their minds to possibility and potential.
Most of them, unlike most adults, still live in their bodies. Ask them to chant “Ram, Ram, Ram” and they can tell you where it vibrates. Take them on a journey in their mind to a secret garden, or flying over the ocean, and they’re there. It’s not a leap for them to sense the connectedness between themselves and the animals, the trees, the stars.
I’ve learned a lot over the past couple years about teaching children and about children living in our culture. When structuring a class, the number one thing is have a Plan A, B, C and D. Children tend to merge into each other’s energies pretty quickly, and depending on who is leading the pack that day, the game that worked great with the first class might be greeted with sneers by the next.
The second thing I learned is that it is a different world, more challenging world. Children are coming to school without being fed. Without getting a descent night’s sleep. Without a pencil to write with. Without the ability to sit still or to listen. If you know anyone who is a school teacher, especially a public school teacher, you should go out of your way to thank them for their service to your community.
Last year I was teaching a small group of children. One girl was holding her stomach, her face pinched. I asked what was wrong and she said her stomach hurt. So we did yoga for tummy aches; knees into the chest, twists – we call it the “tummy series” at my house. At the end of class I mentioned to the aide that I hoped it had helped. “Well,” the woman shook her head, “it’s probably because she’s hungry.” It felt like a slap just to hear it.
Our children are under a lot of stress. A lot. Sometimes, I’m not sure that children from well-to-do familes are any better off. I’ve seen children that cannot sit on the floor with straight legs. Really; the back of the body THAT tight. I asked one little boy, second grader: “Honey, when you lay down to go to sleep, can you go to sleep or do you just lay there while your mind jumps around?” His eyes grew wide. “How did you know that?” he asked. How did I know? The body – it doesn’t lie.
The third thing I’ve learned is that children yearn to be noticed and acknowledged as individuals. I guess we all do.
Have you seen these cars around with the little stickers on the back that indicate the family members who ride in the car? The little stick-figure dad, mom, girl, boy and cat, or any of the endless combinations that we would label a family unit? What is it the occupant is trying to tell us? Is it that they just want to be acknowledged; for us to know a little about their story? Or because, without those other people and things, they have no reference point; no identity?
So often in yoga with children, they tell me little snippets of their life. “My Grandma is picking me up today.” “Daddy doesn’t live at my house anymore.” “I have a boo boo on my knee.” They see me for ½ an hour, just a few times in a month; and yet run up for hugs, for acknowledgement of their existence; to ask if they can share their pain.
Last week I finished up teaching yoga to the first grade at the local elementary school. At the beginning of the class I announced that it would be our last class until January because I’d be teaching the fourth grade for a few weeks.
Instantly one little girl raised her hand, and I pointed to her to speak, expecting to hear a request for a pose.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” I replied.
THAT is yoga.