I picked up a copy of “Yoga Essentials” this week – an issue entitled “Back to Basics.” This got me thinking about how kids’ yoga is really all about providing the basics of a successful practice, which the students will hopefully continue to build on as they mature. And hopefully, learning some yoga skills – calming the mind, non-competitiveness, honoring the body – will help prevent children from taking on the bad habits of our crazy, fast paced society that is riddled with ill-health and dis–eases. Or at the very least, kids who learn yoga, will have tools to combat the unhealthy habits of “success” that modern life instills.
Hillary Dowdle, the editor of “Yoga Essentials” notes that all that is essential to a thriving practice is the right intention and the commitment to show up on your mat regularly. But it sure does help to have a handle on the basics. There is nothing new or revolutionary or even terribly complicated in a successful yoga practice, she goes on to note, only good solid instruction. And how wonderful if we can start as kids with that good solid instruction! How much sooner, and with how much more ease then, will the asana and the yoga path off the mat, become second nature, a way of life. Some of the questions Dowdle hopes to answer in her issue of “Yoga Essentials” are: “How can I better control back bends? How can I stop wriggling and freaking out in savasna?” (my pet question!) “What constitutes safe inversions?” “How can I heal/treat injuries with therapeutic yoga?”
Though, when teaching children, especially younger ones, we don’t generally give very specific corrections on alignment and physiology, kids’ yoga is a great place to start introducing answers to these concepts, or at least creating an awareness of the questions.
I try to show kids alternatives or modifications for unique bodies and for safety, in poses, and all life situations, in a way that is accessible to young minds and bodies. If a child is wobbling and falling over in tree pose, one might suggest a drishti or gazing point, or come out of the pose, work on understanding the concept of engaging the pelvic floor muscles and then try again. Or just a suggestion of having the hands at heart center rather than overhead, or tipping off a wall slightly, may plant the seed of, “It’s ok for me seek other options, to find a way that works for me, to modify to my unique body.” These insights will translate into a freer, more relaxed, less competitive child in all spheres of life.
I wonder how different my life would have been thus far, if I had internalized ideas on necessary relaxation, stilling my racing mind and managing anxiety through breath control, non-competitiveness and listening to my inner voice at an early age. I’d wager I probably would have had an easier time battling anxiety and depression, an over- achiever’s mindset and burn out.
I realized how ingrained the patterns of our pressing, fast paced modern life are in me, when I arrived at a yoga class this week, anxious, headachy and stressed after a day of sitting still and doing admin work and trying to catch up on mails. After two minutes of deep breathing, I felt like a different person, lighter, more joyous, calmer, rejuvenated. How different would my day have been if I had heeded the quiet inner voice (which I didn’t even think to listen for) and stopped my work once or twice to connect with the most basic of life functions just breathing. How sad that I internalized so many negative patterns of modern life and not this simple, yet essential health habit. And though I teach this stuff to others every day, I still battle to implement it myself. Silly! And, if kept up non-stop, debilitating!
Another essential yoga lesson I see kids learn in little bite size pieces in yoga class, is one-pointedness. It is, in fact, something we all once knew how to do to some extent, but have unlearned. It is one of the eight limbs of yoga – dharana – sometimes translated as concentration. It really means more than concentrating – it means being present in the moment you are in, alert and aware with all your faculties, and not scattering your energies outward every which way. Another bad habit of modern life I have internalized is to be constantly busy (or multi-tasking and efficient, as my ego likes to think of it,) always doing more than one thing at a time – “Just think of the time I’ll save and how much more I can cram into my day if I read my email while I eat breakfast or talk on the phone while I unpack the dishwasher (or drive!)” Yoga teaches us to be fully present in the present moment and harness all the powers of awareness, mind, body and spirit. B.K.S. Inyengar says, “The practice of asana, performed with the involvement of all the elements of our being, awakens and sharpens intelligence until it is integrated with our senses, our mind, our memory, our consciousness and our soul. All our bones, flesh, joints, fibers, ligaments, senses, mind and intelligence are harnessed.” And thus, yoga asana teach us to connect to our body intelligence, our intuition, our inner voice. What could be a more precious lesson?
May we teach all our kids yoga lessons with which to combat the ills of modern life, so that they grow up never doubting the strength of the stillness they have within, and are able to draw on it every day, truly saluting the light within themselves and each other in all ways. Namaste!