As a teacher, continuing education is of vital importance. It is one of the ways to keep our proverbial cup full, how we can stay dynamic and current with our teachings, and how we stay inspired and engaged. Just like maintaining our own personal practice, continuing to learn and grow is an essential element as a teacher.
I have been teaching kids yoga classes over the last few semesters - a whole new adventure for me. At the first session, I had this idea of what the classes would look like (laughable now!) - the kids would come in, be so happy and calm coming into our beautiful studio, sit quietly on their mats, go through some healthy lifestyle theory, a fun story acted out in yoga poses with our bodies (fun of course, but all while listening quietly and attentively), and we would then feel so happily satiated and exhausted we would all rest quietly in savasana... it was going to be beautiful! Then, on the day of my first kids yoga class, when I entered the studio, there was 14 very loud laughing children running in a circle, bolsters were forts, blocks were everywhere, no one wanted to sit on their own mats, and if I wanted them to be still and quiet, I quickly realized I was going to have to sit on them... I knew I was going to have to remake my class plan on the fly.
So I went with it. Over the next sessions, we cranked the music and danced, I let the kids teach me the yoga poses, we played games and told stories and made art and I did my best to meet the kids where they were at and make the experience fun. Despite my on-the-job learning, I was feeling like I could use a few more tools, a few more ways to control the classroom setting, and of course a few more fun things to bring to the kids, so I went looking for some training. Last weekend I went off to Rainbow Kids Yoga teacher training in Victoria, BC, and now I will never be the same. I hope.
Right from the moment we walked in the door of the Fernwood Yoga Den to meet Amanda, we were put outside our comfort zone. We shared mats with complete strangers, we held each other's hands and massaged knees and earlobes, we pretended we were kitties, we danced our names, we laughed and played until we had to hold our bellies because they were so full of joy. And that was the first hour! I am not sure what I expected, but this complete permission to return to being a kid was a divine, soul shaking experience, as was the amazing sense of community and trust that this out-of-my-norm practice created. After 3 days, the stranger's mats that I sat on were no longer strangers; they were my friends.
Children joined us on Saturday afternoon, and by then each of us 'adults' had given up the seriousness and studiousness that we so naturally bring to our yoga teaching/practice. I had let go of this idea that somehow the kids’ yoga practice would look like mine. Instead, we had embraced the idea that everything is yoga. Everything. Wiggly, giggly bodies, joyful dance, tears of hurt or frustration, to participate or not, the need to be the leader or learn to be part of a team or (for some children) to have the class plan given in advance in terms of 'first this, and then that...'. Each game, each conversation, each opportunity to create trust in a relationship - it is all yoga.
With the power of imagination, touch, teamwork and FUN, yoga (like life) can teach our kids many things - personal power, compassion and empathy, communication and trust. I was reminded that all of life has the potential to be yoga - learning to live our lives in a whole-hearted, connected and joyful way. This teacher training not only has given me the tools I was hoping to gain to teach yoga to children, it gave me the great gift of being able to look at the world like a child again. It has shaken the seriousness out of my practice and teaching and opened up a world of possibilities that cannot only reveal more of yoga to us as individuals, but yoga lived as a community of people. This is how kids practice yoga all the time without even knowing that they are doing it.
Try this the next time that you are standing quietly in your tree pose in yoga class: imagine that you are a beautiful purple sparkly tree and that you are in a magical rainbow forest with mist kissing your cheeks and roots that can wade through the earth like water... and all the fellow trees around you are your forest family - each tree individual and unique, but each single tree is essential to creating the forest. Please don’t resist the urge to smile, and if you feel like jumping in place that is totally allowed. I bet you never take your tree pose quite so seriously again; and in my opinion, that is a good thing!