KIDS' YOGA MAKES A DIFFERENCE!
There is an air of intellectual preciseness and importance about her as 6 year-old Vanessa asks, "Are we going to use the technical names or the general names of the poses?"
This is the second of 8 noon-hour sessions for 20 Yoga Kids in first and second grade. Vanessa has already distinguished herself as a little person with an abundant flow of expression that can spill out any time.
"Both," I respond, "we will use the English or general names, as you call them, so that we can easily remember the poses, and we will learn the technical/Sanskrit sounds for the original names of the poses.
"But", she says emphatically, "are we going to use the technical or the general names?"
"Both!" I try out the one word response this time. Throughout our Yoga time, as Vanessa has been repeatedly calling out, I have been encouraging her with gentle, consistent reminders to feel from the inside out, to stay aware and connected. We are now winding up. The children stand silently in a circle, rooted and centered in Namaste Mountain. I lead them to sit down for a guided meditation. You could hear a feather drop! Suddenly, these familiar words ring out: "Are we going to learn the general or the technical names of the poses?" I do not falter in the flow of calming words, and now slip in that with Yoga attention, Vanessa will be empowered to wait for the perfect moment to tell us what she has to say. My eyes are mainly closed. The room is settled.
"It's not my fault I have ADD. Well, I guess it's no excuse." Her words fade into the glow of the candle flame in the center of our circle and the concentrated focus of the children all around. We take a nice breath in and blow out the flame. It's our 'Happy Breath Day' ceremony'. Our arms and gestures playfully shape the words of our song:
"Happy Breath Day to you! Happy Breath Day to me!
Happy Breath Day each and every day.....
Happy Breath Day, Happy Breath!"
Now the room erupts into a flurry of shoes, paraphernalia, and excited chatter before all zoom off. I whisk over to Vanessa, kneel down and gaze into her face. "You know what Vanessa? For me, ADD is a word that some people may use, but I see that you have a lot of excitement to share that makes the words jump out. With Yoga, we learn to wait and hold in that excitement until the perfect moment. Waiting and holding is a power, a real power." Her eyes are on me. I feel a glimmer of understanding. Her whole being seems to relax as she grasps this notion. In our next session, her efforts are supreme....the only special thing that I can single out about Vanessa is the sense of utter presence that emanates all around her.
Aaaah! It would be nice if this were a 'happily ever after' story and that from now on, having gotten the point once, she will hold it forever. But like Vanessa, we are all constantly adapting to this multi-textured, multi-layered world. This tendency, as all tendencies do, will resurface again and again. It is a vehicle for growth. Now, Vanessa and I have established a language and a trust that allow us to communicate and understand each other, to work together for what we both genuinely want. Some of us need to hold back our words; some of us need to find them. Yoga fits, stretches, and molds our bodies and minds into the new shapes and possibilities of expression and movement.
Maalaa can be reached at 604-730-1026,
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25 years ago, I read a verse in the Upanishads that remains imprinted on my mind. It declares that the last thing the human mind wants to do is to think. Of course we think! We think about many things and objects, we fill our mind with all sorts of distractions; but that is not the kind of thinking that is referred to here. This verse is alluding to the reluctance of the human mind to see itself, to reflect inwardly towards the Source of Being. Tuned-in to that Source, we are in harmony with the Transcendental Reality, open to the fullness of the moment in the here and now. As we grow in this world, from an early age, we are encouraged to package this moment into the future. Kids being who and where they are in the cycle of
life are very connected to the moment at hand. Yoga is an opportunity for them to be self aware, to think about themselves in ways that are not readily provided by the situations and goals they generally encounter.
Yoga offers rewards that are not as flashy as being the star of a soccer game, a prima ballerina, or a math whiz. One challenge that I have run into with some of my students is the natural drive to compete, to be the best, the fastest, or the most flexible. Stillness and calm is not naturally high on the priority list; however, they do not go unnoticed. One young and restless 8 year-old lady expressed that she liked Yoga because it was the only time that she felt "not hyper!" I used to try harder to camouflage Yoga to look a little more like the other activities in their lives, but now, I have seen Yoga offer its own charms. Feeling relaxed in Savasana, the power of Virabhadrasana, I, II, and III, the exhilaration of standing upside down in Sirsasana, and even the subtlety of Kapalabhati breath--these work their own magic. The magic is in the direct experience. Kids' Yoga is about attracting Kids to this experience that they alone can give themselves. It is about Life in its essence, and the Life that they touch thereby touches everything.
How to hold the delicate balance between action and stillness, freedom and discipline, intense effort and fun, competition and self-motivation? These are some of the issues that I contemplate and experiment with again and again, constantly coming up with original recipes for a healthy Yoga appetite for Kids. New ideas keep popping up as the situations unfold before me. It is a real charge to see 6 year-old Noah proudly perform his 'Ghost Yoga' pose under my king size bed sheet (Halloween activity) for his grand-ma and little brother at the end of the class, or to hear Colton repeatedly request that we play the 'Straw Bale Bundle' game again, rolling across the floor keeping arms and legs fixed, moving the body from the core and charging up the nervous system, as we chant: "I am a bundle, a straw bale bundle, a bundle-rolling bundle." Kids with chronic stomach conditions, scoliosis, and psychological challenges show remarkable benefits, overcoming their difficulties and discovering ways to alleviate their pain. There are also challenges that do not produce the same rewarding results.
It is all part of the package. As a facilitator of Kids' Yoga, my best asset is remaining centered and calm in the Yoga state. Getting frazzled as 'straw bale bundles' are rolling randomly about and colliding is nowhere near as effective in restoring order as abiding in the state of presence, coolly and clearly directing bale bundle traffic. There's no faking it. I have to be the real thing or it just won't work. Being in touch and inspired with my own Yoga life, knowing what it means to go beyond my limits, to accept where I am at, to spontaneously open to the flow--these are the tools I need to be effective in my work with children. Clarifying my intention, what I aim for: to honour the innate wisdom in each child's body, mind and soul individually and collectively, sets the stage for a fulfilling Kids' Yoga reunion that will be remembered their whole life long. As 5 year-old Jamie excitedly runs in for his next session and enthusiastically declares "LET'S YOGA!" I definitely get that good, warm-all-over feeling that something good is happening over here!
Maalaa is a Yoga adept who brings her lifetime Yoga to children and adults through classes, workshops, and special events highlighted by music and chanting, Yoga stories and philosophy. She offers classes from her Kitsilano studio, The Yoga Tree, as well as City Yoga, the Yoga Studio, The Wandering Yogi and U.B.C. in Yoga Asanas, Meditation, Philosophy, Chanting and Kids' Yoga.