In today’s fast-paced society, stress is a given. People are rushing everywhere. In the digital age of instantaneous access, the workforce has become more demanding. Families with both parents working are commuting and coming home exhausted to make dinner only to rush out for an abundance of extracurricular activities for their children – hockey, soccer, baseball, dance, music lessons, tutoring. It’s no surprise that parental stress is filtering down to children who are often overbooked and dealing with their own day-to-day stresses with school work and social challenges.
As the parent of three young adult children, I have witnessed some of their stresses from the sidelines. So when I recently completed my Yoga Teacher Training Certificate, I felt compelled to share yoga with children. It’s no secret that I love yoga and the many gifts it has brought to my life - a sense of calm, comfort within my body and an inner trust. While the benefits of yoga have changed my life, I realize that it isn’t the magic answer for everything. But it was my hope that a few yoga classes would allow the children some time to relax and let go of their worries while giving their bodies much needed stretching to offset their time sitting at a desk. Although more and more yoga studios are offering yoga classes for kids and teens, it’s not always accessible – either due to time, distance or money. I decided to volunteer teach at the local elementary school my children attended when they were younger.
I sent a note offering free yoga for the children to one of my children’s former teachers. The response was immediate. “That would be AMAZING!” After a series of emails and a personal police check to volunteer, I was set to teach yoga to students in grades 5 to 8, one afternoon and one morning a week for four weeks.
I began with high expectations. I wanted the children to fall in love with yoga and for the experience to make a difference in their lives. The first few classes were a little rocky. Some of the children in the younger grades were excited and tough to settle down, while the older children thought it was a chance for free social interaction. Looking back at the experience, I think I learned more about teaching and children in those first few classes than they learned about yoga. It was exhausting. Even though I have practiced yoga for over 10 years, I didn’t anticipate the physical and mental demands of teaching three to four classes in a day to a very high energy audience! I also had a renewed respect for the important work of teachers.
But then the children dropped hints that yoga was making a difference. At the beginning of the second week of classes, they recognized me in the hallway. “It’s the yoga lady. Are we having yoga again this week?” When I replied yes, their response was a heartfelt “Yayy!” Before I started class for each grade, I asked them what they liked best about yoga. The responses varied – tree pose, warrior, superman (locust pose), but most of the students loved savasana. One young girl even said she liked it “when I told the story at the end.” This encouraged me to continue with the simple guided meditation and reading a brief passage to help them relax a little bit more during savasana.
As each week progressed, the children would settle into the routine more quickly, anxious to get into the flow of the practice. We talked about the importance of breath work with each pose, but also how it benefits us in our day to day life. It was such a pleasure to experience the synergy of their breath with the movement so we all moved in unity. And it truly brought a smile to witness the intense focus in their contorted faces, especially in the younger children, as they watched me lead the class and tried to replicate the pose.
By the last class, the students were anxious to begin and not waste precious time. I noticed that they were able to focus more on the poses and less on the world around them. They didn’t seem as concerned about what their friends were doing beside them and speaking out during class. At the end of our last class, many of the students, especially the older grades, expressed disappointment that there wouldn’t be more sessions.
In talking to their teachers, they said that the students really enjoyed the opportunity to try something different during their physical education time. They were surprised that they felt so refreshed at the end of their sessions. Many expressed interest in doing yoga again as it was a wonderful and new experience for them.
While there are research studies touting the health benefits of yoga for children, I can only speak from my own experience. The opportunity to practice with the children in an elementary school setting was humbling. My intention had been to offer the gift of yoga to the students but I received their gifts of welcoming and openness.