Bringing Yoga to the Classroom: The Process
I consulted whatever text I could find on yoga for children: during the project’s short time frame, I read books as I received them, and two in particular impacted my procedure. I was also able attend a Yoga For Young Warriors class at the Eliot Street Collective.
I began on a Thursday: I tried to organize a short sequence that would present the principals of diaphragmatic breathing, give students the opportunity to wiggle, and then to find focus by balancing in vrksasana. The first day, I felt rather deflated, as it seemed that most of the class chose not to participate in the yogic breath lesson, and then bounced around on one foot during tree pose. I felt frustrated and let my disappointment show in my body. The second day, Friday, I remembered that my posture communicates my expectations. I kept my emotional reaction to the chaos of bouncing children in check, and I made an effort to praise student’s efforts to participate.
Over the weekend I began to read Yoga Calm for Children: Educating Heart, Mind, and Body by Lynea and Jim Gillen. The book helped me to remember that children are not little adults, and a sense of play is important (how could I forget!). The Gillen’s section to “Use Language to Align from the Inside Out” helped me to develop the way I understand teaching yoga to adults or children. The Gillens suggest, “alignment will be easier and more desirable for students when you use simple, evocative, descriptive language that conveys an attitude of alignment (e.g., “Stand tall and proud.”) or quality of being (e.g., “Imagine you are a king or queen with a crown on your head.”) (57). This reminder that creativity is part of teaching alleviated the stress I experience when I think about teaching. I used the image of wearing a crown with the third graders with pleasing results: their chests and chins lifted and smiles adorned their faces.
The following Monday, I attended the Yoga For Young Warriors class. I wanted to see an experienced teacher’s discipline methodology in action. The class had only one student in attendance, so I didn’t get the sort of demonstration I had hoped for. Nonetheless, the instructor presented the class as best she could as if to a room full of children. She reviewed rules (always listen to your body, always do yoga around parents or adults, have fun), a concept I hadn’t even considered introducing in the third grade classroom. The class was imaginative and mixed mat work with various movements around the room: big stepping, tiptoeing, hopping, a kind of “ministry of funny walks” – all muscles actions that are useful for moving in yoga asana. As a whole, the YFYW class reinforced the principal of play and emphasized imagination as a tool for teaching yoga to children – and for teaching, generally.