Teaching yoga to children is always refreshing. They keep you on your toes, think of quirky new pose names, and infuse the class with a beautiful presence for what they are feeling. They don’t want elaborate explanations about how a pose may make them feel – instead, they want to feel the pose themselves.
Teaching children, in any capacity, is an act of being fully present and creative in order to work with what’s available and interesting to them.
My five-year-old niece recently gave me a reminder of this notion. I’m blessed to share yoga with Phoebe regularly when I visit my sister. Unicorn and Princess Wave are her favorite new poses (formally known as Dancer and Mountain Pose). She loves acroyoga games and inversions.
I was watching Phoebe earlier this week. After baking cupcakes and whipping up homemade frosting, she was zipping around the house with excitement about her treats. I was serving up dinner and trying to convince her that it was time to calm down and eat. Our exchange went like this:
Me (asking nicely with a bribe): Phoebe – let’s sit down and eat dinner, then we can have cupcakes!
Phoebe (running in and out of the kitchen): But I CAN’T. I’m to e-x-c-i-t-e-d!!! WANT cupcakes! Mmmmmmm.
Me (trying to be rational): You can have a cupcake after you eat. Otherwise, you could get a bellyache from all the sugar.
Phoebe (still running around): MMMM. They will be SO good! YUM!
After repeating my bribe and rationale again with no success, I realized that I either had to get sterner or get on her level. I had a split –second daydream of her peacefully doing extended exhalation to slow down her racing mind and heart. There was no way I’d convince her to sit down and count her breath, I thought. But I tried. I took a seat on the kitchen floor.
Me: Ok girl, we want cupcakes after dinner! How many do you want? We have to take a big breath in and out for every cupcake. I’m going to take at least ten breaths so there might not be cupcakes left for you!
Phoebe (sitting on the floor now): CUPCAKES! Wait for me!
I started doing a simple breathing practice and she followed. We closed our eyes, stretched our arms overhead, and took in a deep breath. On our exhale we softly said “one cupcake” and brought our hands down to our hearts. We repeated several more times. She did eight rounds for eight cupcakes, which she calmly declared would be enough before bed and that she was ready for dinner. Without me asking, she took a seat at the dining room table. I was amazed – was this the same child that was running in and out of the room just minutes before?
Over dinner we listed out all the ingredients in our upcoming deserts and came up with future recipes. She wasn’t aware that I snuck in pureed carrots so I left that one out. Afterwards, we each iced one cupcake and enjoyed our well-earned treats.
Children offer us these beautiful reminders every day – be present, be creative, and work with what you have at that moment.
It is a tremendous honor that my article on sharing yoga with Syrians won "Yoga Article of the Year" in Seattle Yoga News. Endless gratitude to everyone who was part of and supported this inspiring project.