Similarities and Differences
In some ways teaching kids is drastically different from teaching adults. In other ways, it’s pretty much the same. With both kids and adults, I string together poses and breath work that allow students to feel sensations in their body that awakens awareness of emotions or thoughts in their mind; I see stress dissipate every time an adult or child takes a deep breath; and for both adults and children, I see the spark of understanding in their eyes with the realization of a new idea or concept.
The difference is, I get to see that spark more often with children. Sometimes I think it’s because, as adults, we have learned many of these concepts already. Other times, I think it’s because children are more open to learning. They haven’t spent as many years developing layers of excuses, anxieties, fears and distractions to block their path.
Of course, the biggest difference between teaching kids rather than adults is all the talking. As the teacher in an adult class, my voice is the only one heard. In kids yoga classes, the students talk as much as I do. Though talking isn’t encouraged during asana and meditation, it is during discussions and games. I enjoy hearing other voices than my own and I learn so much by listening to these wise little souls. Bringing dialogue into the class also brings about a sense of community and I’ve noticed kids feel more present when they are allowed to participate in this way. Beyond talking, kids yoga also involves a lot of singing, especially with the youngest set. Singing is a good way to develop breathing muscles and music can bring humor into the class.
Getting to See the Magic
Sometimes I wonder if all of the commotion makes it more difficult for children to hear and absorb the lessons of yoga, but then I see it: A 5-year-old lying still in Savasana, a 6-year-old explaining what it means to be kind to yourself and an 8-year-old telling me that she was able to calm her test anxiety by tapping out Sa-Ta-Na-Ma on her fingers.
Recently I was lucky enough to witness a young Yogi make a great discovery. One that I remember having made myself. One of the first “ah ha” moments I had in yoga was when a teacher instructed my class to breathe into any areas of tension we felt while stretching a muscle. She then said to exhale and let the tension ride our breath out of our body on our breath. I was amazed when I did what she asked and the strong sensation of the stretch seemed to disappear. I’ve used what I learned countless times in my life, not just to ease muscle tension, but also the strong sensations of emotion or stress. The other night I gave a similar instruction to a class of 10- to 13-year-old Yogis in Pigeon pose. Just after the exhalation, a 10-year-old Yogi popped her head up and gasped. “That really worked!,” she said. “That’s so cool!” Knowing that she had just discovered a tool she can use throughout her life, I looked at her and smiled.