Our class structure is designed to give children tools that are desperately needed in our society. Children are inundated with sensory stimulation. They are being assaulted on a regular basis by stimulation that is often, not good for them and overwhelming. There is something to look at, to hear, to listen to from the moment they wake till the moment they go to sleep. They are constantly running from one thing to another while multitasking at almost every moment of the day. This constant stimulation causes anxiety, the inability to regulate emotions and difficulty focusing on one thing at a time. The term “monkey mind” is used to explain this inability to focus and it’s becoming an epidemic in our youth. Not only is it affecting their emotions, their brain and their productivity but the rise in mental health issues in our young population is becoming an epidemic. The purpose of Yoga is to quiet the mind, go inward and become self sustaining and self aware. Our model for classes allows children to learn in a caring environment that embraces the unique challenges our students will face when they are beginning their journey. Classes will be engaging, though entertaining is not our goal.
Adults are beginning to realize the negative impact stress and over stimulation has on them and more than ever people are gravitating to yoga because it has been proven to help in these areas. Why then do we offer such a watered down version of the practice for children, especially when they need it the most.
In a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, 43 percent of 13- to -14 year-olds said they felt stressed every single day. By ages 15 to 17, the number rose to 59 percent. The negative impact of stress hormones on the brain could not come at a worse time. Stress overloads the prefrontal cortex, making it harder to regulate emotions and thoughts. At the same time that teenagers—and their prefrontal cortex—are struggling to gain the self-control and regulation they need to say on track, stress sends them in the opposite direction (Romero and McEwen, 2006).
Imagine what they could be if they learned how to combat these harsh reality’s in their youth. What would the world would look like if we taught our young how to create their own balance. If they knew external factors will always be there, but so will their breath to carry them through. Imagine if we could build their confidence from within and start them off in a position where they never had to re-learn the bad habits we have all created for ourselves. What could they be if they never lost who they are and had to find it again, but simply strengthened who they were always meant to be.
I developed this program because I have heard numerous adult practitioners say they wish they found yoga sooner, because it changed their life. Yet, the moment we decide to offer “yoga” to children we feel the need to dumb it down for them. In most kids yoga teacher trainings you are not required to be a certified yoga instructor. I believe this is a disservice to our youth and one that I hope our community can make a collective and conscious shift away from. The basic principles of the yogic philosophy are woven in to ever training along with ethics, anatomy and many other important factors that should be important pillars to anyone teaching the practice, regardless of your students age. Not only is anatomy and proper alignment important for our children, but it is necessary to protect their growing bodies. Children are more adept at learning different languages, yet the yoga community at large strays away from using sanskrit and even proper english translations. It is common practice for youth instructors to change the names of poses to cute and fun names and make storylines to help them stay engaged but does this really help the children discover the benefits of yoga, or does it help the teacher keeps control of the classroom? We have a false belief that in order for children to be engaged everything must be big and exciting, yet we have all seen a children open up a toy that lights up, makes sounds and is bright and colorful only to set it aside to play with the box it came in. Children are craving quiet and stillness, yet we constantly steer them away from getting to that place because of the false belief that in order to gain a benefit children must be stimulated at all times.
As a teacher I first strive to live the yogic principles that I am teaching. One principle that is the basis of our classes is Asteya (non stealing). As adults and parents we often try to control the environment around our kids so they never feel uncomfortable and they can live in their bubble of bliss never facing adversity. We are constantly entertaining them so they behave and so they aren’t bored or emotionally uncomfortable. In doing this we are not practicing asteya. We are robbing them of a true authentic experience that they can learn from. We are stealing their experience and presenting only what they think they are capable of receiving. Somewhere along our evolutionary path we have deemed discomfort, heartache and general unhappiness as unnecessary and the enemy. The reality is, try as we will to rid the world of these things they will happen and when then they do, it is our job as the adults to ensure that our children have the ability and the tools to flourish in that adversity. Additionally, it is our job to help them observe these things instead of judge them. Instead of deeming something painful and bad, what if we could help them to observe the emotion without judgment. By never allowing them to experience these things with our support in a comfortable environment, I believe we are taking away their ability to learn these skills.
Our mission is to create a space where our students feel supported, grounded and comfortable to be and feel whatever it is they feeling. Sometimes it gets crazy and chaotic and we use “brain training” to refocus. Some days they are all with me creating a beautiful space where they share observations that would stun some adults. It is not my job to make things perfect or keep them entertained. It is my job to create the space for them to learn and grow. Often it is a practice for me to sit in the chaos and observe it without judgment, to let them safely express who they are and give them tools to refocus and either accept or let go of those actions. It is a delicate balance, but isn’t that the basis of yoga? Yoga teaches us that there is discomfort in true transformation and it is with this philosophy in mind that we dedicate ourselves to presenting yoga in it’s true form to our entire student base, including children. We know they will take what they need and leave the rest for a later date.