I prepare for my Friday kids yoga class by spending several hours on the preceding Sunday thinking about a topic that I believe will have great meaning for my young yoga students. I try to connect the upcoming class theme to a topic that I have an idea may resonate well with young students. But sometimes, despite all my careful planning, the best yoga classes seem to simply follow from what my students need that day. And, I love this.
For example, one chilly fall session I was all set to talk about peace, and practice the warrior series of poses. I had recently read the cute little book, Peaceful Piggies Meditation. With lights low and everybody very still and quiet, my young yoginis loved our 5-minute sitting meditation that followed this story. And, so, I wanted to carry on with that topic and have my students make piggy puppets and recreate the peaceful piggy storyline with our own twists and turns. However, earlier in the day one of my students had revealed to me that she was very sad because her aunt, who had been free from breast cancer this past summer, had recently and very sadly, succumbed to another form of cancer just that week. She was very down as her family planned to attend the funeral some distance away. So, with that in mind, I threw my well-thought-out lesson plans aside and decided that "what it feels like when we lose someone we love" would be our yoga session topic.
As I revealed the topic of the day to my yoga class, love and loss, one of my youngest yoginis groaned, "Oh, no, I hate this topic," while the rest of the group sat perfectly still on their mats, staring straight at me. Several girls told us about pets who died and how they missed the ones they loved but not the ones who bit them. Ya gotta smile. Kids are so honest. One serious little girl told us about longing for a grandmother she never knew; one who had died years before she was born. She went on to tell us how sad she was for her dad because it was his mom who had died when he was a young boy. I am always amazed at how deeply kids feel, and not just about themselves.
Hope, a 5th grader, with tear-filled eyes, told us about how her whole family was with her grandmother as she passed away not so long ago at the age of 91. We had a short discussion about what a great, long life her grandmother had. And then I told the girls about my morning. Before I left the house I grabbed the first rain coat I found in the closet, a red rain coat. As I slipped the bright red jacket over my shoulders I remembered, "This is my mom's coat." Sliding my hand into one of the pockets, I felt my mom's lipstick, pink lipstick. She loved pink. I twisted the tube to get a better look at the color, imagining my mom applying this very tube of pink lipstick to her lips and thought, "Miss you mom." The girls were wide-eyed as I told them my story. Not one of them could imagine her life without her mom.
Although we could have spent the entire 75 minute yoga class talking about our feelings when somebody we love dies, I shifted the direction of the conversation and asked the girls what they do when they feel sad. One girl told us her mom gave her $40 when her grandmother died and she felt much better :) Another said that her family goes out to eat. In fact, she went on, her family goes out to eat whenever something good or sad happens. Yet another student said that she likes to go for walks in the woods to lift her mood. And Lidia told us that she tries to just push sad thoughts out of her mind. Several girls said that their parents had bought them puppies, gerbils, or other furry creatures to ease their sadness. I laughed as I told them that I had done that very same thing after my mom died. Four weeks after my mom quietly passed away in her sleep, my husband and I bought a lively and crazy yellow lab puppy and it did make me feel better.
With all that heavy talk in the air, we stood up and began our asanas (yoga poses) and pranayama (breath work). We lifted our mood with Bunny Breath; Celia demonstrated. I showed them Conductor Breath and we all laughed at the energy it created. We hissed with Snake Breath, as we moved up and down in Cobra Pose. "Look," I noted, "how moving our bodies and changing our breath can change our mood." We all laughed. Each girl then led us through her favorite yoga pose...Sun Salutation, Rockin the Baby, Rag Doll. And we found 10 minutes after meditation to make our piggy puppets.
I love my kids' yoga classes because I think a lot about what we discuss and what transpires during class well beyond our hour and 15 minutes together. What I teach reflects me and in that, my classes are all very personal. And so following this class I thought about how as human beings, young and old, we all suffer through sadness and loss. Whatever works to ease our suffering, be it $40 from a kind and loving mom, or Conductor Breath in a class full of yoga friends who all know how you are feeling...whatever works, I think, is worthy of thought and consideration as it may help us find ease and grace in our lives.
Reprinted from the YogaLife NH blog.
Joy Bryan Markley is a kids yoga instructor, teacher and educational psychologist in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She's a 500 hour RYT in Classical Yoga for adults having trained through the Yoga Life Institute of NH. She also trained with Lisa Flynn taking both the introductory and advanced yoga training for kids through ChildLight Yoga. Joy very much enjoys and feels grateful for the opportunity to teach yoga, relaxation, and meditation to elementary-aged yoginis.