By Beth Peak founder of Little Tree Yogis
When we look at the world our children are growing up in these days, it is filled with sensory stimulation. There’s always sound, technology, visual stimulus, something to entertain them if you’re too busy.
As a practitioner of yoga, regardless of the style of yoga we practice, we are all seeking stillness of some kind. That might be stillness of the mind, the body, of our ego, or stillness from the world around us which is becoming busier and more challenging to switch off from.
When you teach a pre-school yoga class for the first time, there typically isn’t much physical stillness, as I’m sure you can imagine when you’re surrounded by 2-4 year olds for 45 minutes. There is noise, there is disruption, there are moments when you wonder if you’ve lost the plot and will ever be able to regain control of the class. As the weeks progress though, the children start to notice that what you’re doing, the way you’re breathing, the way you are teaching them to breathe, is actually more interesting and feels better than running from one side of the room to the other. Sometimes they don’t and that’s ok. Sometimes they will run and run and run until they are ready to crash, but for these children, when they crash, their final relaxation is even more beautiful, as it’s safe. There is calming music, a lavender pillow if they want one; an excuse to be still, just listen and perhaps even switch off.
When there is physical stillness, it’s not because the children are watching the TV, or being forced to sit still, but rather because they are engaging in the content of an ancient tradition; the union of breath and body. They are soaking in life skills, even if it’s just for a few moments.
Even when I feel like I am talking to myself, I know that the words are sinking in, somewhere, somehow, even if it’s just 1% of the words I say. I know that despite those moments when internally I am pulling my hair, but trying to act serene, that it’s all for a reason and that subconsciously it’s making a developmental difference to these little humans.
Pre-school yoga is about self-expression. It’s about learning to dance and to move before someone tells you or shows you how or how not to. It’s about giving yourself permission as a 2-year-old person to find out what feels good in your body and what doesn’t. It’s about learning to breathe and using the power of your breath to deal with situations as you encounter them for the first time in your life. When we do yoga poses, it doesn’t matter if they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. There is no correct alignment. One week a dog pose might look like a traditional dog pose – ardho mukha svanasana. Other weeks, the dog appears to have escaped out of the window, running around in circles chasing its tail.
Yes, there are tears sometimes. Other times, more frequently, I’m happy to add, there is laughter. Laughter from the children; from the caregivers who bring them; from me as I spontaneously have to make up a yoga pose for a child’s favourite animal – “A Zebra! Yes of course… I definitely know what noise a zebra makes…”. It is those moments; the moments between moments, when we calm, when we do nothing but breathe and connect and find freedom, that I know these children will be gaining confidence as a result of doing yoga from a young age.
I am not saying this from a purist perspective of “your child must do yoga at a yoga class”. I grew up playing every sport under the sun and most definitely would have been one of the children running from one side of the room to the other. I wouldn’t have changed that for the world and will encourage my children to be crazy, to have fun, to run, but I also want my children growing up in a world where they know that they are in control – of their breath, their choices, their emotions and their stillness. That’s why if you have a runner – try and teach them how good it can feel to be calm as well. Even if they don’t do it, at least they have the tools to know how if they ever need it.
We DO yoga at pre-school yoga classes…. it just may not look like the yoga you’re used to!