In one of my recent yoga classes I asked my young yoga students, all elementary-aged girls, to think about what part of their body they loved. To my surprise, before answering that question, almost all of the girls launched into why they didn't like their bodies. Why don't you like your body, I was curious to hear. "You feel fat", "You want to be perfect", and "Boys make fun of you." I wasn't prepared for this dialogue but I shouldn't have been surprised. Magazine articles with pictures of anorexic models, TV shows with skinny actresses, it is the world we live in. I tried again, attempting to promote positive self-talk in my best yoga-teacher way, "But, what do you love about your body?"
On a beautiful spring Friday afternoon, I decided that we would spend the first few minutes in circle discussing friendship. I had "inside knowledge" that two of my young yoga students, sweet, bright little girls, were having significant problems with their peers. As we sat in a circle and opened class, I announced that friendship was our topic and asked for questions. Susan made the first request and everybody nodded with approval, "Can you tell us more about that yoga guy from India?"
Suzie kicked off her tennis shoes the moment she entered the yoga room. With a quick flick a disjoined pair of pink Nike Freedom Lites flew through the air, landing smack in the center of our yoga space. Moments later Suzie, who I have always knows to be a pretty mellow, yet academically gifted student, started leaping around, singing to her self. She paid no mind to the group of young yogis sitting and quietly talking on their yoga mats; they paid no attention to her.
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.
I sat alone in the yoga room as 2:45 came and went. I wasn't too surprised. Sometimes my young yogis forget that we have yoga class on Friday if we don't meet every Friday and we hadn't met in 3 weeks. 5 and even 10 minutes later my yoga students finally bounced into the room; chatty and full of energy. As we "settled" into group, several girls were talking out, others were eagerly raising their hands, rolling around on their mats, even rolling up their mats. I was trying to figure out what was going on. Did they miss yoga and were just excited to be back? Was it the holiday crazies? Is it because when they entered the room the lights were on and two teachers were conferring? "Those annoying fluorescent lights," I thought to myself, not wanting to turn out the lights until the teachers chatting upfront finished their school business.
My yoga students clearly were not centered as I opened class on this odd December afternoon. "What does being thankful mean? Since we have just had Thanksgiving and Christmas is coming soon, let's talk about what we are thankful for. Let's go around the room and each tell just one thing." At the same time I advised myself, "Slowly breathe in....breathe out," feeling the surge of energy flooding the room, crashing against the walls, nearly knocking me over.