As a Children’s Librarian and a Kripalu certified yoga instructor it was inevitable that I would combine the two. On an intellectual level I knew the two careers would work in tandem with each other in a beautiful symbiotic rhythm, each enhancing the other. Isn’t this the goal for all relationships? I am a facilitator of literacy as I plant the seeds for a lifetime habit of reading for pleasure and knowledge. I have also fallen in love with the balance, self knowing and clarity that yoga provides. This led me to bring yoga programs to the children at the Library.
On a broad level yoga is a fun, non-competitive and enriching practice. Yoga builds confidence, focus, self esteem, body awareness, flexibility and fitness. Poses coordinated with breath are calming, reduce stress and impulsiveness in children and put them in a better place to succeed.
Yoga for children can be taught in many ways. Combining the yoga with stories sets a context or a theme for the class, and develops listening skills. The children listen to cues as the poses are taught in an instructional step by step approach. This sequential nature can be compared to the syntax of a sentence. Everything has its order and its place. The sequential nature also parrots the plot of a story building to a climax (or the pose). The increased focus comes from deep listening, both to the story and the yoga cues learning body awareness. As the children place their bent knee directly over their ankle into a Warrior Pose they are learning to carefully follow instruction. Creativity, fun and imagination emerge as we build physical characters from the story in a fun re-enactment. This is a kinesthetic experience allowing the children to integrate the story within their bodies as well as their minds.
Reading is about making connections to oneself, past experience, a community, and the world. Children begin to learn they are not alone with their feelings, and other people’s ideas can begin to resonate and help them grow and to realize that they belong to something larger. Two of the basic tenants of yoga are non-judgement and non-harming. It is all about being kind, compassionate and patient with oneself and with others. This builds oneness and a sense of community with the other children in the class, and translates off their mats and into their world.
Yoga is breath! Breathing techniques help to manage emotional states, stress and while generating a wonderful sense of well being. In addition, breath work attends to conditions such as asthma, allergies and nervousness. From the stories at hand I create a multitude of fun, highly effective breathing techniques that have the children breathing deeply while keeping them immersed in the story. From bumble bee breath to blowing ping pong balls around their mats pretending to be the wind scattering the seeds, we are literally breathing life into the story.
Yoga sessions always contain one or more balancing poses, integrating right hemisphere of the brain with left. These poses generate an inward focus as the children become aware of their bodies with a complete concentration on the task at hand. From this comes confidence, equanimity, acceptance and a sense of calm. Balancing in Tree Pose from a story about the rainforest allows the child to experience being that tree, holding still as they imagine the many creatures sleeping and playing on their “limbs”, or swaying with the breeze. When they partner to connect one of their “limbs” to the child next to them, the children begin to create a forest and a community. They are also learning cooperation and collaboration, themes found in real life as well as in the stories we read and reenact.
A character in a story has to overcome a hardship, or solve a problem, resulting in growth and understanding. The accompanying yoga fosters confidence, self-esteem and the power to overcome challenges. Holding a balancing pose invites the child into the present moment, pushing away all worry and stress from the past or about the future. Losing balance and coming back into the pose requires concentration, understanding and working to overcome a challenge. Listening to the stories requires this same concentration, being right there in the present moment.
I integrate music into the kid’s yoga classes, selecting the playlists to go along with the story. A story about outer space can have a song about the moon and planets, and as we all get into Astronaut Pose we hold our telescopes looking back at Earth. The book also has illustrations, and now has become a multi-sensory and very rich experience. Each child remembers this story on many levels because it is now stored in different areas of the brain.
Yoga sessions end with a relaxation and integration, generating a sense of peace and deep calm. I frequently use a guided mediation around the story, or simply soft gentle music or sounds from nature. For the youngest yogis this only lasts a short period of time, but it is highly effective at integrating the book and the yoga.
Yoga Instruction for Tweens can also incorporate a short poem or short story embracing yogic values or a Tween concern. Learning how to make calm and informed decisions, while navigating a multitude of choices is ever present in their daily lives. Yoga slows it all down with breathing and mindfulness, building self respect and self esteem. Bullying is ever present in their lives and the reading can address this in a non didactic way. Many school districts across the country are using yoga philosophy to educate against bullying.
I am the creator of Down Dog Reads, a Children’s Yoga program that embraces my belief in combining story, imagination and yoga. I feel very fortunate that my two passions can be integrated into a wonderfully holistic and effective life skills program for children. Each time I teach a session I reap the benefits along with my young Warriors.
By Ilene Glickman, Private Tutor