When a girlfriend called to ask if I would be interested (willing is more like it) in teaching a yoga class to a group of 10-year-old girls for her daughter Kaylee’s birthday, my reaction was: “Uhhh…oh sure, of course, I’d be happy to.” What? The clown couldn’t make it, so I was next in line?
Teaching yoga to 17 high-energy 10-year-old girls at a birthday party–yikes! A reasonable response–don’t you think?
Or, so I thought.
Duty calls! The yoga room at Karma Yoga in Bloomfield, Michigan just happened to be available for a birthday party.
Kaylee is bright-eyed, adorable, and funny, with an infectious laugh and love for exercise. I have come to refer to her as a mini-Jennifer Aniston; she embodies an irresistible energy, just like her wonderful mom. If this precocious little girl enthusiastically expressed an interest in yoga and wanted to share the experience with sixteen girlfriends, as a yoga teacher and passionate health and fitness lifer, I couldn’t have said no. Ideally, healthy lifestyle habits are best started young and this would be a prime opportunity for guidance – an invaluable investment in their future.
As yoga teachers, it is our obligation to honor all humanity by sharing the light of yoga with as many beings as possible.
Tangent: As I write this article, I’m flying on a plane, headed back to Detroit. “Al,” my husband nudges me on the shoulder with an article from the Wall Street Journal. ”Read this,” he insists. “Namaste. Now Nap.”
The article’s sub-title: “Yoga classes for kids are taking off, as advocates say it’s especially helpful for those with focusing problems.” Studies have shown that yoga for kids helps them calm down and relax. As a result they focus better in school and perform better on tests. Yoga also teaches them body awareness and to use their entire body in a healthy, non-competitive and fun way.
Since Kaylee’s yoga party, I have reflected upon my experience with the little darlings. Star-studded outfits with matching headbands and boundless energy and eagerness to learn. The poses we practiced (handstands, tree pose, little warriors and boat pose in particular), our conversations about fear, their remarkable receptiveness to the spiritual aspect of yoga and the potential a regular yoga practice would have on their young lives – forever. Giving the gift of yoga to 17 beautiful little girls was truly special. After all, they are our future.
On to the party…
A fellow teacher at Karma Yoga asked me a few hours prior to the party, “So, what’s your plan for the birthday party?” I didn’t have one; I never really do. My usual modus operandi is to follow my intuition and flow with the energy in the room. Hopefully my approach wouldn’t back fire on me. Like many situations that have rattled me before, I’ve learned to ‘let go and let god’, just as Katherine Austin (owner of Karma Yoga) often suggests. A simple expression of grace.
2:45 p.m. on a Saturday: the bright yoga room filled with 17 bouncing little girls, jumping, yelling, giggling, scurrying around to find their yoga mats and a place on the floor as close to the teacher as possible (some things never change!) Kaylee was front and center, as any birthday girl should be. Somehow, I managed to bring their busy bodies to “easy pose” at the front of their mats – still restless and excited, of course. I asked the obvious question, “Have any of you ever practiced yoga?” Wildness ensued. Their arms and legs were thrashing, eyeballs popping, the “ooh, me, me, me’s” filled the room.
Once we established their yoga status, I attempted to explain what the word “yoga” truly means, in ten words or less. We also talked about the many benefits of practicing yoga. They were on it, with their enthusiastic input: it makes you strong and flexible, helps you relax, helps you breathe, helps you be a good listener, makes you feel better, feel happy, be good, like yourself better, be nicer to people, teaches you to take good care of yourself and to be kind to others. Each little yogi in the making offered a beautiful explanation.
Without warning, I quietly popped myself into a handstand. “Wooowwww….”I can do that, I can’t do that, that’s scary, I’m afraid I might hurt myself, no way, my mom says I can’t do that, I’m scared, I don’t want to try a headstand, I’m not doing that, I’m not strong enough, will you help us? Will you teach us?” PLEASE! Their brightness and energy made my body and soul smile. Through all the noise and excitement I sensed their fear.
We paused for a few minutes, sat in a circle holding hands and talked about their fears. They took turns expressing themselves. I responded, “I understand that you are afraid; it’s okay. It’s also okay to try even though you feel scared.” I asked them to close their eyes and imagine themselves in a handstand, feet to the sky, tumbling down with laughter and trying again and again. We headed back to the wall with our mats and began again; this time with fresh confidence. I helped everyone into a handstand, even picked a few of them up by their feet, hanging them upside down. Everyone watched, clapped and yayed for each other. It was an extraordinary experience! Then, we cranked up Lady Gaga and broke out into wild dancter (laugh + dance). Such fun we had on this day!
Back to the mats, I instructed them to try a few yoga push-ups; as they must learn young. They couldn’t believe my request BUT they all tried and did it. I yayed and jumped up and down this time!
We were all exhausted. Time to rest. Shivasana. Seventeen precious and very exhausted happy bodies spread out on the floor. I was amazed by their quiet, now very calm souls. “‘Just close your eyes, let your body melt like the snow on a sunny day. Now go to your favorite place in the world — and rest! ” Absolute stillness and joy filled the room. There in front of me lay the most beautiful little souls I had ever seen.
A huge group hug, gratitude and giggles followed by lots of hand clapping concluded our yoga party. Then, off to Stroh’s for a brilliant finish to a brilliant afternoon! I went from yikes to one of my best and most cherished days ever! And, I can’t wait to do it again. Namaste.