On Thursdays, I teach yoga to at Lucia's elementary school. It is a surreal experience in many ways. The school is 'open-concept' which means that there are no walls. In many ways it is great. It feels like a true community. Everyone sees everyone all the time so, even if you are not personally acquainted, it is as if everyone knows each other. The downside is that people literally walk through the yoga space throughout the class. The school secretary announces messages on the speakers during Savasana. The janitor pushes the rolling recycling bin through our Namaste circle. It's always something. But these kids are pretty used to these distractions and manage to focus in spite of the surrounding chaos.
The little Yogis and Yoginis in the kids' yoga class are amazingly able to be still in Savasana. They know that when they are in Savasana, quiet, eyes closed on their mats, perfectly still, a surprise Beanie Baby will land on their belly. When the get out of Savasana, they get to meet the animal and keep it on their mat for the remainder of class. It's amazing how still they can be.
Lucia, now eight, a know-it-all, and fairly experienced yoga practitioner for having assisted me in every kids' class I've taught, insisted this session that I teach Ustrasana (Camel Pose) to the kids. "Sure," I said, knowing that with the natural spinal flexibility kids have, "it would be pretty easy for them." Two weeks ago, I introduced the kids to Camel. "Ooh!" "Owwww!" "Ahh-Ahh!" "Whoooaaa" they peeped from all around the room. Some little ones flailed their arms to regain their straight spines. I watched little bodies collapsing, tiny wrinkle-free faces turing pink. "Jezum," I thought to myself, "these kids are dramatic."
The next day I was teaching at The SweatBox. When Camel Pose came round I watched the grown up responses-- furrowed brows, clenched teeth, bright red faces. They were doing the posture and they were managing to do it in silence. I know that most people were really struggling, but they kept it inside. I had a flash of the little kids owwing and oohing and ahhing the day before in class.
I love teaching yoga. I love the connection that comes through the struggle. I love feeling inspired by the hard work and dedication. I love the authentic energy that emerges through dedicated practice. I get something different from teaching children and adults. With adults, I feel empathy, compassion, and so much love for the students. I've been there. I know how hard it is. I admire them so much. With children, I feel pure joy, renewal, excitement, and love. I see how utterly authentic they are in their experience with their bodies. They've yet to learn about assigning judgement to themselves in the way adults are so well-versed. They are truly open. Savasana. Ustrasana. Both really challenging postures, with very different physical reactions. Kids go into Savasana with relative ease, most adults struggle. Ustrasana. Kids don't hold back their immediate, intense responses to the intensity of the pose. Adults grit their teeth and bear it.
As always, yoga offers great metaphors for life. When we are young, we are open and free and light. As we get older, we pile on layers of life that inevitably make us less so. These layers of life can act as distractions when we are trying to still our minds in Savasana. And they serve us well to find our determination to be still and quiet in Ustrasana. As for the kids, they are exactly where they should be-- unburdened by adult troubles in Savasana and letting it all hang out in Ustrasana. My hope is that, as kids continue their yoga practice, just like us grownups, they will learn how to use their life experience to help them in their yoga and how to use their yoga practice to help them in their lives.