The kids in my yoga classes like to talk. A lot.
When I first started planning yoga classes for kids, I set aside 5 minutes at the beginning for everyone to answer a question, calling the group’s attention to that day’s theme and settling us into a class routine.
But we rarely finished answering the question in 5 minutes. Or 10 minutes. The kids wanted to share. To respond. To know more about one another. To say, “Oh, yeah! Me too!” and weave in their own thoughts to what another student just said. Sometimes conversations were silly, and there was a lot of laughter in our circle. Other times, the tone was more thoughtful or even serious.
And something special was happening during these conversations. Kids shared their true feelings about what they cared about, at school and at home. Kids expressed their shared frustration about feeling left out or teased, their joy about birthdays and sleepovers and scoring a winning goal or getting a new cat. I heard them build on one another’s dreams about saving the planet and talk about who they want to be as adults.
Best of all, I saw kids connect with one another. With an adult there to provide scaffolding (stay somewhat on topic, be kind, wait your turn, can you say more about that?) and modeling, (“Wow, that must have been a really sad day when your dog got hurt”), conversations could be silly or serious, sometimes both, but always safe. Within that warm safety, hearts opened, sarcasm evaporated, and kids listened carefully and responded with gusto.
At first I worried that we were spending so much of a yoga class not really “doing yoga.”
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these conversations support exactly what I hope kids will experience in a Friendly Yoga class – the growth of inner and outer friendliness and deep comfort showing up in our circle of mats to safely be exactly who they are that day, body, mind, and spirit.
Also, since talking is pretty natural for most kids, everyone starts class feeling at ease. The physical part of yoga comes easily for some kids, especially the dancers and gymnasts and those kids who are just naturally rubbery or strong or kinesthetic learners. But most groups have a couple of kids who are stiff from years of hockey or sedentary play or who struggle with balance or have disabilities or who are just self conscious about moving their body in front of their peers. Having conversations that emphasize individuality and mutual support sets an important tone that lasts for the rest of class.
Once I truly believed in the power of the Friendly Yoga conversations, I officially incorporated them into our class routine in 3 ways:
I committed to keeping Friendly Yoga classes small. I occasionally teach 20 Girl Scouts or a big group at a community event, but I keep most classes capped at 12, 6 to 8 for my littlest kids. I could fit more mats in the room, and keep a larger group engaged, but I can’t build the group dynamic as easily, and conversations lose their power.
I made Friendly Yoga classes a little bit longer to accommodate a 15-20 solid minutes of discussion.
I incorporated props to structure turn-taking and skillful listening. Conversations go best with a minimum of interruption and off-topic diversion, and a physical object can go a long way toward keeping things on track.
One tool I sometimes use to build in this structure is a me-too jar.
The me-too jar couldn’t be simpler. I use a glass mason jar and craft store pom-poms. The jar sits in the middle of our circle, and before the day’s question is asked (What do you love to do on the weekends? If you could only keep one box of your stuff, what would you pack? What’s your favorite dessert?), I give each child and myself as many pom-poms as there are people in the room.
I remind the kids that they will each get a turn to talk, and I challenge them to say nothing out loud while another friend has a turn. Instead, if what someone else says resonates, they can add a pom-pom to the jar.
The me-too jar is a concrete way for kids to show the speaker that a connection has been made and to practice active, encouragement-filled listening. They enjoy the tactile satisfaction of holding onto soft pom-poms, and some movement is added to what can otherwise be a long (but profitable) period of sitting, as the kids move into the middle of the circle to deposit their pom-poms in the jar and then return to their mats.
When we’re done, extra pom-poms get put back in the jar, the jar is put away, and we are ready to move into our physical yoga as an even more connected, friendly, encouraging group.