That was my instant response when a library where I teach preschool yoga asked me to offer a monthly class for toddlers. I love the families at this library, and I have a serious soft spot for toddlers.
But planning my first class, I froze, thinking, “What the heck am I doing teaching yoga to toddlers? To babies? What will parents expect? What does it even mean to ‘do yoga’ with kids that young?”
Which, of course, begs the question: What does it mean to “do yoga?”
Oh, we could spend a long time on that one, couldn’t we?
We might agree that it has something to do with bodies moving in ways that are deliberate and have a beneficial effect on muscle and bone, mind and mood and spirit. But beyond that, the millions of people who “do yoga” branch off into thousands of different (sometimes contradictory, often territorial) definitions of what yoga really is.
Which can be confusing, if you insist on capturing so much history, so much possibility in a mere two syllables.
On the other hand, it can be extremely freeing that there is no single adequate definition out there.
Because then you can make up your own. Awesome!
So, here’s what I personally mean when I say that I “do yoga” with toddlers, with little kids and big kids and teens and with my fellow grown-up yogis in the classes I so gratefully attend myself.
I believe that every human being, from first breath to last, is simultaneously a body/brain, a mind, and a being in constant relationship with the surrounding social, emotional, and physical world.
I believe that every human being has a drive to grow toward the sun, toward health and happiness and connection.
Humans are “doing yoga” whenever they (re)connect with this drive by bringing increased attention and effort to one aspect of the current moment with curiosity (rather than judgment) and open heartedness (rather than fear).
Yes, physical yoga poses are a powerful and proven (and fun) way to accomplish this. There also do seem to be very real physical and psychological benefits that certain physical poses elicit, which is incredibly cool and fascinating and WOW.
But are we limited to any particular set of “real” yoga poses or activities?
Not in my kids’ classes, where we feel and try our way into bulldozer pose, unicorn pose, and birthday cake pose alongside downward dog, half moon, warrior I, tree, and mountain.
And where we dive into drawing and singing and skipping and hugging and looking one another in the eye with kindness. We hula hoop and taste chocolate and blow (and pop!) bubbles. Sometimes, with bigger kids, we sack out on our mats and have safe, honest conversations about what it would be like to fly or how sad it is when a pet dies. We listen to ourselves and to one another.
To me, doing yoga is doing anything that leads to greater awareness, more openness, and easier loving of self, others, and the world in the present moment.
And when I touch in on that understanding, I know exactly what it means to “do yoga” with two-year-olds.
So on that first day of toddler yoga, we pretended to be dogs and cows and trees and mountains. We blew bubbles and watched a Hoberman sphere expand and contract. We listened to music and sang along. Some kids jumped right in and gave it all a full-body try, working so hard to remember which joint was a knee and which was an elbow and squealing with delight when they balanced on one foot. And some kids sat and watched, cuddling closer into a parent’s reassuring warmth.
It was all yoga.
And one little cutie spent most of the class off to the side, moving his feet slowly in and out of a patch of sunlight turning to smile at his mom and announce “Sun in eyes! Sun out of eyes!” before starting the process again. And again.
It was one of the best sun salutations I’ve ever seen.