Listening and allowing

The first day I met one of my yoga kids, she told me that she is part wild animal. Her friends, wide-eyed and earnest, corroborated, “Yes, it’s true, she really is!” I probably said something like, “Great, wild animals are cool! Let’s do some yoga!”

She’s an enthusiastic and cooperative participant for most of class, but this student never lays on her mat during savasana. While the other kids find some kind of comfy way to be prone and relaxed under dimmed lights, she is on all fours or squatting, or curled up, legs folded underneath her. She’s still for a minute or so, and then moves to a new position. She is quiet, and even moving, she is mostly calm, with a dash of vigilance in her beautiful brown eyes.

Not one of the other 11 kids in class ever says, “No fair! Why doesn’t she have to lay down?” I find this amazing.

We’ve been meeting for a few weeks now. Today, as the other kids rested on their mats, this particular girl did a slow series of bends and bows, similar to a sun salutation. Her face was calm but serious.

At the end of class, she came up to me and said, “Did you see the movements I was doing?

“In wild animal language, those were bows of respect. I was honoring you for being the teacher. I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t listening, because you were asking us to be still. But when I’m in my animal side, I CAN’T be still.”

“I know just what you mean,” I told her.

There are times when letting one kid “do her thing” can devolve into chaos and make it very hard to teach (or is it just control?) an entire group. There are contexts in which I might need to tell this child that her “human child” side needs to come to class, no wild animals allowed in the room.

But when it’s possible to avoid forcing conformity on child, when I can allow them to express something that seems so important to them, it always feels like a victory to me.

Thank you for being you…

I love all the kids in my yoga classes, but there are always some who snag my heart extra tenaciously. Often they are kids who come to class with physical or emotional or behavioral challenges and are absolutely, vibrantly perfect. They broadcast who they are with an insistent signal, and even if they’re shy, they usually haven’t developed a thick layer of self-censoring. They speak their truth with their bodies and their voices, and, tiny teachers, they remind me what yoga is all about.IMG_1935

Like the little girl who concentrates hard to understand where her arms and legs should be in most poses, and who gets so excited when we play active games that she literally squeals with excitement. The girl who solemnly approaches me at the end of each class, looks right into my eyes, and earnestly bows an extra namaste.

The same little girl who absolutely needed to tell me, right in the middle of a game, that when she was born at six months, she only weighed one pound. One pound. Who then listed the surgeries she has endured. And who then straightened herself up into the most focused, branches-reaching, victorious tree pose I’ve seen her do. Tears flooded my eyes, and it was all I could do not to swoop all now-40 solid pounds of her up and swing her around and say, “YES!! You survived and you are here and let’s make sure you rock this world!” And then I would need to do that to every kid in our circle because aren’t they all amazements, miracles of survival in their own ways?

At the end of class, the kids rest on their mats in savasana, and once we’ve established the perfect lighting in the room (some kids calling out that it’s too scary and dark, others that it is too light and un-relaxing, me negotiating and calibrating) and done a sweet little meditation, I give anyone who wants one a gentle shoulder press. Almost everyone wants one. Their little faces are so perfect and calm and trusting, their bodies still and open. I remind them to take a deep breath in, and as they exhale, I help them soften their shoulders away from their ears, toward their mats. And in that moment of openness, although I am not ordained in any way, I offer a little blessing, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. Yesterday I told each friend, “Thank you for being you.” A few kids responded with a quiet, “You’re welcome.” And that tiny, heartfelt conversation is the point of showing up on your mat, no matter how old you are or how deep your postures.

Thank you for being you.