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.

 

Savasana songs to know and love

Kids love ice cream!

Kids love silliness!

Kids love savasana!

Yes, you read that right.

breath-budsI used to be surprised when kids begged for a longer savasana at the end of class (or begged to begin with one!) especially when the begging was coming from the most movement-seeking, attentionally-challenged kids in the class. But now I’ve come to expect their enthusiasm. After a moment or two of settling in, it feels fantastic to lay still but not be going to bed. It’s not often that any of us make space to truly quiet down and have no demands or distractions to respond to.  With the the lights dimmed, and action quieted, the sensory load on growing brains is diminished, and kids seem hungry for that pause.

Some adult savasanas are done in silence, and I appreciate the good of that, the “truly nothing” happening in the room.

However, music, as they say, hath charms…and the right music can set a soothing tone, influence deeper, slower breathing, encourage kids to focus their thoughts, or make it clear that big feelings are okay.

The music I choose for savasana depends on the age of the kids, the themes we’ve explored that day, and the specific group I’m working with. Since we often begin with focused breathing or a guided visualization, that’s a good place for wordless music. Once we’re simply resting, I like to add a song or two with a peaceful, encouraging, open-hearted message, or one that suggests some easy mental imagery for kids to follow. Some of my current faves are listed below. Share yours in the comments section!

Savasana music – instrumental

Tortoise from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens

Lullaby (Sandman) by George Winston

Accordion Bells by Leo Kottke

Farewell (From the Million Dollar Arm Soundtrack) by A.R. Rahman

Love Me by Yiruma

Wishful Thinking by The Album Leaf

Brooks Cabin (from the Fronteir House Soundtrack) by Edward Bilous

Prelude and Yodel by Penguin Cafe Orchestra

 

Savasana music – with lyrics

Colors by Kira Wiley

Blackbird by The Beatles

Take a Little Walk with Me by Alastair Moock (with Elizabeth Mitchell)

Little Boat by Jennifer Gasoi

Rainbow by Charlie Hope

Queen of the Earth, Child of the Stars by Leela and Ellie Grace

Oh, Watch the Stars by Elizabeth Mitchell (with Aoife O’Donovan)

Breathe by The Rockdoves

Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

In The Clouds by Laurie Berkner

Quiet One by Big Little Lions

Pink Moon by Nick Drake

The Best Day  by Taylor Swift

Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson

(kids 10 and up seem to especially love these last two)