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A 10-year-old boy enters the children’s yoga class I’m teaching. He is large for his age, chunky in the middle, tall, clumsy and loud. He makes up stories about his name and the other boys in the class. He interrupts me incessantly. The lead teacher keeps apologizing for him. She rolls her eyes, telling him to shush and sit down. I tell her the noise doesn’t bother me. They are okay, and so am I.
I have brought a brown bag with an ear of corn hidden inside. I want to teach the children about ecology, nature, the process of growth, and the traditions of our Native American heritage. I want to impart the concepts of waiting, patience, transformation, connection. They want to be entertained.
After 20 minutes, I’ve lost the class of 13 boys and girls, ages 4 to 11. One child sits out for most of the class. Two other boys stick out their tongues at me, all of us trying not to giggle. The children become louder, gather into clusters, and lose their way. So do I.
I wonder: Was this group really that bad? Was I off center? What else was going on here?
After teaching yoga for 13 years, and training people in Color Me Yoga for Children for 9 years, I have certainly had my share of off days. Grace seems to prevail in those situations. I know my calling. I trust my path of teaching yoga.
I reel the children back in during Sivasana (relaxation pose), having them imagine themselves as a corn cob, still and sweet. I am about to ring the bell after nearly five minutes in this pose. Now still and at peace, they do not want to get up. The little boy who sat out for most of the class sighs, “Can we do this pose for the entire class next time?” My little chunky friend adds, “Yes, can we do this pose for a whole bunch of minutes next time? I love this pose.” Finally a third little boy chimes in, almost in tears, “I so want to do this pose next time. My mom just drives me around from class to class. I’m so stressed. I just want to rest.” My heart breaks.
When I was young, children didn’t seem to know the word stress. It wasn’t really a part of my own vocabulary until I was well into my thirties.
Today, in an hour-long children’s yoga class in 2010, a little boy used the word with great aplomb.
Reconnecting with Yoga
This class, once again, provided a new kind of grace for teaching about the pulse of American children today. They seem pressured, over-stimulated, overfed and undernourished. They’re entertained rather than inspired, disconnected in some fundamental way from their environment, their bodies, their souls and each other. They are told to respect others, and yet, because of many lines being crossed, they often don’t know how to respect adults or their world. They are given limited opportunities to succeed at responsibility or gain a sense of inner motivation. Instant gratification drains their little nervous systems and sets up unrealistic goals. The fear and mistrust that many adults model for them by hoarding things creates confused identities. They have seen more in their young lives
than many of us saw until we were well into adulthood. Finally, they don’t really know how to play.
Obviously not every American child fits this description—I’m talking about a general trend. In my work, I hear the same thing repeatedly, from parents, school teachers and occupational therapists. Children are struggling. We all want to help them become their full, abundant selves. Yoga may just do the trick.
Yoga—the ancient practice of uniting Sun and Moon, Fire and Air, Earth and Water, Masculine and Feminine, Mind and Body, Spirit and Heart—has at its root the concept of loving compassion and right relationship. These children are our mirrors. In Native American tradition, we thank the sick person for showing us the sickness of the society so society can come back to the right relationship. Could it be that our children are telling us to get back into right relationship, too?
A recent article in Newsweek [July 19, 2010] claimed that American children are in a creativity crisis. Children who are given fewer opportunities for play—including role playing, expressing emotions through play, problem-solving, creating imaginary worlds, making up pretend friends, and thinking outside the box—are losing vital opportunities to build their intelligence and their motivation.
Children who are sedentary or less likely to participate in sports are often placated with video games and other electronic toys and media. This is no small thing. According to Aadil Palkhivala, a yogi in Oregon, the AC current that is found in computers, cell phones, televisions, and other electrical devices pierces our magnetic fields, literally causing our iron-rich blood to move in the current’s directions rather than its natural direction. Our nervous systems are then fatigued, our brains are overworked, and our entire systems are unable to resist the side effects of chronic stress. As the exhausted system then goes numb, the cycle begins to self-perpetuate—we play more video games, watch more TV, etc. Chronic stress produces elevated cortisol levels (a breeding ground for diabetes), hormonal imbalances (bone loss, eating disorders, emotional disorders), rage and aggression (from unexpressed emotions), bullying (a national epidemic), insomnia (which further increases cortisol levels and increases anxiety and depression), nervous habits (which can lead to addictive behavior), and immune disorders.