I started teaching yoga classes several years ago in the after-school program at my elementary school. At first, I used it in the kindergarten classroom and eventually expanded it to other grades after school.
It has been an extremely popular class.
Recently I read a cautionary article about teaching yoga in public schools. After all, yoga is steeped in Hindu tradition, and there's a lot of Buddhism to be found in yoga practice as well. Some schools welcome yoga as an extra-curricular activity but there can be no "Oms," no "Namastes," and nothing that looked like meditation. (Too much like prayer.)
Yoga is nothing if it is not body and mind together. The "mindfulness" piece is one of the most important parts of yoga. Helping teach children to be mindful will serve them in all area of their lives, not to mention being able to focus better when it is testing time.
In my yoga class, the kids know they will have fun. We play games and learn new positions, and they even invent their own. They learn to breathe. It's amazing how many people don't know how to breathe. I didn't know how to breathe before I took yoga classs. Deep breathing relaxes kids. It helps calm them during the day, and helps them sleep at night.
In my class, we do Savasana just like in adult classes, although we add "Iggy," one of my daughter's old Beanie Babies. Iggy sits on each child's stomach as they lie in Savasana (corpse pose) and if Iggy is moving smoothly up and down, they know they are breathing right.
One second grader told me she puts a stuffed animal on her stomach every night to help her get to sleep. I'm happy they are incorporating so much of what they learn once a week into their actual lives.
We start in Lotus position. Many children put their thumb and index finger together, although I did not teach that. Many children already do yoga at home with their parents. This year, one little boy began chanting, "OM" while he was in lotus position. I had a momentary feeling of I hope no one hears that. Being in a public school, I am mindful of not crossing any boundaries I shouldn't cross. But inside, I couldn't have been more pleased. I "OM" my way the whole walk to work. It helps me release tension and clears my head for the day. It is my favorite sound first thing in the morning.
In my training, we learned to massage kids' feet during Savasana. I knew without a doubt, that would not be something I would incorporate. It was a lovely ritual, but not one that would fly in a public school yoga class.
I do end every class with "Namaste." It's a beautiful phrase. I explain to the kids it means "The light in me, honors the light in you."
Oh, it's about respecting each other, one first grader said. Kids get it.
I know there are schools that forbid the OM's and the Namaste's and all the good stuff in yoga that makes kids more grounded and compasionate.
I hope I never have to leave the good stuff out of my yoga classes. It's the stuff that comes as naturally to kids as downward dog.