First taste of yoga
It was the '60s and I was 13 years old. We had a family friend, who was a really interesting person, and she was talking about yoga. I hadn’t heard about it before – probably most of Australia hadn’t heard about yoga at this point. There we were on the floor doing postures. I remember it feeling good. I remember enjoying that kinesthetic experience, that way of experiencing my body.
Honing and teaching
When I was about 19 I started going to a yoga studio in Melbourne. It was the first time I had practised meditation and relaxation and again that resonated for me. Then, when I was 22 I found Mangala Studios*. I did some teaching at Mangala then my husband, Saul, and I moved to Northern New South Wales and I started teaching a lot. I ran a combination of yoga and dance classes in my own studio for 11 years. Back in Victoria, I taught in schools and kindergartens before moving to Castlemaine in Central Victoria and starting my own studio, Over the Moon. Since then I’ve taught in schools and yoga studios as well as teachers workshops and conferences.
The development of a style
My approach to teaching yoga for children is very different to yoga for adults. Children are more engaged by creativity and fun. I tend to call it ‘creative yoga’ because the evolution of my teaching style is informed by a number of creative elements such as music, dance and visual stimuli such as props. I think the design of the cards reflects the colour, playfulness and creativity of this style.
I try to get into children’s worlds and teach it from their world, which is a lot to do with the imagination and has to be funny, and playful and it has to move around. It can’t stay in the same spot. When I see something resonating with students, I pack it away and use it again or I develop it. I feel as if my students have actually taught me what works.
Planning a class
I look at the class as a whole. I choose a playlist that’s going to be fun. I always use music. And I think about the rhythm of the class – eg fast, slow, really, really still, fast, slow, really still. I look at the floor pattern, at where we’re going to go in the room. We really acknowledge the whole space. It might be ‘go to one wall and walk your feet up on the wall, then let’s make a circle in the middle, then let’s go from this corner to that corner.’ I’ll choose a particular posture that travels, for example, ‘walk from corner to corner in down dog’. We make it playful. In some ways, it’s a bit like theatre, as if you were creating a 45-minute play for children.
Strength, beauty and the mind-body connection for kids
Practising the postures themselves (there are nearly 100 postures in the combination of volume 1 and 2 card packs) involves an infinite variety of ways to stretch and strengthen the body. From a purely physical point of view, it’s a thorough exercise system.
But yoga is a good all over thing for children. It’s about that relationship between mind and body. Kids have trouble with self-regulation, particularly around behaviour, food etc. With yoga – because it’s mindful exercise (exercise with awareness) – you’re getting the exercise but you’re also developing that relationship between mind and body. Most things are focused on pushing kids out, out, out. Ultimately, what you hope to teach children is about groundedness.
When any of us come back to listening to the sensations in our body from moment to moment, we are more receptive to our physical and emotional wellbeing. Yoga is one way of instilling that awareness in children from a young age. That awareness is likely to lead to physical and emotional self-regulation. And children (and adults) are more likely to ‘tune in’ when they are having fun.
The gift of meditation and relaxation for teens
Relaxation and meditation really seems to resonate with teenagers. I introduce it to kids but from older primary school students to teens is when it seems to consciously resonate.
Adolescent obesity, depression and suicide are worrying trends in our society. Adolescents can be overwhelmed by pressures they are forced to confront at home, school and on social media. Although yoga is not the panacea for these complex societal issues, gaining a familiarity with simple yoga practices can be empowering when emotional turmoil is overwhelming. The simple physical practice of yoga can make it easier to explore more formal meditation and relaxation exercises.
As a teacher over 40 years, the most rewarding thing has been when former students, who are now adults, have come back and talked about what the relaxation sessions meant to them as a teenager.
Tips on using Yoga Education Resources products
The cards and DVD are specifically designed for use by children and adults who do not have a yoga background.
With the DVD it’s self-explanatory – there’s a practice session that goes through all of the alignments and it’s done with the kids to music. They are designed for complete beginners in terms of teachers and children. Teachers don’t need to have a yoga background.
The cards can be used in the same way as a book – it can be sequential, for example practise cards 1 to 5, creating a whole sequence, then practise 6 to 10, which is another sequence. For teachers, who for instance, don’t feel confident being creative with it yet, it’s like a syllabus. Once you’re more confident, you can mix it up and create different sequences, and play around with other sequences. Teachers can lead, and kids too! There are an endless amount of sequences you can do. You can gather all the animal cards, eg dog, turtle. The idea is that if a non-reading child can recognise the particular coloured banner at the top of the card, they can copy these easy postures. The photo is designed to be read. Then, as children learn to read, they can take in the instructions, which are carefully composed and very simple.
There are downloadable class plans you can follow step-by-step, or you can cherry pick elements that will work for your students.
*Mangala Studios was started by Dorothea Mangiamele, who taught yoga and creative dance. She had been a student of Margareth Segesman who was one of the pioneer yoga teachers in Australia.