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Yoga for Children (without the yoga)

I am the ESL instructor for Peace Through Yoga Foundation in Costa Rica. While I am a certified yoga teacher with over a decade of experience, I seldom practice asana with the girls, and I do not necessarily believe this is missing from our program. When I first moved here 7 months ago I was inspired and excited to get back into teaching “Kids yoga.” I had experience with this style of yoga at my home studio, and had founded a program for elementary school girls during my first years as a schoolteacher. However, upon arrival in Costa Rica I realized this image I had in my mind of teaching yoga to my new ESL students was not realistic .

I learned quickly that many of our students practice a religion that does not approve of the practice of yoga. While, I whole-heartedly disagree with much of the dogma espoused by this particular religion, I believe in meeting people where they are and loving them for who they are and not how I would like them to be. My students are, by the way, the average age of 9 with the average attention span of about 10 minutes and are more interested in using their yoga mats as pretend shower towels.

This does not mean we do not practice yoga together…

The practice of yoga has 8 limbs or precepts. Often times, for both children and adults we over look the other 7 of the 8 limbs of yoga. Asana, or our physical practice is actually only a piece of the whole. The 8 limbs are as follows:

1. Yama

The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life

The five yamas are:

Ahimsa: nonviolence

Satya: truthfulness

Asteya: nonstealing

Brahmacharya: continence

Aparigraha: noncovetousness

2. Niyama

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances.

The five niyamas are:

Saucha: cleanliness

Samtosa: contentment

Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities

Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self

Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God

While getting into the language of the 8 limbs is a bit “adult” for our group the concepts are not. When we come together as a class we practice all the time. Here is a sampling of what our “practice” looks like of the first limb on the tree

The Yamas

Ahimsa- not only non-violence but radical acceptance, as we are true to ourselves and to one another. Beyond non-violence, we interpret this precept as a warm and loving classroom environment where each girl is accepted and loved exactly as she is.

We work with Satya as we express our feelings and concerns with one another. We own up when we might have used another person’s pencil or taken a sticker without asking. Learning the importance of truth in word and action is a part of any successful classroom.

Asteya or non-stealing comes up more often then one might think. The girls are constantly finding things on the ground around the school, and in our walk to the corner store. One day, a student found the equivalent of about $10 which was an instant issue for us. We found the money on the ground and knew that if we inquired around about its’ owner, surely the first person we asked would claim it. We were forced to delve into the moral divide of leaving the money on the ground or giving it to the first girl who saw it. We finally elected a 3rd option, and because there was no clear way to return the money to its owner, used the bounty to purchase snacks for all. This was a difficult situation and a challenging lesson to which there was no clear answer. Yoga is the navigation of both the smooth and rocky road; yoga is the capacity for clarity and decisiveness in difficult moments.

We work toward Brahmacharya: we focus on the right use of our energy. At times with young girls, drama can arise. One of the girls might look at another with a funny face, or a veiled comment might be made behind whispers. In this moment as a group we can choose how to use our energy. We can continue to gossip and choose sides or discuss the issue or hurt feelings in the open creating a safe space to both be hurt and heard before working with the tool of forgiveness to move forward. Working to disseminate our energy in a positive manner is a challenge which supersedes the classroom but a skill that will serve well throughout a life time.

Aparigraha, the art of letting go is easy to practice in Costa Rica. Often times when we show up to our classroom something has changed. The broom might go missing, or a bat might have used the restroom on our notebooks, a bike might break down, or a knee might get scratched. In the jungle where constant change is the reality, we have daily opportunities to let go and embrace this without grasping or pulling at a constant.

Without stepping on a yoga mat the ancient practice of yoga is alive and well in our girl’s school in the jungle. As our founder Sally Basset states in her book, Yoga Through Christ, “ Yoga reunites our outer worldly existence with that deeper inner experience of who we really are. As a group we are fortunate enough to have the opportunities to practice daily and perhaps even get deeper into the true heart of the practice; without ever “doing” yoga.

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