Kids are funny in the way that they become intrigued by just about everything that you do. While natural, it’s really very powerful. As adults and influencers in children’s lives, I believe that it’s crucial that we are careful about our actions, reactions, and daily activities that they see us take part in as it is inevitable that they are going to replicate the language and behaviors around them or at the very least - take note in what is acceptable and appropriate.
Being sans children myself, I was constantly reminded of this dynamic when I was visiting my brother, his wife and three children for a month this past April. Their ages are 6-months, 4-years and 6 -years-old. Obviously the 6-month-old wasn’t doing too much when it came to activities but he was watching – I assure you.
I love to do my yoga outside when the weather permits. There is something about being under the sun and practicing that makes me feel a bit more connected and free.
One afternoon while I was out practicing, the 4-year-old, Grant, came to see what I was doing out in the back yard.
“Aunt Ashley, what are you doing?”
“I am doing yoga.”
He stood there looking down at his feet and then my mat and then back at his feet.
“Would you like to join me?”
“Ok, there are some rules that I will explain but the first rule is that there is no shoes on the yoga mat. Or socks. Bare-feet only the yoga mat.”
He looked up at me and giggled and then proceeded to take his shoes and socks off and hopped on the mat.
“Great job Grant! Now you are ready for yoga!”
He seemed a bit surprised at how excited I was.
We started off with some breathing exercises. I talked a bit about some of the guiding principles that come into my yoga practice such as breath, calm, inner peace, manifestation, affirmations and reflection.
We went on to Half Moon and he seemed to really enjoy this pose. I talked to him about the importance of being able to find calm anywhere and to use yoga as a technique to releasing anything that causes anger or other feelings that are upsetting. This seemed to resonate with Grant. Grant is one of the sweetest boys I have ever known – but let’s just say, that he has inherited my brother’s temper.
To take the breathing to another level I introduced a ‘full body exhale.’ This was new to me and was a perfect way to add a light-hearted element into the practice. On the exhale we let out a shake through our whole body from head to our arms to our feet – accompanied by a loud release in our breath. He really liked this and while he giggled and I did to – he was right back to wanting to learn more. I explained that this breath can be used “when you REALLY need to just let something go that is bothering you.” He loved this.
We went through a few more poses and then his older brother, Carter, became interested. Grant let him know what rule number one was (no shoes or socks) and he looked at me to confirm. Once Carter was on the mat, it was a full house. To let them feel the space of mat, I moved to the grass.
We discussed the importance of “centering thoughts” and affirmations such as “I am kind.” For this practice, I helped them choose their centering thought and it was “I am kind.”
I was impressed by Carter’s naturally ability to move into Warrior II with ease. And I was also impressed by the amount of time that they stayed on the mat with me. Some other 'rules' I put into place was no shouting at one another or pushing and respect everyone else's space. This worked out very well - as if the yoga mat was a special bubble.
Virabhadrasana II | Warrior II
Eventually, they decided that they wanted to put their shoes on and go play.
Throughout my stay, Grant really took hold of Half Moon and the concept of breath. When he would get upset and was given options on how to handle his emotions, a few of his first choices would be “breathe” or “do yoga” or “go outside.”
This made me a proud Aunt and Yogi <3
In another yoga session of just Grant and I, we talked about the concept of Zen. Zen is not an easy concept to articulate to anyone – but it was especially challenging for me to describe the concept to a 4-year-old. But, let me tell you, Grant is a special boy and he seems to really be able to understand the concept of peace (my inner hippie is very happy at this ;)). “Zen, is a state of being where you feel at peace and calm no matter what is going on around you. So, Carter could be doing something that would normally really upset you but because you are ‘zen,’ whatever he is doing isn’t disrupting you or making you angry. It’s kind of like you are in an imaginary bubble.”
“Like a Zen bubble?”
“Yes, exactly. A Zen bubble where you simply feel at peace and breathe easy.”
He smiled and seemed to really like that.
We also discussed 'Namaste' at the end of our practice. I explained this to him as "the spirit in me honors the spirit in you. Meaning that we are all one. I respect and honor you." And to practice love and compassion to all things living.
In this practice, I had Grant come up with his own centering thought. I shared mine with him which was "I am graceful as I transition in life." After a moment of pondering, he said "I help others."
My heart melted.
Later, when his Dad came home, he couldn’t wait to tell him about the new words. (He needed a bit of help recalling what them and their meanings but once he did – he was all excited about Zen and Namaste all over again!)
To keep things interesting and fun, I came up with a new pose for just Grant and I. It kind of happened on accident. As I was in Ardha Sarvangasana (Half-Shoulder Stand), he thought it would be fun to climb on and let me be his lever so I asked him to be careful of my knees and hold on. He did. I slowly lifted him up until he was vertical, holding gently on his shoulders so that he didn’t fall incase he let go – he laughed and so did I – a big belly laugh. He loved that! “I like when I make you laugh Aunt Ashley!” Haha… “So do I Grant!”
So this was pose was named, “The Laughing Grant.”
My brother and sister-in-law have done an amazing job at giving their children tools to handle their emotions and feelings. We talked in great detail about this and I am so very grateful that I had the opportunity to bring more tools and concepts like breathe, centering thoughts and yoga to the table.
I have found that yoga isn’t just for the 20's, 30's, 40s or 50 something’s. It’s not just for retired folks kicking around in the sand. Yoga is for all ages. Yoga is a grounding practice for all. Yoga is not just for the lean and thin or fit and muscular – yoga is for all shapes and sizes. Yoga, is for all.