This week marked the beginning of my kids yoga classes this winter/spring term. I love the butterfly-stomach feeling I get before the first class in a series. Around 1pm on Monday, that butterfly feeling returned as I prepared for my first class of the session at The International School.
For years, I have taught kids yoga using rules from other teachers. My background in elementary education taught me that it’s okay to build on the work of others. Indeed, one of my mentor teachers in grad school encouraged me to steal what worked from other teachers. And yes, steal was the word she used. So I have been willing to adopt what worked for others in my own classes. Before this semester my rules were:
1. Be kind to yourself and others.
2. Leave the mats down. (This is a big problem with fidgety kids!)
3. Do your best and have fun!
But this year I have decided to switch it up a bit. I thought, “Why not base the kids yoga rules on the ‘rules’ that govern adult yoga as well?” Those rules are the Yamas and Niyamas, principles of yogic behavior that ancient yoga teachers traditionally taught before any physical postures. I talk a bit about the yamas (social observances) and niyamas (personal observances) here.
One thing to keep in mind: the yamas and niyamas are not black and white rules. Growing up with the ten commandments as ethical guidelines in Catholicism, I rankled against the all-or-nothing element. Thou shall. Thou shalt not. That’s it. No in-between. And that meant that there was no need to be involved with the ethics personally. I really love how the yamas and niyamas are much more gray. They encourage us to constantly think about how we can improve as human beings. The most important yoga “rule,” ahimsa, means non-violence. You can begin where you are with ahimsa and continually improve your relationship to it. That might start with a personal vow not to use your words to hurt others. Or you might begin by going vegetarian. There are always more ways to become less violent, and there is always room to push your understanding of what it means to move through the world peacefully.
This year, I decided to bring my student yogis into the wonderful world of yoga ethics. I decided to base my kids yoga rules around three of the yamas:
How Yogis Behave
1. AHIMSA = Non-Violence.
Treat yourself, others, and the yoga tools with kindness.
2. ASTEYA = Non-Stealing.
Take turns speaking.
3. SATYA = Truthfulness.
Be honest with yourself and others.
As I move forward into this semester of kids yoga classes, I am looking forward to using these rules with kids. Knowing how kids are, I am sure I will refine my understanding of these yoga principles, as my students share new ways to think about each yama. I hope that my littlest yoga students will remember these rules and use them across their lifetimes–as one of my friends on Facebook put it, these rules are “Not just for kids!”