My kids yoga students never fail to amaze me. It’s a cliche among yoga teachers that we learn more from our students than they do from us, but with the little yoginis it’s really true. This afternoon I was teaching a group of six elementary school students. All of them have had at least one semester of yoga with me, so I’m starting to direct their attention to yoga philosophy. For instance, today I introduced the Sanskrit word “Svadyaya,” which refers to yoga’s concept of self study. Then we went around the circle and said in one word how we felt, as a way to “study” our emotions.
After doing the Sun Dance (a kid-friendly version of sun salutations), we settled back in for a second mini discussion about yoga. I had written two questions on the board. Below each you’ll find my students’ responses.
1) Is yoga new or old?
–Old! At least 3000 years.
2) Why do we practice yoga? What is the point?
–Because it’s awesome!
–Because it makes us flexible.
–It makes our bodies strong! Muscles get bigger when you do yoga.
–Because it makes us calm.
Now the quick answer for the first question was from a girl who has been taking yoga for at least two straight years. The answers to the second question really impress me! Indeed, they represent the different layers that many adults discover as they practice yoga. Americans are often drawn to yoga initially as a great way to exercise. Improving flexibility or strength are typical goals. And with all the slick advertising around yoga, it makes sense that people would be drawn to it as something “cool” to do. But for many yogis I know there is a shift toward practicing for more internal reasons–because it makes them better people, ultimately. Better, kinder, more aware human beings. As I like to say in my classes, human beings, not human doings.
Another “Aha!” moment came during craft time. The kids were coloring mandalas, and I was explaining how monks in Tibet create intricate, beautiful sand mandalas, which they allow to blow away and disappear. Right on cue, one student asked why the monks let the mandalas blow away, and instead of answering I turned the question around on them. Why do they let them blow away, do you think? I asked. “Because then the beauty goes everywhere!” one girl answered.
It is moments like that that overwhelm me with gratitude for this life!