(Originally published in 2018 on www.sfk.org)
The first time I “experienced” Koren Paalman was when I brought my kids to try out her “Kids Yoga” class at the Iyengar Institute, where I practice yoga regularly. Immediately I felt drawn to her presence as she joyfully invited my kids into the yoga studio, to play an irresistible game of Hide and Go Seek! My eldest boys (ages 8 and 6) fell in love with her classes from the start.
Each week I found myself yearning to share with Koren about the positive changes we were experiencing in our family, changes that I directly connected to learnings and discoveries my kids made during her yoga classes.
Below is an excerpt of a conversation I had with Koren that focused on some of the observations/questions I had. Through our talk, I was able to discover many special experiences that have uniquely shaped her life’s work of sharing yoga with the children of our world.
Alison: My children seem to naturally fall asleep easier at night on the days they practice yoga with you, am I dreaming or is that possible?
Koren: Yoga by definition is a practice that quiets the mind. According to the yoga sutras [the ancient texts of yogic philosophy], quieting the mind is the true purpose of yoga. Yet, calming the mind is easier said than done, so we use the body as a vehicle to access the mind. If we can put ourselves into a situation where we are paying attention to what our body is doing, we are connecting our body to our mind, and that is what brings about a state of calmness. It is that state of calmness that helps us unwind and let go at the end of the day.
With kids, because they are very physically motivated, it’s really nice for them to come to a yoga class and move their bodies around and explore that mind/body connection. At the end of class, I’ll put it in simple language to guide them towards that awareness, I will ask them: “How do you guys feel right now? Do you feel the same as when you came in?” I don’t say, “Is your mind quiet?” because having a “quiet mind” is not a language kids understand but rather I’m using language the kids can relate to.
Alison: Before I first brought my kids to your class, I was hesitant because I thought it would be taught the same way that adults learn yoga which made me doubt my kids’ ability to be interested. Since they have come to your class, I have observed a difference between yoga for kids versus yoga for adults and I would like to discuss a bit more with you.
Koren: I’ve been teaching youth since 1998 and what I’ve observed about yoga for kids is that people either try to teach like they teach to adults or they dumb it down too much. What’s important is to connect with those kids on that given day because kids are one way one day and another way another day. You have to connect with them on that day and see what they need. You have to have an element of playfulness and give a little to them, too. One of the big things the kids ask for is to play hide and go seek. Is hide and go seek yoga? No. Is it a great icebreaker? Can kids start to get to know each other? Get to know the props and blankets and where everything is? Yes. It’s making it fun, giving them a little of what they want to do. Then saying [to them] once you are done hiding, once you are found, you are on the mat and you are ready to go. So, you also kind of draw the line.
Kids love to be given a little but they also like a line drawn. As a parent, I’m sure you know.
Alison: I see the benefits and would love a yoga practice to be something my kids incorporate into their everyday life, (the same way I do!), and with their busy schedules, I don’t really know how to do that. Do you think that yoga should it be an “after-school activity” or rather incorporated into their day?
Koren: Yoga is most effective is if it’s practiced regularly for a certain amount of time. It’s not like it can be completely incorporated, since it has to be given its own space and time, ideally during the school day for kids. I agree with the need to not have too many add-on activities, but if yoga is effective then that is not the one to cut out. It’s in the practice that the benefits come.
What I found was most effective with the teenagers was having that 40-min practice to check in daily. It was so interesting because after that 40-minute practice you could see the changes. Teachers would come up to me and say, “Mario is so different since he signed up for your yoga class. He used to be in my class and I couldn’t handle him, he was always talking and out of control. Now he comes in after yoga, he sits down, he’s focused and his grades are better.” So, it’s really honoring the benefits of yoga and making time for it in our very busy lives. I know parents are trying to get the kids everything they need and it’s a lot of add-on activities. I think it’s a matter of prioritizing.
As my children evolve their yoga explorations, my conversations with Koren continue. We have also attended her “Family Yoga” sessions which are equally engaging. (To the kids’ delight, my husband took the Family Yoga with them too!)
We all look forward to the day when yoga is in fact taught as a regular class in schools (hopefully on a daily basis!) but until then, I have found some creative fun YouTube yoga for kids videos depicting the characters they love, like Star Wars and Minecraft (Yes, I’m serious! Check out http://www.cosmickids.com) and I have also tried to incorporate fun and mindful body movement into their lives daily (they love https://www.gonoodle.com and could “play” the movement games on the site for hours on end).
Here’s to the MAGIC of Yoga for Kids!
Comment below with any kids yoga magic you have experienced!