by Samantha Coacci, Instructor/Founder of Island Soul Yoga
Through my experience teaching yoga, I’ve taught people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Healthy, unhealthy, injured, recovering, you name it. All except for children. That is of course until my old elementary school invited me back to teach yoga for wellness week. Amidst the excitement, I thought to myself, how do I engage these fun-sized humans and get them excited about yoga? How do I teach them ancient yogic philosophy without losing their interest? I started jotting down notes, building a sequence, but let’s be real, nothing ever goes perfectly planned with children. I decided I will keep the poses simple, incorporate lively music and make sure they have fun!
As I wait outside by the playground in a cozy shaded nook beneath the trees, 40 first graders quietly flooded the shaded area. Shy, looking up at me with big confused eyes, they were just as nervous as me. I wanted this to be a wonderful experience for the little ones. I know how beneficial yoga can be for them and I wanted them to leave in love with yoga!
Enthusiastically, I began teaching the history of yoga, “thousands of years ago, ancient yogis lived in the mountains, forests and caves of India, imitating their surroundings. Forming shapes of animals and trees with their bodies, they noticed how happy and strong it made them feel. And as they observed nature, they admired its perfect harmony and decided their own community would live in peace and harmony too.” It’s that simple. That’s yoga. The first graders are imagining ancient yogis living wildly. I knew I had their attention (phew!). I continued by asking, “Now, who wants to become a yogi?” With their hands in the air, they all yelled, “ME!, ME!, ME!”
The next 20 minutes was a whirlwind of an adventure. Lively music filled the air as I encouraged the students to be as loud as they could be, barking in their downward facing dogs, hissing in the grass like baby cobras, their arms spread out like wings running around pretending to be flying airplanes.
We held onto each other forming a big circle while balancing on one foot, learning to trust and support each other. They formed the shapes with their bodies and fully embraced the opportunity of creating sound effects. As they are practicing and imitating my moves, I laughed to myself, shocked that I thought I had a shy bunch in the beginning. The children were fearless. They had no worries about looking or sounding silly. I witnessed pure joy as they stretched and strengthened their bodies in their pirate planks. It was amazing! As we transitioned into our cool down, we slowed down our heart rates becoming quieter and moving slower and calmer. Lastly, we moved into our resting pose, lying in the grass looking up at the sky, pretending to camouflage into the grass. I asked them to close their eyes as I guided them through a meditation. The giggles and the fidgeting began to fade and they were all quiet and still. Yes, 40 first graders quiet and still. The teachers and social worker were amazed. The miniature yogis began to bring awareness back to their bodies by wiggling their fingers and toes, nodding their heads and stretching their arms overhead for full body stretches. We slowly sat up and sealed our practice with the secret yogi code word, “namaste”. I explained the last, but very important part of becoming a yogi which is to practice kindness everyday, to yourself and to each other. I asked if they could do that and they simultaneously yelled, “YES!” I then congratulated them on becoming yogis and they all cheered, some even hugged me, it was awesome!
The opportunity to teach children yoga was incredibly fulfilling. Before the session began, the teachers and social worker warned me about the children with impulsive behavior, and even they left calmer and more attentive. In my short time with the group, I witnessed how yoga increases attention and self-regulation, reduces stress and improves functioning. Research on yoga and its effects on children are still in the early stages and I truly hope it continues. I would love to see schools infuse yoga into the curricula. The results could be astonishing. This experience at my old elementary school encouraged me to incorporate children’s yoga into my teachings and I plan to partner with additional schools for health and wellness events.
Love, light and namaste!
Founder | Instructor