Last year (2011), I saw many images of teenage girls and women in general suffering from all that society requires from them to fit in – it is a lot of pressure! According to the media, you need to be this size, you need to look like that person, and you need to wear this particular brand or else… For those who are still building their identity, this can be pretty tough. It has even been acknowledged by a more conscious media with a few documentaries. Motivated by that and having experienced and observed fellow yogis going through the changes you can achieve physically (not to conform with a size prescribed by the media, but the size you are comfortable with by your own standards) and mentally with yoga, I ended up taking a Kid Yoga Teacher Training Course. It was an amazing experience – both fun and enriching!
Back home a week later, I then offered a first class – a free trial one. It had four girls between the ages of 10 and 13. It was lots of fun and rewarding to see them being able to relax and just accept themselves for who they are, when, for instance, they fall from poses or are afraid to even try other poses, even though the other kids are doing it. At the end of class, they were ready to lie on their backs on ‘savasana’ (corpse pose) to finally clear their minds (even if just for a few minutes) and enjoy serenity.
Eight days later, I offered classes for different aged groups during a school break. My first class was designed for girls between the ages of 5 and 9. The theme was “Being a Zookeeper”, and after developing a story with some poses to start with, we started to talk about animals and trying to imitate them. As part of the class plan, we let children co-create many poses we do during class, and how surprised I was when one of the girls raised her hand and suggested we did the platypus pose… At first I was a bit paralyzed, as I had never heard of such a pose, but then I resolved to smile and go along with it. And, surprisingly better than showing her which pose would look like a platypus in my opinion, I decided to ask her how she thought it would be. She gladly and quite naturally showed the rest of us how it should look like. For my amusement, I saw a big proud smile on her face, learning that she had just created a pose and had all the other kids copying her, giving her a chance to be the leader of our circle. That was a first a-ha moment to me showing how this type of class could really empower them.
A few days later, in a class for ages 10 to 14, I felt really brave and creative, which led us to try ‘bunk bed’ poses, when we stacked on top of each other in a certain position. All of the eight girls present tried it successfully with a partner or with me as a base. Then, I decided to create a bigger challenge and push them a bit further. As you can see in the picture, we had moved on to triple bunk beds, e.g., three people stacked now. I asked who would like to volunteer with me as the base. Some of the kids just looked sideways and were quiet. But a couple of them raised their hands and tried it with me. It was not easy to accomplish, especially because the person on top was not that tall and had to climb on a chair to get there and be helped by one of the other girls to come down, but we did it. The girls were astonished! Not just the ones who participated in the pose, the ones who were watching, too.
According to one of my own kids, that was the highlight of the class. Maybe because she participated in the pose, but maybe because that pose looked like a big mountain we had just finished climbing! After that, the other poses were less challenging in terms of testing their limits, but still strength building and interactive poses. We played games and finally did the relaxation part of the class. Some of them chose not to close their eyes, which is okay. But I could tell they had no trouble lying down still for a few minutes, listening to my voice guiding a visualization with a calm song on the background. That was yet another way of empowering them.
You might think the kids who did not want to try the most challenging pose of that day could be feeling like losers because fear had stopped them from trying, but they were not. They were excited to see other girls being brave enough to try such a thing, and went through the rest of class with the feeling of being able to do anything after that! Maybe next time we get together they will volunteer for a tough pose. And if they don’t, no one will be teasing them for that. They can take as much time as they need to build their self-confidence, but at least they know (because they have seen it) that, like their peers, they are also completely capable of accomplishing it once they set their minds to do it. And just so you know, those two girls who joined me in this mini-adventure (it was quite a while until we got someone to take our picture!) had no intent of bragging when out of that pose. This non-competitive environment in this kind of yoga helps ease that constant comparison girls have infused in their minds by the media or even other sources.
By now, I am starting to feel pretty lucky to be able to share these moments with such wonderful girls, who just need a gentle reminder of how much they are capable of, once they decide to embrace their qualities and simply be themselves, not anymore depending on what the media or society expects them to be.