A few years ago I was approached by a mom of a former yoga student who inquired if I might consider teaching yoga to her son’s soccer team. I was intrigued but had lots of questions: would the kids come to the yoga studio where I taught? were they wanting to join an existing class? what were her goals in my doing such a class? When we talked by phone she said her main goal was for the kids to have less injuries while playing soccer. She mentioned that the kids loved the game and gave it their best…but in her opinion were sustaining injuries due to their lack of flexibility. She had observed many of the classes her son was in with me and knew that yoga would be just what they needed….on many levels!! ! The mom felt the kids would resist coming to a yoga studio….and inquired if I would consider coming to them.
This lady turned out to be a very determined, focused and resourceful person! She had approached the owner of a large local family sports center about having the yoga classes there. She managed to strike a promising deal in which we could get a large, comfortable space rent free and she offered me a gracious salary for taking this on. We were ready to roll in just a few weeks!! ! I was so excited….but very nervous to start! I felt comfortable with my yoga teaching abilities but a little worried about my relative lack of knowledge about soccer. I reached out to my son-in-law who had played soccer for the University of Pittsburgh and had coached many youth soccer teams since. He was able to tell me what skills the kids needed to develop and I extrapolated what we might do in yoga to strengthen those skills. My husband (who frequently helped me teach yoga classes) has a strong knowledge base of sports and is very skilled in working with youth so he was an invaluable resource as well. ! ! The mom who had set this up explained that she envisioned the first class being offered for free. Afterwards any players wanting to join the class would be paying weekly. It was obvious that much was resting on “hooking” those athletes in a big way during that first class.
My husband and I were determined to entice those youth to embrace the many benefits of yoga in a single hour! This is what we did:! ! 1. developed a great play list of songs that would resonate with this age group (10-12 yr olds) & that were appropriate for a yoga class! 2. put together pictures of famous athletes (including soccer players) who do yoga! 3. put together pictures from our local newspaper of action shots of youth playing soccer (some from their own schools)! 4. prepared a handout: ”Benefits of Yoga for Athletes”! 5. developed a lesson plan that we HOPED would be interesting, fun, challenging (but do-able for newbies!) and truly reflective of the expansive benefits of yoga.! ! On the day of the class we arrived early to set up what turned out to be an awesome space: clean, spacious, well lit & warm (it was a typical winter day in Syracuse, NY). We put out our yoga mats “just right” and waited to greet our athletes. We were surprised (& thankful) when several parents chose to join the class. They were curious about what would happen in yoga….and wanted to be a resource should there be any behavioral concerns (spoiler alert: there were none!!). We ended up having about 20 youth….mostly boys, but some girls. They initially appeared to be excited, curious….and a little nervous. ! ! The class began with talking a little about yoga, inquiring about their knowledge & past experience (very limited). They were pretty impressed to hear about famous athletes who make yoga a part of their training. When we showed them photos from the local paper we asked: “what do you think you need to be able to do this?” (i.e.: 2 players attempting to head the ball; a goalie stretching to make a save; a player kicking the ball in an attempt to make a goal, etc).
The response varied from you need
to be really you n strong” to “you would need to be able to focus well” to “you would have to be really flexible”. Our response to each of their comments was “interestingly, yoga can help you be____” (i.e.: strong) and we would then teach them several yoga poses that involved strength, flexibility, concentration, etc. (i.e.: Down Dog, Pride Plank, Warrior 1 Up, etc). The kids loved all that we did! They enjoyed being challenged, showing their strength, partnering with teammates and finally relaxing!
We led them into Savasana with a version of I Am What I Am: our affirmations included: I am strong; I am smart; I am a good team mate; I always do my best. They especially loved their relaxation which included the gentle placing of eye pillows, relaxing music and a brief neck massage with essential oils. Following our closing words almost all the kids came to inquire about when the next class would be and to ask for info for their parents. Afterwards we were exhausted and ecstatic… as was the mom who had organized this! The parents who were in attendance made a point to tell me how impressed they were with the class & how much the kids needed this yoga ….whether they knew it or not!! ! The class continued successfully for several months until many of the kids were unavailable due to the start of their spring outdoor soccer season. Looking back I see this experience as a turning point for me as a yoga teacher. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone & in doing so helped me believe in my ability to teach a wide variety of kids in what may be an unfamiliar setting… with authenticity, grace and self assurance.!
As part of an online continued education program in Grounded Kids Yoga, I was invited to teach a class based on the story of “Horton Hears a Who,” themed around aligning for listening and using a clear centered voice. I found myself entranced by the opportunity to use music and movement to bring this centered, felt experience to life for families. As I pored through the sample lessons offered by Cheryl Crawford and Amy Haysman of Grounded Kids Yoga, lights started going off. I knew that this lesson was important for me and for those around me. My lessons with Roop Verma and the teachers of Ananda Ashram in music and Nada Yoga came through. My study with my teachers AmarJyothi Pariser and most recently the alignment of Naime Jezzany and Sue Elkind began to integrate as well. Integrating the teachings into my being to bring the lessons home is a teacher’s challenge.
A challenge and a practice. So why do we practice listening? In our relationships and our work, we can always use the reminder to listen. It is empowering to feel heard. As a teacher, parent, sister and friend, I am finding that fine-tuning these skills allow for easier relationships. Alongside the ability to hear others lays hearing ones own true, compassionate and clear voice. This voice is unique, has its own perfect noise and is a gift to find and when found, to share. Over the past few years, I have been increasingly aware of working with my own voice through teaching, singing and the study of Nada Yoga, the yoga of sound vibration and through the practice of right speech. Listening to the birds and music can be a fast path for many to a blissful feeling of unity and connection that a yoga practice provides.
So, I’ve been carrying this elephant on my back for a few months now! We have quite a relationship! In my family life, I try to align my breath and body for deeper listening. When teaching, or when something important comes up that I need to use my own clear voice, I think of the physical alignment of my body, pulling into center, with an extra check in for an open throat and ear alignment. I have noticed that when I am practicing off of the mat, there is greater ease in my ability to hear other people’s needs and my own. When I forget, not so easy!
In planning this Musical Family Yoga Workshop, I asked my friend and recording artist Kira Willey if she’d join me in playing with Horton and write a song about voice. Kira wrote the song “Every Voice.”
It is an incredibly catchy and meaningful song that will be featured on her third CD release. I madly love the song and her voice. I am sure that people will leave the workshop humming its tune and well aligned for all of the work in hearing and speaking off of our mats. Recommended for graders six years and over through grandparents. I look forward to sharing this workshop with you. Come visit, you will absolutely DIG it!
Horton Hears an OM!
DIG YOGA, LAMBERTVILLE, NJ SATURDAY MAY 3 from 3-5PM $20 per family
In 2006 I arrived on my first yoga mat during my pregnancy of my daughter. A year later I was teaching preschool and fitness classes to children as way to continue to be with her on a daily basis. Last January I showed up to my first Grounded Yoga experience with Level 1, and I have now come full circle with my passion for my family, yoga, and teaching children. On my journey for self-discovery, I have found that even though I face bumps in the road…I am meant for this, to be a Grounded Yoga Teacher.
This past year I have had the incredible opportunity to be the lead teacher for both music and yoga at my girls’ Montessori school. I teach 7 Preschool Music classes, 7 PreGrounded classes, 3 Toddler Yoga classes, and 5 Lower Elementary (1st-3rd Grade) Grounded classes per week. I added up the numbers once and it was around 290 students each week with at least 4 different lessons running at one time…when we are all in sync. It has been my most challenging and rewarding year so far!! I mention these facts because there are times that these numbers seem overwhelming, even though it’s my dream job.
When I arrived at my Grounded Level 1 Training, I was asked to pick one word to put on the inside of my name card. A word that described what I wanted to evoke in my own classes. My word was “Fun”. When I find myself coming up against obstacles in my teachings or classes, I try and go back to this word. One example of this is bringing the Chakra Beatbox song by MC Yogi into my Lower Elementary (LE) classes. As a part of our Tune In ritual we chant this song, with music, while placing our Namaste hands in front of each body part that is represented by each Seed Sound. (Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om, Silence) The students are able to use their voices, bodies, and energies, and connect to our space and to me. I am able to connect to my students in an important way. All elements can find their place in this chant…Earth~ sit strong and grounded, Water~ be creative and move, Fire~ be loud and boisterous, and Air~ be vocal in their words or sounds.
Click HERE to view Lee’s video clip of her class chanting these seed mantras.
Each week I am challenged by the fact that not all my students love nor even care to be in yoga each week. I am constantly looking for ways to keep things both powerful and engaging. I struggle with 2-3 students in every class, and this week I decided to put our mats into a circle formation, rather than rows. It was incredible. It changed my own perspective, and the perspective of the whole class. We still had some issues, but I felt stronger in my own energy to stay calm and address each issue.
Completing Level 3 this weekend, and receiving my RCYT certificate from Grounded is exhilarating, however, this is not the end. Rather a new beginning; a new way of being; a knowing, that I have the skills and training to be able to truly listen to my own instincts and follow my heart.