It’s Monday after 3 days of grounding 17 grown ups in the art and design of teaching kids yoga Grounded style. I lean back in my chair at lunch, unable to carry on a conversation, and say to Sedef “I’m drained.” Instantly, my body recognized this as untrue.
Each year Little Shop of Stories, a bookstore in Decatur, has a city wide reading initiative called On the Same Page. Readers of all ages enjoy the same book and for several weeks, activities are planned for the schools and the community leading up to the grand finale which is a guest reading by the book’s author. The selected book for 2016 was The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.
Last night felt surreal. I was standing in my kitchen with Lee, Amy & Cheryl when they handed me a single piece of cardstock with the words ‘Certified Grounded Teacher.’ I felt my throat clench and my heart skip a beat. Though I have been teaching Grounded Yoga for over a year, it was this small piece of recognition that let me know that I am now officially recognized as part of one of the greatest movements of my lifetime.
Once I received my 200hr teacher training in 2012, I had begun leading my daughter’s classes at school once a week and eventually took over the Tween class at my studio. I pulled resources from all around- other teachers, online sites, books, games…everything I could find to help create a well-rounded class. It was a year of growth and some things worked and some failed miserably. What I did know was that I loved teaching children- their honesty in their bodies and mouths and they way it was starting to create a shift in their perspective. My dear friend and teacher, Lee introduced me to Grounded in early 2013 when she came home lit UP from Level 1 training. I watched her do Go To Your Room and that’s literally ALL it took! I knew that something special was going on with Grounded…something that hadn’t been done before…something that was about to change how the world looks at kid’s yoga. We put a plan together to “sell” our yoga program to our school as a full-time yoga curriculum. And it WORKED! I decided to take the Level 1 training just after school started so we could teach the same material and use each other to bounce ideas and begin to try to understand the huge undertaking we’d just landed.
The rest of the school year was filled with Level 2 & 3 and some of the greatest learning experiences of my life. I was teaching 4-8th grade yoga every day, and high school classes whenever possible. We met many challenges along the way, especially as it relates to effective communication between us and the teachers regarding expectations. We also felt the force of middle school resistance and cooler-than-yoga attitudes from a few who just didn’t want it! We were teaching as part of a school day curriculum, not as an elective or after school club. Not everyone on their mat wanted to be there. But it didn’t take long before they, their classmates, teacher and parents began to see a dynamic change happening and word spread quickly about how much FUN we were all having.
Some days we got really grounded, focusing on alignment, muscle groups, anatomy and growing roots. Some days we laughed really big, got creative, wrote in journals and on our friend’s backs. Some days we cried and talked about bullying and gossip and how it tears down the very fiber of our beings. We said sorry, we hugged and promised to love bigger and better the next day. Sometimes we talked about yoga’s benefits for menstrual cycles, surprised our athletes with headstands and 3-stacked planks, and gave a student a special chance to shine with a crow pose he’d practiced for weeks. We choreographed an amazing flow to One Tribe by the Black Eyed Peas in just 4 practices! We found out that we really could still our bodies and quiet our minds for a whole 5 minute Savasana and that is was totally worth it! I have watched over them, struggling and resisting until they finally surrendered- into a pose, into an acceptance, into giving into their own grace. I have seen them create beautiful poses all on their own and teach it better than I could’ve! I’ve heard them describe benefits of poses I’d never even considered! It is a completely different experience with children; more honest and certainly more challenging, but in ALL the best ways. They don’t come in to please. They come just as they are.
I am forever changed by the incredible small (and not-so-small) people all around me. I can never repay the gift of learning I’ve experienced at their hand; I can only continue on this journey with gratitude and joy in my heart and lightness in my feet. I wish this to all of you reading. You are GROUNDED, lucky you. We are pioneers on this path and have SO much good work to do! As someone really cool once said, “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes…Get on your way!”
I love the feeling of my feet reaching towards the sky, lightly floating through the air. I first experienced this in a shoulder stand, watching my toes point towards the ceiling above me, free and weightless. When I was ready, I set up for my first headstand. Creating a stable base with my hands and head, I eagerly sent my feet up above me. Obviously I fell a few times. I even took down other headstanders next to me in class once (fortunately, they didn’t hold grudges). As soon as I was ready to hold myself up stably in a headstand, I couldn’t stop turning myself upside down.
During this time, I was also forging my way through high school, balancing classes, homework, clubs, work, and yoga all at once. When the hours of homework stressed me out, I took inversion breaks to kick my feet up. Before big exams, I kicked up into handstands against the hallway walls. My feet balancing in the air reminded me of my freedom and stability in the midst of difficulty.
During high school I also completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training, which led me to Grounded Yoga trainings. At first I didn’t think teaching yoga to kids was for me. I like kids, and I like yoga, but the first time I put the two together I couldn’t even get the kids to stay on their mats, let alone stop talking, and I was used to adult classes where everyone just follows my cues.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to intern with Cheryl at Fernbank Elementary. There was one girl who represented everything that scared me about kids’ yoga. She complained, left her mat, wouldn’t follow directions. Then one day she learned how to stand on her head and she, like me when I first learned, didn’t want to do anything else. So we went to the side of the room and I showed her how to make a stable base so her feet could float through the air. I had fun, because all I was doing was showing her how to do what I loved to do.
When I started teaching my first teen class, I was nervous to be teaching students not far from my own age. I decided to teach restorative poses with bolsters at the end of class because that’s all I wanted after a long day of school, and every class after that they asked for restorative poses. I soon realized that teaching all yoga to kids is nothing more than showing them what I love to do, like teaching headstands at Fernbank.
Being upside down reminds me of my freedom and power, but also to teach what I love. The world is a lot less intimidating upside down.
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