When you give a 6 year old a yoga class…

Kids Yoga is my most difficult class to teach, by far. It requires me to plan, prepare, and create a big idea. It also requires that I be willing to toss all those plans as soon as it is clear that it will bomb. It is so hard to predict what a class will be like, even with the same kids. Yes, I have built in some structure so that we start and end the same way, and do some familiar games in the middle. I know, kids love routines. I read that article too.

My kids yoga class looks nothing like this. Clearly these children are being paid to sit still, not talk, pick their nose, or chew on their toenails.

The class is on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m., so all of the kids (and some parents) are coming straight from school. They are tired, crabby, happy, burned-out, giddy, hungry, and all of the other feelings on the list. Except for my own two kids, everyone is there because they actually want to be there. We usually spend the first 15 minutes or so settling in with coloring books, building yoga block towers, dancing in the mirror, or balancing a peacock feather on a fingertip (yes, you really can. Try it!).

The 6 year old’s in the class have consistently been the teachers, when it comes to emotional expression. They seem to be lacking all filters and impulse control. They wear all of their emotions on their sleeve. Several weeks ago was a doozy of a class.

There were 12 of us; 3 moms, 9 kids ranging in age 5-10 years old, and everyone knows each other fairly well. We usually check in with a thumbs up, down, or meh. It was at this point that my 6 year old daughter gave a pitifully sad thumbs down, and tried to climb in my lap. She started to weep and kept weeping all through the class. She went from my lap, to the blankets in the corner, and back to my lap, a billion times (or so it felt). I didn’t always keep my cool about this. I was trying to be a compassionate mom, an empowering mom, and also teach this class to a handful of other kids with energy, emotions, and expectations. And my poor little 6 year old had no words for the big feelings, in the moment. Later that night she was able to express that she was having a hard time with me being the teacher, with all the other kids. I think the fact that I am the teacher is my kids least favorite part of Kids Yoga, because my attention is on all of the kids and not just them. I get it. That is hard. I like to feel special to my special people too. And when I don’t feel that special it can sometimes seem like a rejection. But, I am nearly 46 years old, and poor Mabel is only 6, so when your Mom is the same kind of nice to all of the other kids as she is to you (and maybe nicer), that is heartache.

Later in the class, we were lying on our bellies in a circle, looking at cards of animals and talking about their particular super powers. The Bear’s super power is being able to find a good place to rest and relax. The horse’s super power is to work in a team. The super power of a snake is to try new things and let go of old stuff. When I asked another 6 year old girl what she thought her super power might be, she scooted backwards on her belly across the room, and then sat in the corner ignoring us for the rest of the class. Was that her superpower? Scooting backwards and out of the circle to become invisible, or at least she hoped so? Maybe so. This kid does not like everyone looking at her. It is somehow different than being shy. So, she did what she needed to do to feel safe, I think. I thanked her for her answer and moved on.

Next, we practiced working together as a team, like horses. We stood up and held hands and did “the wave”. The 6 year old boy holding my hand kept yelling at me; “stop right now! Stop it! I want to do this myself!”. So we sat down and I asked about why it is sometimes hard to work in a team, to which this little boy yelled – “because I think I want to punch you! I just want to do it by myself!”. No, he did not punch me, but he clearly did not want to work in a team at that moment. So, we talked about that feeling too, and we all agreed that it can be really hard to work together when you don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, or you want to be in charge. I know the feeling, kid. Sometimes I just want to be left alone to do my work by myself. I get it.

And to give you an even more complete picture of this emotional-potluck of a class, Throughout this entire time yet another 6 year old ran in and out of the group. She wanted to participate – kind of, and then she didn’t, back and forth the whole time. I allow for a certain amount of this by putting blankets with books off to the side. But, she was also being really disruptive and agitated. I was getting frustrated and asked her to either join the group, or sit quietly on the blankets. Her response was to lie in the middle of the circle, covered head-to-toe in the aforementioned blanket. She joined the group as requested, and yet…not? I was so exhausted I didn’t respond to this either and just worked through to the end of class, with a blanket covered body in the middle. Maybe she just wanted to do savasana?

To recap – there were four 6 year old kids. Kid #1 – wept the whole time, Kid #2 – scooted backwards on her belly to the corner to avoid attention, Kid #3 – wanted to punch me because he wanted to do “the wave” by himself, Kid #4 – laid in the middle of the circle under a blanket.

I have thought about these kids responses a lot. I’m not sure I have any wisdom about it. But, their total lack of filters and “ability” to be completely real about how they are feeling – even when you want to punch your yoga instructor- is kind of remarkable. In any group of adults there might be people feeling the exact same way, having the same thoughts about wanting to be alone, not liking how something is being done, or plain old sadness about someone you miss. But because our brains are so developed, and social norms are so ingrained in us, I don’t think “we” would ever share about how we are really feeling with a group of people, maybe not even our family. That is mostly appropriate of course. I’m not recommending trying any of these behaviors during the impending holidays.

But I do think there is something to be said for doing what you need to do, to actually feel the feelings. Kids Yoga is a safe place to cry, feel insecure, and be mad that you don’t get your way. Is there a way for those of us with more fully developed brains to also feel the feelings and respond to them?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I anticipate family gatherings, and all of the really different personalities and temperaments in a fairly small room, everyone dressed in multiple layers, holding food in their lap, and trying to look excited and surprised about the new socks, the flashlight, or the gifts you purchased for yourself.

Maybe you can relate to the little kid who didn’t want to answer a personal question in front of the group. What if you made a point of having some meaningful conversations with people, one on one. And then if a big question is popped in front of the whole herd, maybe go for some more chips, or go sit next to that nephew, who is also trying to slide into the corner. It is ok to not like sharing in public. It is totally ok.

I am often weepy over the holidays, for a whole casserole dish of emotions. I’m a weeper. Sometimes I just need to go to a bedroom by myself, lie down and cry a little. Maybe my expectations for the day set me up for disappointment. Before I was married I cried whenever we did family pictures, because I didn’t have anyone to stand with. Sometimes there are just lots of feelings, and tear ducts serve as perfect pressure release valves. It’s all good. You’re surely not the only one.

I empathize with the little guy who wanted to do “the wave” himself, in his own way. Here’s my “wave”; I want everyone to help clean up, but the manner in which they do it is not how I want them to. So then I shout “stop it! stop it right now! I want to do it myself!”. And much like “the wave”, cleaning alone is dumb and really not fun.

The Loving Kindness Meditation

Maybe you feel like all four of these totally good and lovable kids with big feelings? I hear ya. Me too. It’s ok. You are a safe place to feel feelings.

We end every class with the Loving Kindness Meditation, and I’ll be repeating it lots over the next couple weeks. In Kids Yoga there are pretty awesome hand motions that go with it – maybe someday I’ll make a video of us doing it, but not right now. But, here it is in case you need to repeat it to yourself a billion times. It’s all good. You’re surely not the only one. Peace on your head, you.

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