This morning my son stopped me as I ran down the stairs. I was frantically getting everything ready for the morning commute to school, “pay the toll mom” he said, smiling.
For my part, I stopped on the stairs and took three deep belly breaths. He said, “good job mom” and let me by. This game, Pay the Toll comes from our yoga experiences together. In the game, one of us stops and puts up the tollgate (arms extended out like a T) and reminds the other to calm down with three big belly breaths (the toll). Once the toll is paid, we are both free to go on with our tasks.
My son attended his first yoga program at the ripe age of 6 weeks. For me, these classes provided a break from the doldrums of a winter at home with a newborn; I met wonderful new mothers, all of whom became my cheerleaders and confidantes. For him, these where his first experiences with peers and he observed that when his mom took care of her health and well being, she was a happier person.
At six months old, my agile crawler outgrew mommy baby yoga class and we headed to our yoga mats in the living room, where I watched him naturally plop himself into downward dog and cobra. I gently massaged his body and we sang songs learned in our class together. These familiar peaceful activities delighted my active little boy, calmedÂ him and a fostered peacefulness and self-assuredness which is still apparentÂ now that he is in preschool. Our mommy baby yoga classes planted the seeds for lifelong attention to self-care.
From our experience, children’s yoga has been a deeply bonding, simple and fun activity. It is also a tool. My son knows he can use yoga tricks to calm down, focus his attention and change a glum mood to a happier outlook. Through yoga practice, he has learned that all he needs is his body, deep breathing, and a few minutes.Â At four, he is able to identify what his body needs and has the tools to address these needs. More often then naught, his radiant being can also identify what I need as his mother, and helps prompt me to take care of myself too. Reminding me to pay the toll is an example of this.
Unlike other children’s programs where the classes focus on preparing for a performance like gymnastics, music, or dance; yoga is entirely about self-care and self-understanding.Â For children, learning yoga is another tool in their tool belt that can be accessed anytime in life and supports lifelong self-esteem and self-confidence. Furthermore, the tips and tools learned in yoga can be applied any where in life, from learning to stand up to aggressive peers, to focusing on important test questions, to healing an over-worked body after sporting activities.
Last week, I had a conversation with a college level football player who is in the process of going to the NFL; he laughed when I told him I taught children’s yoga, “that’s hard,” he said, “our coach has us do yoga after big games.”
So much of growing up is about achievement and productivity; another wonderful aspect of children’s yoga is that it is called a “practice”. This loving wording means that we don’t have to be perfect in our yoga activities; as we delve deeply into learning about our body, mind and self, we can continue to practice these skills throughout our day and with each new yoga practice more opportunities for growth and self-awareness develop. In this way, children’s yoga is the gift that keeps on giving because the practice grows with us and within us.
Shannon Baer is an educator and consultant. She has a Master’s degree in Geology and is a children’s yoga teacher. She blogs at www.backyardmama.com and teaches workshops to parents and teachers on linking to nature and learning through movement.