Sunday, May 15, 2016

Wisdom Comes with Youth

So often we think about wisdom being associated with old age, and it is, but not exclusively.  After teaching a six week yoga series for ages three through nine, I have evidence that the ten and under crowd have some wisdom of their own to bestow.  It is important to note that I also teach adults yoga twice a week, so by comparison I can say we grown people have a lot to learn from the little folks. 

In adult yoga class, we try not to fall, in fact many adults are so intimidated by falling when teetering in tree, they prematurely step out.  Not it kids class, if they fall to the ground, they simply rename their pose. “That was toppling tree.”  “Hey, let’s all do falling tree pose!” These are declarations I’ve heard as half a dozen little ones fling themselves to the floor with glee!   I’m not sure that would fly in adult class, but I would love to try it next April Fool’s Day, just to revel in the looks of horror it would probably illicit.  But honestly, how do we expect we can try new poses and take on new challenges without the occasional slip?  Children are well schooled in this truth.  They embrace it.  If one child falls in a kid’s class, I bet you 10 to 1 that of the remaining kids still standing, over half of them will fall, just because it looks like fun.  The odds of that are not so good in a grown up class.  Little ones teach us that falling is not failing.  In fact it means, I tried really hard and I didn’t hold back.  I can laugh at my attempt and try it once more. This playful nature of not judging our practice is something adult yogis often need to be reminded of by their instructors.  So much so that the line, “Notice, but don’t judge,” is a phrase you’ll hear in many grown up classes more often than not. 

Falling can change your perspective...

...and even improve your view!

Have you ever been asked to chant, sing, or even audibly sigh or breathe in your adult yoga class?  Did you feel slightly self-conscious?  This is an area where little people can help you!  Stick out your tongue, roar like a lion, pant like a dog, moo like a cow; they are up for all of it!  In addition, they will do it with such volume that it is sure to shake the walls of the studio, and you will marvel at the fact that it did not disrupt the adult class going on across the hall where they were trying to noiselessly jump to the top of their mats during vinyasa flow! 

As a teacher of adults, the request to leave your mat and find a wall, or go to the ropes, or grab some extra props; often results in looks of confusion, bewilderment or even fear on the faces of some of my grown-up students.  Leave my mat?  My safe place?  How can I drift from my preferred location in this class and still feel safe?  In fact, these are not just the thoughts I read on my adult students’ faces, but the thoughts that echo through my own mind, when I’m taking class and a teacher asks me to practice off my mat.  I get it!  This is your home base, your space, your happy place… why would you want to leave it?  In a kid’s class, good luck keeping them on their mats!  You might manage that for a few poses, but then the three year old is likely to take up residence on her friend’s mat.  Here they will likely lie down and look into each other’s eyes and start a giggle fest.  Meanwhile the four year old, has rolled himself up in his mat, burrito style.  The five year old is racing around the room, leaping from mat to mat, Frogger style.  The six and seven year-olds are attempting a version of the pose you taught that also involves falling down and laughing. The eight and nine year-olds are still trying to meticulously recreate the pose that was just presented and they are asking for feedback.  “Am I doing this right?”  From this seeming chaos, we can glean insight.  We often feel most comfortable learning new things with friends.  Minus a friend, we might embark on a path to self-reflection (rolling yourself up in your mat…).  As we gain confidence, we feel comfortable pushing the boundaries (stepping off the mat or falling down just for fun).  As we progress, we look for subtle adjustment in our poses, mirroring our teacher as closely as possible. 

Young people have many lessons we can learn.  Among them; not judging ourselves, having fun in our practice, not fearing failure, laughing for no apparent reason, trying new things (no matter how ridiculous they may seem at first), and most important being 100% present in the moment.  With our practice shifting from movement, to games, to play based inquiry, to arts and crafts, to more games and movement, then to stories, songs and relaxation; in our hour of practice the furthest any child got from the present moment was to ask to show their mommy their pose or to have some yogurt.  All the encouragement they needed to set aside these concerns were, “We’ll show mommy, right after class, but now we are going to play this fun game!” or “You’ve been very active, so of course you are hungry.  Now we will do a resting and relaxing pose and you can ask daddy for a snack after class.” As adults, it is often much more difficult to set aside our concerns in favor of being present for our practice. 

There is so much we can learn from children.  Often we think of ourselves as the teacher.  Whether you are a parent, a relative, or a friend of a young person; next time you have the pleasure of a child’s company, ask yourself what you can learn from them.  Sure you may offer a story, a lap on which to sit, an insight into our world, but how can you grow from this interaction?  Learning is a lifelong process and it goes both ways.  We can learn from our elders and our youngsters.  As we open our minds to our teachers in life, we will find they come in all ages.  May your learning be diverse and from many sources.  The richest lessons come at various stages of our lives, from multiple teachers, during our most susceptible moments.  Be open to the lessons the universe has for you, and the unassuming forms your teachers may take.   

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