March 1st 2010
Site Visits to Be In Union Yoga and Yoga in the Square
I chose to go to Be In Union Yoga in Union Square. This is a fairly new yoga studio. It was opened in October of last year. “We offer an approach to teaching that thrives in learning, exploration and discovery in a healthy, intelligent manner. We commit to create a safe space for personal growth and transformation whose foundation begins with a consciousness of mind, body and soul and their indispensable interconnectivity. We believe that yoga is for everyone and should be accessible to all. We hold a place born out of respect, integrity, compassion, and forgiveness for oneself” (http://beinunion.com/). This is the philosophy of the studio and I picked it for a few different reasons. It is very close to my apartment, it is a new studio, and it offered a class for children. Since I am a student of Early Childhood Education I wanted to observe and participate in a class geared towards young children. I wanted to see how a yoga instructor would go about teaching young children, I wanted to know what age groups were involved, who sent their children to yoga classes, how many children were in each class, did they came every week, how do yoga classes benefit the children, what are the social aspects of the class, and what positions are taught.
When I arrived at the studio on a rainy Wednesday morning I did not know what to expect. I entered the studio and almost collided with some of the children who were waiting for the children’s yoga class. They seemed exited to be there. They had all taken off their winter clothes and were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, wearing no shoes and ready to begin.
The studio was extremely hot and the teacher informed me that this helped to calm the children and that as the class went on the room would cool a bit. There were thirteen children in the class. All of them were either three or four years old. Many of them had come with nannies/child caregivers. I would guess, because the class was twelve dollars, that families of low income do not often attend. This is unfortunate, yet runs in the same vein with many other forms of extra curricular programs that not everyone can attend due to their financial standing.
The mats were arranged in a circle and the children sat on them. Some of them sat quietly waiting; others fiddled with the mats picking up the edges or folding the mats around themselves. The heat had indeed calmed the children a bit. Some of them lay on their mats quiet and still. Some also wandered around the room. There was only one teacher and one parent on the day I went to this class. Usually there are two yoga teachers. It was a bit chaotic in the beginning and I did not know if I should step in and help or not. I eventually did and I think everyone was grateful.
The instructor for the children’s yoga class was an avid athlete-playing hockey in college. She works in the legal field and when she found yoga she loved it immediately. It does not say where she received her training on her bio posted on the studios website and as it was pretty chaotic before and even after the class I did not remember to ask.
Now this was a class of three and four year olds so one can imagine that no matter what is planed there are bound to be surprises and hold ups. When the children were somewhat assembled they began by saying three Om’s really quietly and then one really loud one which the children really seemed to enjoy. Then they were asked to sit cross-legged, or in their terms criss-cross applesauce, at the top of their mats and from there they went into the tabletop position. When they arched their backs and bellies down and looked up they said moo like a cow and when they tucked their heads in and arched their backs up they said meow like a cat. Then a series of downward and upward dogs followed. In downward dog the children were asked to lift their right and then left leg. The action of having the head below the heart, I was told, has a soothing and calming affect on a child. The bow pose was done and the children were instructed to grab hold of their feet and look up. This pose opens the heart and with an open heart energy can flow and from this compassion can come into a person’s life. In the warrior pose the children made warrior faces. They wobbled a bit trying to do the tree pose. Towards the end of the class they were asked to demonstrate their favorite poses for the rest of the class to imitate. They came up with some very interesting poses that were quite hard for me to do. Their made up poses were easy for them as they could easily topple over unhurt. I think one of the things they enjoyed the most was doing handstands against the wall. Those who did not participate in many of the other poses seemed exited to do the handstands. They proudly showed me their talents over and over again with a chorus of “Look at me’s!” To end the class three really loud Om’s were shouted followed by three really quiet ones. I was told that the vibration of the Om has healing qualities when it is spoken and that the vibrations of it benefits even children.
I enjoyed observing this class though I did feel that it could have been a lot more structured. With a bit of structure, like a story or songs to go along with the poses, the teacher could have held the class together. This would have been much more interesting for the children and a lot less chaotic and over stimulating. I do not know what the instructor would have done without me and the parent who stayed. A couple times she had the parent do the teaching while she took a child out to their parent, nanny, or to use the bathroom. At one point I took two children to use the bathroom and though this was appreciated I was supposed to be observing the class. As I understand it, a yoga class for children is not only to teach them yoga, but a way of calming them and bringing awareness to their bodies. I think that this class was too chaotic and hectic for this to happen.
Since I felt I had not gotten all I could out of the children’s yoga class at Be In Union Yoga I decided to observe another class at Yoga in the Square. I thought it would be beneficial to compare two different places and through this get a better idea of how different instructors teach children’s yoga. Yoga in the Square studio is located in the center of Davis Square. I read some testimonials after going to the studio and the general consensus was that people liked the teachers and the small, intimate, friendly studio environment. The cons were too much of the same and the drop in classes unsettled some people. For children’s classes though, I think, rhythm and sameness is important as it fosters a sense of safely and consistency.
I thought Yoga in the Square was a nice studio with a feeling of good energy. The studio itself is a rectangular room with wood floors and a mirror running the length of one wall. I thought that this would distract the children from the lesson but it did not. The space was decorated with plants; there are cubbies for people’s things and easily accessible restrooms.
“It is never too early to start practicing yoga! In our Children’s Yoga class for ages 3+ - 7, students are taken on a different “yoga adventure” during each class. Using their imaginations to take them to faraway lands, they are guided through poses to represent all that they encounter. A lion, a bear, a scarecrow! A storm, a shark, a big boat! Breathing exercises, yoga songs, and yoga games are also incorporated into the class. Children are natural yogis; they have a blast exploring their new moves while building strong body and breath awareness, cooperative skills, and self-confidence. Namaste, little ones!” (http://www.yogasquare.com/). This is the description of the class I observed and participated in.
The children filtered into the studio with their parents. Unlike the other studio most children came with their parents and not their nannies. The children picked out their mats and arranged them in a circle. There were ten children in all and one instructor. The instructor got her certification to teach children’s yoga through the Radiant Child Yoga Program. She also has the 200-hour Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification.
Since it is a drop in class the teacher first asked the children what the rules of the class were. Hands went up in the air and little voices called out, “stay on your mat, no running, sliding, rolling up ones mat”…etc. Then they went around the circle saying their names and how old they were. Most of the children were four or five years old. Again, like in the other class I observed, I started out taking notes and then joined the class as extra support. We started off with some breathing exercise made into a game. Cupping hands we all pretended to have a bowl of soup. We smelled the soup, breathing in, and cooled it blowing out. Since we had spilled some on ourselves we had to then put our clothes in the wash. Putting our hands behind our necks and our elbows out we moved from side to side, faster and then slower.
To the music of three blind mice, the lyrics changed to three nice mice, we put our pointer and forefinger together leaving the other fingers out as the three nice mice. From here arms went up and then down. Holding hands in a circle we all squatted down together and this was the end of the warm up.
From here the teacher told a story integrating into it different yoga poses. The day’s story was about a rocket ship and going into space. The children stood and reached their hands up into the air and brought them together above their heads forming their rocket ships. They were allowed to leave their mats and float around the room for a bit coming back to land safely in the sea, on their mats. Here they became a shark, pointing their elbows up like fins and touching their palms together behind their backs. The cobra, or in this case a water snake was next. Coming up into the position we all let out a hiss. The children were instructed to do downward dog then lift one leg up into the air and then the other, then one arm up into the air and then the other. Laying on their backs the children lifted one leg and the opposite arm and then switched and switched again. I was impressed with how well some of the children could do this. Taking turns all the children got to do a backbend with the teachers help. They stood in front of her and she put a blanket behind their backs, they lifted their arms up to the sky and then leaned back onto their hands.
Toward the end of the class there was another song about a butterfly. Sitting on the floor with feet together, creating a triangle between our legs the butterfly moved its wings, knees going up and down. Then the butterfly slept, head to feet, and finally it stretched, legs outward, hands holding feet. The end of the class was rest time and all the children lay down on their mats, resting their heads on blocks. Some of them pulled the mats over themselves. They lay quietly for a few minutes as the teacher read to them a short text about a question they could ask a wizard. I was surprised at how long they were able to stay relatively still.
Overall in my opinion this was a much more successful class than the one at Be In Union Yoga. The children were focused because of the story that ran throughout the lesson. Their attention was held because they could relate to the story and the songs. Everything was on their level and tailored to fit their needs. There was an equal balance between structure and freedom. In our fast paced world today yoga can help children find a small break. I think it lets them relax into themselves and over a period of time can help them become strong and focused human beings.
Be. In Union Yoga. (n.d) Retrieved from http://beinunion.com/
Yoga in the Square. (n.d) Retrieved from (http://www.yogasquare.com/