Children can start learning Iyengar yoga from age 6. What’s it like to teach them? London-based Junior Intermediate Level 2 teacher Suzanne Gribble talks about her experience:
“I’ve been teaching children for over four years and love it! I teach at a local primary school, currently two classes after school, with 12 – 14 children in each class. Nine months ago I set up a private Saturday class for teenagers. I have learnt a tremendous amount and by experiencing yoga through their eyes it has given me a different and valuable perspective.
Children are naturally curious, asking questions and eager to learn and so the classes are varied, unpredictable and fun too. At times it can be challenging, especially teaching those less keen or it’s their parents’ idea (rather than the children) for them to do yoga to calm them down! However, in time those individuals peter out and I’m left with a delightful group of young practitioners, returning each week, each term, keen to progress, hungry for more.
I vary the sessions, keep them active and ensure there’s plenty of fun to be had by all. We’ll always start seated to quieten down after the busy school day and then stand to move first the hands and arms, feet and legs, then running and jumping on the spot to let out some energy after sitting in lessons. Surya Namaskara is always popular as are standing poses and balances and Sarvangasana is a firm favourite, though we don’t hold it for long due to lack of props. Back bends come easier to most children over forward bends as surprisingly many are unable to touch their toes, either in standing or seated forward bends. The preconceived idea that children are flexible is far from true; today’s lifestyle and heavy use of electronic gadgets and sitting on chairs rather than on the floor, many children tend to be stiffer than the stiff adults that I teach, proving that yoga for children is more essential than ever.
I enjoy teaching some poses which adults generally find more challenging, such as Adho Mukha Vrksasana which is naturally loved by most children and other hand/arm balances; some who can stay quiet and still enough are managing Sirsasana.
The sessions are creative; they love story telling through poses and making up their own stories and poses and demonstrating these to each other. They are also keen on learning the Sanskrit names and are quick to repeat them out loud. It’s not recommended to teach Pranayama to children though I bring their attention to the breath; sometimes I introduce games with straws and cotton wool balls for them to explore inhalation and exhalation! I have used resources for my teaching such as the invaluable book Yoga for Children by Swati and Rajiv Chanchani, though I have generally developed my own methodsMy experiences of children in Savasana are varied. While some are unable to shut their eyes at all, or screw them up tightly, are restless or wriggling and giggling, others are able to lie still and relax for a few minutes, seemingly unaware of the noises around them.
At the end of each class we have a Yogi of the Week who takes home Yoga Ted (a soft toy bear) until the following week; this works really well as most are keen to strive to be chosen, even the older children!
The teens classes are quieter and structured similarly to an adult class, and the students – all currently girls – are keen to progress and develop in their practice. Many of them are actively involved in competitive sports such as athletics and swimming and some are dancers too so the classes have proved a good counterbalance. While some have very stiff hamstrings, shoulders and upper backs and find the poses pretty challenging, others are very flexible and hyper extend so I need to watch and instruct them carefully.
Most rewarding for me is seeing children enjoying yoga, eagerly telling me they are practising at home and watching their progress; progress not only in their asanas but in their concentration, strength, stamina, confidence and understanding, also that yoga is not competitive and appreciating and respecting each other for who they are. Finally, the knowledge that I have played a tiny part in planting a seed, a love of yoga, I hope and believe will continue into adulthood.”
Some comments from children:
‘Before I didn’t think I would like yoga but you made me like it’ (age 10)
‘Yoga Ted loves your skills in yoga and your lovely classes’ (age 7)
‘I loved your yoga. Yoga is fun’ (age 7)
Check out Suzanne’s profile and classes here