How did you first get interested in yoga? My mom is a yoga instructor. Growing up I remember her coming to my preschool once and teaching yoga animal poses like lion pose. Throughout my childhood, I remember her doing yoga poses and teaching classes, but it still was “her” thing. In high school, I started going to her yoga classes, and it really helped me deal with some of the stress of SAT’s, AP exams, college choices, etc. I’ve been practicing ever since.
What change has yoga made in your life? I think that yoga has made me more aware of how my body is feeling moment to moment. I am naturally a bit of an anxious person, so it has taught me to reconnect with my breath anytime I need centering. It has also taught me to pause, either in a yoga pose or with meditation and relaxation. Life is so “busy with busy-ness”, and it is easy to get caught up in it all, forgetting who you are and what you want your life to be. Yoga helps me reconnect with my true nature, of peace, love, and calm.
What inspired you to begin teaching yoga to children? I have always loved kids. I started babysitting and camp counseling when I was a pre-teen, so I was very comfortable around kids. I loved their joyful enthusiasm and found it sometimes easier to relate to kids than adults. I loved getting wrapped up in their world of imagination — playing pretend, telling stories, singing silly songs. In my twenties, I was laid off from a job during the dotcom bubble, and it caused me to do some soul searching about my dharma and what I was truly meant to do. I was practicing a lot of yoga, and reading a lot of Yoga Journal magazines when I saw an ad for a YogaKids Certification training. A lightbulb went off — I loved yoga and I loved kids, so why not combine the two? I took the training, and began teaching yoga to kids.
How would you describe your teaching style? Playful! Kids yoga is all about making it fun! We play games, sing songs, tell stories, and play with fun toys, all while doing yoga poses, breathing exercises and relaxations/guided imagery. I think the sign of a good kids yoga class is one that is filled with smiles and laughter, along with balancing, focusing, and relaxing!
Even when I teach adults, I like to make it fun. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the meditative, spiritual side of yoga and take it all so seriously, but I think it’s important to keep a sense of humor about it all, too. If something isn’t fun, it’s hard to commit to it.
What’s the idea behind your new book, Imaginations: Fun Relaxation Stories and Meditations for Kids? Imaginations is all about relaxation for children. Kids learn from adults, and we are having a harder and harder time carving out time to relax in a busy day, no less maintain a feeling of relaxation throughout the day. But more and more research is coming out that says we are smarter and more productive when we are relaxed. So this book is an attempt to teach kids how to relax, by progressively relaxing each part of their bodies, and then using relaxing images to help calm their minds. It’s meant to be a tool for parents and teachers, and used at bedtime, in the classroom, or anytime that a child needs some downtime. It’s also especially helpful for children that have anxiety, autism, ADD, and other special needs.
Can you give us an example of one of the imaginations from the book? Lots of the stories are based on relaxing environments — the beach, the forest, looking at the night sky, under the ocean, for example. This one is my favorite, though, and it focuses on love:
What response have you gotten so far from the children and their parents who have given Imaginations a try? The response has been very positive. The kids yoga teacher community has embraced the book, and many yoga teachers are using it in their kids yoga classes. I’ve been told by parents that is a “lifesaver” at bedtime and really helps their children wind down for a good night’s sleep. I’ve also heard from parents with kids that have anxiety issues, ADD and autism that it has been helpful for them too. Kids have responded very sweetly to the book, and seem to really love a story called “Finger Lights”. All of the stories were kid-tested in my kids yoga classes, so they were edited with a child in mind.
How important do you think it is for parents to select organic food and to buy organic clothing and household goods when possible? I think it is very important. Children’s systems are sensitive to pesticides, and we need to protect them from those toxins when their brains and bodies are still developing. I also think that choosing organic foods and products is one of the ways that we can show love for children — we are voting with our wallets and protecting the world that they will inherit from us.
What was the most memorable experience you’ve had while teaching yoga to children? What’s great about teaching yoga is that every class is memorable, and it makes me appreciate each moment while I’m teaching. Kids usually come into class with a bouncing, almost frenetic energy. We work with that energy and do active poses. As their energy is burnt off, we transition into balancing and calming poses. Finally we end with a relaxation and guided imagery story. I still get goosebumps when I see a group of 5-year-olds lying in savasana at the end of class, with their bodies very still, and all you can hear is the sound of their breathing. My husband calls it “child whispering”.
What do you think is the most important benefit that children can get from yoga? There are so many benefits of children’s yoga, so it is hard to choose one. I think the most important benefit, though, is relaxation. This isn’t something that we are always teaching kids, and I think they are suffering from modeling our go-go-go mentality. Yoga gives them a place to pause and relax, and really take some time to marvel at how amazing the human body is. “It can balance on one leg! It can stand on its hands! It can lie very still and not move at all!” Yoga gives them a chance to be kind to their bodies, and it tells them that it is healthy to take some time to relax. This leads to a life-long habit that will lead to happier, more balanced adults.
Carolyn Clarke is a second-generation yoga and meditation instructor. She has taught yoga and relaxation to kids since 2002, including scout troops, sports teams, classrooms, and even entire schools—over one thousand children and counting. She also trains adults on how to teach yoga to kids. She currently lives with her husband in San Diego, California. You can learn more about Carolyn at the website for her book, Imaginations: Fun Relaxation Stories and Meditations for Kids.