Forget Those Silly Rocks And Starfish
As far as kids yoga goes, there are a lot of “rocks” and “starfish” (read: child pose and savasana) which is kind of cute but when Jennifer Cohen Harper started Little Flower Yoga she set out to do something different – real yoga, not cutesy yoga.
The idea came to her while working at the Harlem Children’s Zone in 2004. She saw a need for yoga instruction that was not only developmentally appropriate but also responsive to the reality of a child’s life.
Fast-forward nine years and her organization has 18 teachers and 4 staff members who teach classes around New York, offers teacher trainings and workshops and manages The School Yoga Project, which brings mindfulness and yoga practice into NYC schools with affiliates in Westchester and Long Island. What sets this program apart is that it is not a dumbed down version of yoga for the younger set – and they love it.
Recently Jennifer took her years of experience and published it as a book, Little Flower Yoga for Kids: A Yoga and Mindfulness Program to Help Your Child Improve Attention and Emotional Balance. As a yoga teacher and mother of a 4-year-old I was curious to find out what it was all about.
Filled with realistic, black and white illustrations of boys and girls practicing poses like Warrior 1 and Half Moon, Little Flower Yoga For Kids uses the actual names for the poses, which is probably my favorite part! Jennifer stays away from using baby talk to get her point across.
“My thinking is that I want kids to learn the actual names of the poses so that they can have a common language with adults they may encounter who practice yoga. And then my hope is that kids will stick with the practice as they get older because they won’t feel that yoga is “babyish,” she explained.
Good idea, as many moms know, when your child thinks something is “babyish,” that’s the end of that.
Jennifer says that there is no specific age to start teaching yoga and mindfulness to children, so this book is designed to teach the key elements of yoga – to connect, to breathe, to move, to focus and to relax – in a way that is both appealing but not condescending.
Take the phrase, “pay attention.” Parents and teachers say this all the time to little ones – think homework or crossing the street – and kids tend to interpret this as a bad thing. But the truth is, parents and teachers don’t always pay attention either. And the art of paying attention is exactly what yoga is about. It is totally normal for our minds to wander and as yogis we know that to be mindful is to pay attention. This is hard work for anyone at any age!
Jennifer explains that “when adults shift from repeatedly telling a child to “pay attention!” to saying things like “notice if your mind has wandered, and if it has, bring it back to what you are working on” a whole new perspective is created, both for parents, teachers, and kids. So “pay attention” is a practice of becoming more aware and that is what this book is all about.
I loved the ideas presented in the book, but the true test? Would my 4-year-old be into it? We sat down and I watched as he checked it out. The tiny little yogi at work with his shaggy hair falling into his eyes examining every page carefully. I didn’t know which way this was going to go because he has rejected kids yoga in the past calling it “silly” or “not real yoga.” Guess what? He loved it!
There are a lot of words in the beginning, but when he got to the first illustration, of a little boy sitting cross-legged on a mat, he looked up at me and said, “let’s do what he is doing!” So we did what is called Balloon Breath and reached our arms up on the inhale and then crossed our arms around our bodies as we exhaled. We kept going and did every pose that is shown in the book. What a joy to watch this little boy who was subjected to headstands and sun salutations when he was in my belly and has sat for meditation since he was 15 months old, be so into a yoga practice!
Now, my son enjoys doing our yoga routine every day. In the last few weeks, he’s grown in his ability to stand on one foot and relax at the end. As a mom and a yoga teacher, I can’t think of a better endorsement for a kids’ yoga book.
--Lisa Dawn Angerame, for more of Lisa Dawn's writing click here.
All photos by Lynda Shenkman Curtis