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Teaching Yoga To Families In China

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Bobby Clennell Reports On Her Mall Adventure

Senior Iyengar Teacher Bobby Clennell was invited by the Iyengar Yoga Institute of China to come teach for a second time last year. Because of her books, The Woman’s Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle and Watch Me Do Yoga, which is for children, she was scheduled to teach both groups.

The Chinese ignored her pleas that she was not an expert in children’s yoga. YogaCity NYC's Joelle Hann found out about the fun solutions she came up with to solve this nteresting dilemma as she taught her eager students in shopping malls and other places.

Joelle Hann : When did know you were going to be asked to teach kids yoga?

Bobby Clennell: We always work out the topics ahead of time, so I knew they wanted me to teach children. I said I don’t do that. But they decided I was going to do that. Then it took on a life of its own. They start adding things. They said, “Actually, we’re going to do children and parents.” I said, no, but they have a way of gently persuading you… And it turned out to be amazing and such a good idea.

They love children in China but getting children to achieve is big in China. There’s a lot of pressure on young people. So this class was a way for parents to have a good time with their kids. Just spend time together.

JH: But that wasn’t the main point of your trip?

BC: I was really going to teach women’s workshops in three cities Beijing, Hungzhou, Guangzhou. They were all gong to be 3-day womens’ intensives in each one and also some regular yoga classes in Beijing.

Iyengar yogis in China are trying to define themselves—what do we do that other people don’t do? Hatha yoga is huge there and ashtanga is huge there. What’s different about Iyengar yoga? So they wanted me to teach women’s yoga.

But as well, in each city they wanted me to do the children’s class.

Some were in shopping malls. Shopping malls in China are like palaces everywhere you go, sparkling brand new, many are amazing high-end, places. Malls are where people gather and do things.

You have to have permits and permissions from someone to hold events. They had security guards to keep people out of the space. I thought we were going to have the Red Guard! I was disappointed when it was just regular security.

JH: How long were the classes?

BC: Just hour-long classes. You don’t want to teach more than an hour for kids, anyway. I concocted one class that I repeated. In Guangzhou, one was supposed to be for younger kids and one for older--but no one paid any attention.

I worked out a sequence that involved play and fun and stories, and then added to that mix, which is how they teach children in Pune, India. You’re teaching them a posture then repeating and adding another posture so they are building up their intellect. They are remembering sequences—that’s Iyengar’s way of teaching kids.

I mixed that in with ideas like, how do bears walk, now let’s be a bear, now lets be a dog, and so on.

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JH: Using their imaginations and their bodies together— that’s pretty fun.

BC: There were parents there who hadn’t done yoga. And even the ones who had enjoyed the fun. When I was teaching straight yoga, the three-year-olds were totally doing it, holding the posses—this is my downdog, this is my triangle pose, I must turn my foot out in my triangle pose. It was really fun.

In Beijing, they laid out yoga mats side by side in this big space—20 sets of these. We’d asked for older kids but in the end we took whoever. It was tiny teeny kids around 4 year-olds, right up to 11 year-olds. The parents stood on the mat next to the kids, and they did poses at the same time.

Sometimes you’d see the parents encouraging the kids or kids looking for acknowledgement.

JH: Did the parents enjoy it?

BC: The parents were being challenged—straight asana challenges —but when you get a bunch of kids in any space-–whether it’s dance or movement or here it is yoga—it lights the place up. It’s a wonderful thing. Here we were in a huge gleaming state-of-the-art mall, and the security guards were grinning ear to ear. Everyone was drifting over to watch.

JH: Was there any moment that stands out as a highlight?

BC: There was a mother and son—he was about 6 or 7—and we were doing Warrior two where you bend one knee come into a square and stretch your arms out to the side. The mother and her son were facing each other. I was just playing at being a fencer, lunging my front arm forward towards the bent knee and swishing my sword around. Then the mother and the son started doing it to each other. They did it so well that we all stopped and watched them. There were lots of moments like that.

Another one like that, either an adult or a tall kid lies on their back and stretches one leg up into supta padangustasana. The leg that’s up like looks a lot like a crocodile jaw. The activity is to jump through and not get caught. The jaw comes down just as you are getting out.

For little kids, there’s no separation between fantasy and fact—it’s real. That’s a crocodile. So sometimes you have to hold that kids’ hand, especially girls, or stand with them as they jump through. Everybody had great fun.

JH: After your experiences, do you have any plans to teach children’s yoga in the future?

BC: None whatsoever! It’s a specialized form. I think a young person should be teaching little kids. In Pune, it’s Mr. Iyengar’s granddaughter who teaches it. She’s in her 20s.

But if I’m asked, however, I will teach it again. I adore it. It’s the best fun.

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Joelle Hann is a Brooklyn-based writer, yoga teacher, and book doctor. Read more about her at

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