Monday, March 9, 2009

Asia Life article - Kids Love Yoga

I have taken over the Next Generation column of a local magasine called Asia Life. Here is March's edition.. sorry, yoga again!!! But with great photos!

Kids love yoga. Any parent who practices at home knows this. Just roll out your mat and they’ll gravitate towards it, along with all household pets, the occasional frog, a gecko or two... It is not only children’s innate, irresistible, primal urge to stretch, wiggle and contort their body into every conceivable shape and form that draws them to yoga. Often they simply want to curl up in your lap and absorb your peace. Either way, it can only be beneficial. Especially in hot, noisy, stress-inducing Phnom Penh, where the opportunities and spaces for letting our children run wild remain scarce. Yoga provides the perfect escape, as my four-year-old daughter Jemima taught me not long ago.

We were quietly picking our way through the rubbish and dead rats that adorn our walk to school, all efforts at conversation having been drowned out by the noise of cutting metal from the building sites along the way, when she unexpectedly transported us to a beautiful island.

“The pavement is the beach, Mummy, and when it ends, we’re not falling into the road. We are jumping and splashing about in the sea! The motor bikes are sharks... friendly sharks though.” A Hummer roared by. “And the cars are whales”.

The Tuk-Tuks were fishing boats, from which we ordered our dinner, fresh fish for that evening. Every so often one of us tripped on a friendly crab, or an empty coconut shell fallen from a palm that fringed the warm, white sands. All we could hear was the lapping of the gentle waves on the shore, the call of the birds in the trees, and a soft breeze rustling the leaves. I bet you feel calmer just reading about it.

This same island paradise got her through 30 minutes of teeth-extracting hell at the dentist a few days later. Grown men would have been howling, all coping mechanisms buried deeply beneath years of accumulated baggage. My daughter breathed.

Without having to think about it, (let alone lie down on the therapist’s couch), Jemima had found a way of creating the exact conditions she needed in order to maintain her relaxed, centred, happy state of being, rather than allowing herself to be at the mercy of her less desirable external environment. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much what yoga is all about. The word itself, coming from the Sanskrit word jugit, means to unite. The practice of yoga, which incorporates breath, movement and meditation, is essentially about achieving a happy union of mind, body and soul. About feeling whole, and at one with God, the Supreme Consciousness, the Infinite.

If yoga isn’t something you do at home but you would like your child to stay connected to his or her inner constancy, peace and joy, you will be happy to hear that if there is one thing Phnom Penh is full of, it is yoga classes for kids. Teachers take the children on magical adventures through forests, oceans and jungles. They fly like butterflies, growl like lions, dance like monkeys! They grow from tiny seeds to big beautiful trees. They do just about anything the imagination allows – every yoga posture can be turned into something that fits in the story!

The physical stretch and workout they get is wonderfully beneficial, and could not be more natural. All of us have, in our life time, regularly practiced each of the 84 postures that exist in yoga. Yes, you too. As a baby in the womb. But even more important is the sense of peace, grounding and self-love that each child gains through their yoga practice.

Some yoga classes start with the chanting of the mantra Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, which in Sanskrit means “I honour the one creative consciousness, I honour the divine wisdom within.” Or, as six-year-old Shawna puts it: “I am saying hello to the teacher in my heart. Which means, I have the answers within”.

As Anya Weil, my own yoga teacher and constant source of inspiration, explains, yoga gives children tools for growing into self-confident individuals able to fulfill their unique potential in life, while always in harmony with their spiritual selves:

“When I do yoga with children, I am profoundly aware of their future. Children's yoga does not pull or demand, it guides and plays. It is a means of physical and spiritual expression, of development. As responsible parents, we focus on social and mental development in a healthy constructive environment but children's yoga offers a means for the union of the child's physical and spiritual elements as well. Yoga builds these core bases upon which they will make their individual ways through life. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be a part of their journey. It reminds me of my own path, my own journey.”

Uplifting songs and meditations fill the children with positive affirmation. “I am the light of my soul, I am bountiful. I am beautiful. I am bliss” is the one Jemima sings herself to sleep with every night.

“I am happy! I am good!” is another favourite mantra, though Archie, three and ever the realist, prefers “I am happy! I am sad!”

Expatriate children are not the only ones benefiting from yoga in Phnom Penh. Several NGOs now incorporate it into their programme. It can be especially healing for children who have suffered trauma. Roza, 14, was recently evicted from her home in the Dey Krahorm area of Phnom Penh. “Yoga makes me feel good. When I am sad I can do yoga and forget about things. It feels lovely”.

At the end of their adventures the children lie down and have the opportunity to drift into a deep relaxation. Guided visualisations help them to truly relax and be still, even for a few minutes at a time, though they often stay there for longer than you’d expect.

I have never seen children sit so still and look as serene as I have in kid’s yoga classes. Over time, those who come with behavioural issues, stress or unmanageable temper tantrums seem like different children, so much calmer, so much happier. Really, when you watch children practice yoga it is easy to imagine a world without war.

Yoga for kids in Phnom Penh
Anya Weil teaches yoga to two-to five-year-olds at the Giving Tree School both as part of the curriculum and in their after school programme. See for details.

ISPP has yoga classes for 5-8 year olds. See for details.

Georgie teaches yoga for 3-6 year-olds at Gecko and Garden Pre-school on Tuesdays at 330. Please call 092575431 for details.

The Kundalini Yoga House teaches yoga for children and adolescents from the Aziza
School in the Tonle Bassac resettlement area. See for details.


Ann-Marie Dewhurst said...

I love this. I definately need to bring yoga into our lives. Inspiring article Georgie. xxx

A Team Zim said...

This is great blogging and it's wonderful to catch up with you guys through cyber space! Let's stay in touch...

A Team Zim said...

This is serious blogging, well done and lovely to catch up this way ... let's stay in touch.

Ann-Marie Dewhurst said...

In fact Georgie, I was looking back to your post about not writing anymore (last summer). I know you are busy relocating this year, but I was wondering if I may plant a seed? If you're ever in the space to create a collaborative book/idea with me...come find me.Hope you're all well. xxx

Georgie said...

Oooh, interesting! Email me more???? Only just seen this comment by the way, so sorry! xxx

yoga for beginners said...

Children must know the benefits of yoga. Encourage them and show as the model of yoga. :)