What if your Hatha class took you on a fun-filled journey into an imaginative story? In Nitya’s classes for kids, that’s the reality! Nitya reveals what makes her classes so magical for little ones and shares what she has learned from teaching kid’s Yoga for over 12 years.
Yoga with Nitya: Kid’s Yoga
The format of a Nitya Living Yoga kid’s class is like a fun adventure—there’s a huge storytelling component. What kid’s Yoga offers is the opportunity to step out of day-to-day life and go into the world of imagination. I spend my days in daycare centers and elementary schools taking children on a journey of Yoga, breath, and mindful meditation. One of the big reveals in our winter story is that Farmer Brown’s big brother is Santa Claus. The look on the kids’ faces is priceless as the adventure unfolds. The storytelling takes kids out of the stress of their day. I say stress because educational institutions are demanding and pretty intense for these little kids. There’s a high demand on their behavior and performance. The Yoga class is a space for them to let loose, to channel their energy and find a pocket of peace in their day.
The motivation for teaching kids came from my Integral Yoga teacher training with Vimala Pozzi in 2005 when I heard Swami Satchidananda quoted as saying something like, “If you want to change the world, teach kids Yoga.” That has become both my mission and my passion. The first year of teaching kids was a nightmare. I didn’t know what was wrong but they wouldn’t sit still and listen. One day I overheard singing in an infant class and I had an awakening. What if I sang the class? That was 12 years ago.
In the kid’s Yoga classes we sing the same songs and tell the same stories until they become like old dear friends. Somehow, each time there’s something fresh and authentic. The heart is open, and there’s a Bhakti component.
The flow of the kid’s Yoga class still follows the same sequencing as the Integral Yoga Hatha class, but it’s a little different. I begin class with sounding the singing bowl, which signals for them to sit Crisscross Applesauce and begin mindful breathing. For warm ups, I might say, “See the owl in the tree?” or “A butterfly is in our garden” to guide the kids into a spinal twist or hip opener. For Sun salutations, the kids say hello to the sun and then jump back and lie flat to move into back bends then forward bends, all woven through a story. We practice the locust pose by acting as a grasshopper finding grain or practice plank pose by slinking like a fox. So the kid’s Hatha class has the same skeleton as an adult class, but we bring in other components to make it fun and engaging.
I also incorporate science in the classes by describing seasonal changes in nature, such as the bark thickening on the trees for winter, the ground hardening, and the animals hibernating. The river, which is part of the story for forward bends, will be covered with ice and snow in the winter and then will be rushing in the spring and dry in the summer. The story for Yoga nidra changes with the seasons, too. In the spring there’s a fairy garden party, which is one of my favorites!
To teach more about Yoga philosophy, we’ll do little science experiments. In one we use a glass of water to represent our words and actions, and then we’ll add salt. I’ll ask the kids, “Can you get the salt out of the water?” They might try to pick it out, but they say, “No!” Using that visual, I’ll ask them, “If I kick someone and say ‘I’m sorry,’ does it take that pain away? Or if I call someone a mean name, can I take it back?” It’s a lesson that’s so immediate for them. They get it. We also discuss how it’s the same thing for the self. When you tell yourself negative things, you can’t take that back either.
A big component of the kid’s Yoga classes is mindfulness. Teaching mindfulness to children is really about learning to live in meditation—being focused, present, and aware. I have written two Kid’s Yoga books: one about Yoga diet is fun for families to use when cooking together, Yoga with Nitya Cookbook; Seasonal, Local, Vegetarian Meals for a Healthy Family, and A Child’s Journey into Yoga, which is a chapter book filled with experiential lessons about a girl who grows up learning to live Yoga through the Sutras of Patanjali. We also practice a mindful eating exercise and different ways of using mindfulness, such as in partner Yoga.
So for the Yoga with Nitya training, what you’re learning is my original library of songs and Yoga story adventures plus all these fun exercises to expound on the philosophy of Yoga. The training also includes information on teaching special populations, how to develop a kids’ program in your area, and so much more. It really is very comprehensive and delivered with authenticity, passion, and wisdom.