A Heart-Felt Experience with children at the Deaf and Blind Society.

Listening to the footsteps outside and the unusual hush that settled over the school, I sensed this would be no ordinary yoga class. The Royal Society for deaf and blind children had contacted me about running a yoga class for blind children from all over Australia who would be attending a camp.

The organiser thought that yoga would be a great addition but was concerned whether it could be done in a way that these children could follow.

This presented a new challenge in teaching children’s yoga. Yoga classes for children are very different from adult’s yoga classes. They often involve partner work or group games, and the asana and movement segments are shorter and may be themed or linked to a story. Classes are much more interactive, descriptive and have shorter verbal instructions. Many of the ‘fun’ activities and yoga games for children are based on props, and being able to see is taken for granted. Children’s yoga classes are this way for very good reasons – to engage, to captivate, to take kids on journeys with their bodies, to manage short attention spans as well as short energy bursts. The more animated and visual we make the classes, the more children seem to be interested and 99% of the time they mirror what movement the teacher is doing from very short verbal cues, such as ‘cobra, cat, dog!’ without the long description of how to get there.

One could never imagine how moving it is to hear the story of these children’s lives. Prior to delivering the class, the camp provided a short biography on each student. I felt like I was meeting them for the first time. I learned about their personalities, how Tom was a chatterbox and very cheeky and Ellie laughed a lot, was kind but missed her friends. There was Henry who was also outgoing and talkative, but was becoming more withdrawn as he got older and school work was becoming more challenging with no support in the remote Queensland community he came from. They suffered from back pain or shoulder and neck tension from the struggle to see small print or the long hours spent over homework and the lack of physical activity. The more I read, the more the impact of being a visually impaired child in schools or societies with little or no support became apparent. Nearly every one of them suffered from anxiety and stress, lack of confidence, isolation and fear. My heart ached for them. I had a feeling that I was there to provide more than simply a class of movement or games.

I arrived at the school. Moments later little faces peered around the door. In came two courageous 10 year old girls who with outstretched hands touched my shoulders and hair and exclaimed, “What beautiful long hair!” My heart melted. The rest of the class and the boisterous boys followed.

The group couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about their yoga class and eagerly sat in close to listen. Little smiles appeared as soon as we started moving and they realised we were going to have fun. An instant discovery was how quickly this group of children became tired. One teacher explained that the energy required to concentrate was immense and that because they want to get everything right they focus so intensely. What a relief it must have been to learn that yoga is an experience and not something in which we have to be ‘perfect’.

Soon the class slowed pace to learn yoga breathing: simple belly breathing. We felt our bellies rise and fall, breathed in the new and out the old, counted our breaths, assigned our breath a colour and collected all our worries and fears and breathed them out. You could have heard a pin drop. The amazement of the teachers was palpable as they watched the children they know so well become calm within minutes of starting yoga.

Eventually, after many movements for backs, necks and shoulders, and some fun partner work, we moved into relaxation. I lost my mat at this moment to a shy girl in the class who had been my partner and who found it was the perfect place for her relaxation. How could I complain?

Everyone slipped into their relaxation, lying on their backs with their little palms turned up, visualising a happy place in their minds that was just perfect. A little voice from the back of the room murmured: “Oh, it’s sooo beautiful!” Again my heart melted. Parents and teachers looked on, while stress melted from each child’s face and they experienced the quiet, still, happy place inside of themselves.

I am constantly reminded, whether teaching in schools, daycare centres, primary schools, high schools, special needs children or children with disabilities, that our role as children’s yoga teachers is so much more than movement; that we are here to provide a space where children can experience the beauty, love and uniqueness of who they truly are.

Australian Yoga Life: Sept-Nov 2015 – Issue 40