I came to South Africa to ‘do me’- surf, get some sun, relax, explore. It’s just that, I’m not very good at surfing, I’m really bad at relaxing, and I burn in like 15 minutes here- not quite what I thought would happen. So, someone found out I’m a yoga teacher and asked me to teach some classes at a school in one of the townships.
My first week teaching was a disaster. Kids didn’t listen, I couldn’t control the classes, I got tackled at the end of one class, hair pulled, and knocked over while teaching. No mats, no props- just a dark classroom and concrete play area outside (with shards of glass floating around). After researching yoga for kids and recharging over a weekend, I came up with a plan.
Teaching yoga to children is absolutely the last thing I thought I’d be doing, and I surely didn’t think I’d love it. Quite frankly, I know nothing about children, I’m more comfortable with adults in every scenario. Nonetheless, I’ve fallen in love with the experience and there’s nothing I’d rather do that bring kindness and mindfulness to children who’ve been exposed to violence in the township.
Here’s what I’ve learned- kids have a 15-20 minute attention span max, so yoga for kids needs to be modified to meet that. Kids love noise. All poses are done with noise (loud breathing, animal noises) and they eat it up. Om is a huge hit and really calms kids down (insert comments about loving kindness and breathing instead of hitting). Down time is a disaster – constant movement is key. Oh, and the kids think my name is Namaste- not sure how to fix that.
By practicing loving kindness we can create an environment where breathing replaces yelling and hitting. Teachers and students alike benefit from yoga. I’ve learned a lot as a township yoga teacher about myself, yoga, and kids. I may not be able to change the conditions people live in, but I can help influence how they respond to them.