Have the Courage to Stop

This weekend was one of my training weekends for my 200hr teaching qualification.  So yesterday I spent the majority of the day talking (or listening to be more precise) yoga philosophy with James Boag.  It was a wonderful experience as James is inspirational yet practical, informative and interesting, plus very knowledgeable.  He said something (actually he said many things, but this one in particular has been running around my head ever since) that resonated with me, “Have the courage to pause, to stop”.

It sounds so simple to take a break, but the reality can be so much harder.  There is always so much Stuff That Has To Be Done.  It never ends.  My partner tells me to take a break, but how can I take a break when I still need to do all of the things on my to do list? When there are shoes on the floor and crayons ascreen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-10-11ll over the table?  I never stop.  This is why I need yoga, yoga is my pause, and yet I’ve begun to feel that this is not enough.  So tonight I am sitting here, I am not looking at my to do list, I am not looking at my emails, I am not looking at facebook.  I am going to write this and then I am going to stop.  I am going to sit and do nothing for ten minutes, and then I am going to read my book.  And do you know what, I am going to really enjoy it.

Are these endless lists of ours really important?  Will the world end if we don’t complete the tasks on them?  Off the top of my head, there are about 5 things on my to do list for today.  One of them is to plan my Christmas party, one of them is to look for a new desk.  Do I need to do these things today?  Of course not.  I already have a plan for the party in my head, so what I really mean by writing ‘plan Christmas party’ is make another ten or so to do lists to stress about.  I don’t actually have the room where my desk will be painted yet, so even if I did find one that I like, I wouldn’t be able to buy this yet.  I’m beginning to think that when my partner tells me that I give myself so much extra work to do, he might be right (but shhh, don’t tell him!).  How much of your life do you spend doing things so you can relax later?  So you can be happy later?  So you have more time later?  I know that I spend a lot of time thinking like this.  But does it ever happen?  Future happiness is a myth, really there is only one place we can be happy and that is now.  Have the courage to stop.

And it does take courage.  It takes a lot to step back and say no, I’m not going to keep rushing forwards, I’m going to take a moment to pause, to reflect, to consider whether I actually want to be rushing forwards righscreen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-11-25t now.  Maybe I don’t, maybe once I’ve had time to think about it I really want to move sideways instead, or round in a circle, there are always different paths we can take.  But sometimes it’s hard to see them.  We can’t always hear the directions, there is so much noise in the world around us.  If we take a chance, if we stop, we might find some stillness, some quietness, and in this quietness we might find our way.

Here’s a scene from my life.  It’s late afternoon, I’m tired, my girls are tired, and it’s still hours till bedtime.  Everyone is grumpy, someone starts to get upset, someone starts to shout, I try to distract them with an activity and fail, I try to distract them with a snack, this works for a moment but not for long.  I try a book, a toy, a different book, a different toy… each one may provide a few moments of distraction but it doesn’t solve the problem.  And yet I keep going, getting more and more fraught as I offer more and more distractions.  What might happen if I tried something different?  If, in the midst of this chaos, I paused, sat down, closed my eyes, started to breathe?  Well I’m pretty certain that the initial reaction from my yoga babies would be to shout at me for ignoring them, but I’m also pretty certain that after a couple of minutes a couple of things would probably start to happen.  One, I would start to feel calmer and more able to dscreen-shot-2016-11-27-at-20-11-53eal with the situation in front of me, I might even get a bright idea for how to get through the rest of the day with all of us in one piece!  Two, my girls would feel my calmness, they might even join in with my breathing, they would definitely have to stop and think (“What is mummy doing?  Why is she doing that?  When is she going to stop and read more stories?”).  And this would be good for everyone.

So I’m going to set myself a challenge.  This week, I’m going to take time everyday to stop.  Each morning I’m going to set myself an achievable set of tasks for the day and each evening, I am going to stop.  I am going to enjoy the life I am living now, not the life I may be living next week, next month or next year.  Each day, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, torn or unsure about what to do, I am going to stop.  I am going to pause until I know where to go next.  And if I never work out where to go next?  Well I suppose I will just keep pausing, I will listen for my little light inside, and maybe one day I will hear it.  For now though, it’s enough to simply pause every now and again, to find that stillness, that quietness.  Stop.14590394_1118954984886607_3808364250058686992_n

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On a mission to explore, rescue and protect

My weekly family class are always involved with choosing our themes and adventures for their yoga classes.  It’s pushed me to try new things and be creative with my lesson plans, and so far requests have included Star Wars yoga, How to Train your Dragon yoga and My Little Pony yoga!  So when I mentioned an under the sea adventure they requested the Octonauts.  Luckily yoga babies 1 and 2 have developed a bit of an Octonauts obsession recently after borrowing a DVD from the local library, so I didn’t have to do too much research.

Our adventure started in the Octopod, where Kwazii and Peso were just waking up.  So we did some wake up stretches and yawns, a great way to get children to take big deep breaths.  Then we followed our Octonauts to the games room, where they played a game of football… Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever tried to play football like a penguin, but I can assure you it is not easy.  It is lots of fun though!  Suddenly we heard the Octoalert and all the Octonauts were summoned to the control bay.

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Octonauts character cards

I’d printed and laminated some cards with pictures of the different main characters so we used these, picking one character at a time and learning a yoga pose based in that animal.  Some of these were very easy to think of (downward dog for Dashi dog), others took a little more imagination (I eventually decided on happy baby pose for Shellington the sea otter).  It was great to see how the kids responded to the familiar characters, everyone was trying the different poses and the youngest children were so excited to be meeting their favourite adventurers.

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Yoga Baby number 1 working on her bunny hops for Tweak bunny

We talked about how the Octonauts have a mission to explore, rescue and protect, so we have to be brave as we explore and we have to be kind and careful to make sure all the sea life is looked after.  Then we started our mission.

I choose a few sea animals and for each animal we learnt the corresponding pose and then had to do something to help that animal.  For the dolphin we learnt dolphin pose, and then had to sit very still and quiet so as not to interfere with his sonar.  Our shark had toothache, so we looked for a little fish that could come and clean his teeth for him.

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Dolphin pose
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Shark pose

After helping 3 or 4 animals out our Octonauts saw something strange swimming past, it looked a little bit like a girl and a little bit like a fish.  It turned out to be a mermaid, who took us down to the very bottom of the sea, where we found a shipwreck (boat pose) that Kwazii was sure would contain hidden treasure.  In the shipwreck we found a treasure chest (butterfly pose), but it was closed tight.  We had to close our eyes and concentrate very hard on the work ‘open’… and it worked!  Our treasure chest sprang open to reveal a magical lotus flower that gave us one wish.  We held our hands in lotus mudra whilst making a wish before throwing our wishes out to the universe.

Finally we began our journey home.  Waving goodbye to the Octonauts we floated slowly up to the surface of the water, coming out into the warm sunshine.  We lay back on the surface of the water, floating on the gentle waves under the sunshine, closed our eyes and let our bodies relax.  When the children opened their eyes they were thrilled to find that the mermaid had left them each their own magical lotus flower to take away home with them as a reminder of their magical journey.

Now they’ve requested a Ninjago yoga lesson…. I need to put my thinking cap on for that one!

Why I teach Yoga to toddlers

One of the comments I most often receive is in response to telling people I teach toddler yoga, and usually runs along the lines of “Oh, my little one wouldn’t do yoga, he won’t stay still long enough”.  The fact is that teaching yoga to toddlers is challenging, I have found the most difficult age group to plan for and to work with is those little people aged from around 10 months to 20 months.  But it is possible.

You have to revisit your ideas of what yoga is, and how a yoga class will look.  Yoga with toddlers will not involve much stillness, or much quietness (although there is time for both of those in every lesson).  We 12439000_944317335683707_1128689266894615687_nmay not do very many poses that you would recognise from a traditional yoga class.  We will not be talking about alignments or thinking too much about how to do the poses correctly (although we will check that everyone is doing their poses safely).  What we will be doing is moving (lots), singing, laughing, cuddling, massaging, and having fun.

Toddlers will not always join in with everything in a yoga class (or anywhere else).  They are busy learning about how to be independent, and part of that involves them starting to assert their own opinions on things.  A toddler has a mission to explore the world around them, learning so much from their explorations, so we will see them moving around the room seeking things of interest.  A hole in the wall may need a long and thorough investigation, a curtain will provide hours of entertainment, a particular mark on the floor can be stared at for ages.  But wherever they are and whatever they are doing, these children are aware of everything around them.  They are constantly learning and absorbing, and even when it can feel that they are not involved with the class at all, they will suddenly surprise you later by doing a pose, or singing a song from that class.WHY_013

WHY_043When teaching this age, you have to be flexible.  I always plan my lessons, I plan our theme, our adventure, our songs and our poses.  But I can teach the ‘same’ lesson 4 times a week, and every time it will be different.  I try to watch the children, see their cues, judge their moods, work out whether the next activity will work just now or if we need to move about first.  Can we start doing some individual poses or do the children need a minute to connect with their parent first.  Is everyone full or energy, or are they actually getting tired and need to quieten down.  I don’t always get things right, but I am always learning, and the more I work with this age group the easier it gets.

It will never be easy though.  Toddlers like to keep you on your toes.  One week they will suddenly decide that they no longer like the cat and mouse game that has been a favourite for months.  Going upside down will always change the mood and result in giggles except for one particular afternoon, when itWHY_039 just doesn’t work.  There will be days when they just want to sit, days when they just want to cuddle, days when they just want to scream.  But even on these days when it seems that nothing is going right, children will take comfort from the familiar routine and activities.  I always use the same hello song, the same structure for class, the same activities to signal relaxation, the same goodbye song.  Young children feel secure when they know what is coming next.

And what about the days when I finish a class, exhausted, and wondering whether I have actually achieved anything?  Well then I take a breath, I look at my own children, I look at the children I teach.  I see how happy they are, how secure they are, what a loving relationship they share with their parents.  I see the child who was racing around the room 5 minutes previously now lying still next to his mum.  I see the little one (who has spent the last 20 minutes hiding under a table) crawl over to her mum who’s lying in savasana and rest her head briefly on her chest.  I see the parent who arrived hassled and rushed lying down, completely relaxed, eyes closed and a smile on her face.  And I know that it’s worth it. _MG_8134