Here we are. My yoga mats are beautifully assembled in a perfect circle in the middle of the sports hall. The singing bowl is ready to spread tranquility during shavasana, my Enchanted Wonder cards by my side for extra fun - I feel sufficiently equipped with all the tools needed to bring serenity and love into the school environment,
Today it is my after school club for 4 - 7 year olds, and somehow this term all bar one are boys. And what do boys do when faced with a huge open space? That’s right, they drop everything on the spot and start running like the little maniacs they are. “Iris, Iris, can you hold my tooth?” A small hand passes me a little gauze bag before I can decline, and its owner is off in a plume of smoke. The bowl gets a bashing, 2 boys take a liking to the same mat and have a fight over it, and the little girl starts crying.
At last I solved the little girls problem and she snuggles sniffling on my lap, everyone else sits in a circle (apart from the ones that roll themselves up into their mat), I have handed out the apples, almost all children have been to the toilet, and beautiful chinese boy tells me that he is bored and wants to go home. Everyone heartily agrees. We haven't even started yet - welcome to the world of children’s yoga.
Here is the wonderful thing: Even if it does not look like it to the casual observer, this class manages to have a beautiful yoga practice every time. The moment they place their hands into Namaste and chant Om is like a long selective sigh. The clapping and chanting, which quickly becomes a competition and needs to be abandoned has everyone focussed and they stretch their little arms as high as they can. 2 minutes of peace achieved. Sun Salutations tumble into minor mayhem ('I don’t love my toes, I hate them'), but about 3 of the 15 follow with serious expressions and a proud sense of achievement.
On to tree posture. Blind boy, who moves towards the wall for this one, has an uncanny ability to wait until I stand on one leg and start singing before he tends to ask me a disruptive question. Today he explains from behind me that he already knows how to do tree, and that he'll do headstand instead.
Before the class can follow his example, someone breaks out into a wail. Tooth boy, who has sneaked his hands into my box and taken out his gauze bag to play with has now lost his tooth. I dislodge blind boy from his head stand and join 15 children crawling around the hall floor looking for the unruly incisor, without success. We promptly turn this into a game of cat-cow, crawling backwards, resting in child and moving into down dog to see if we can find the tooth like that. Defeated we return to our mats to sing the butterfly song and stretch our legs. This time 2 different children do this with gusto - the rest roll over each other like puppies.
The thing to remember is that most of these mini yogis have not actually chosen to be here. Their parents needed the extra hour of childcare and thought yoga might calm them down before they pick them up, job done. At 3:30pm after a long day at school they are exhausted, hungry, and just ready to go home. No matter what fun I prepare, someone will have a more interesting way of doing it. You can bet your bottom dollar that one of the tissues I handed out for Kapalabhati breath will be smeared across another childs face. Because little children experiment with boundaries at all times and are really REALLY interested in disgusting things.
If I bring out the Enchanted Wonder cards, often every card needs to be explored front to back before I even get to explain my plan. Does it matter? Not really, seeing that everyone is busy copying the pose shown on their card, and one boy helps the little ones who cannot read yet. Over the course of the hour everyone does some form of stretching, deep breathing and interacts with others.
When I first started teaching, I had a little boy in my class who never participated. Not one bit. No clapping, no moving, no singing, no shavasana. He kneeled quietly on his mat and only occasionally told me off when he thought I did something wrong (yes, really). The others quickly became used to it, and we let him be, although I did wonder if I should speak to his parents - I did not want them to waste their money if their child did not like yoga. Imagine my surprise on parent watch day, when his mum came up to me and thanked me personally: “N. just LOVES yoga! He does it at home all the time and he always shows us how to do it”. I am still very grateful for this moment, because it allowed me to stop worrying and start trusting that yoga will just work.
In Shavasana (Yay, story time!) only about 2 children actually lie still. One still moves about and needs to be taken aside so he doesn’t hurt anyone who is lying down. Some continue talking, some roll into their mats again, some poke each other until everyone resolves in helpless giggles. But then the sound of the singing bowl magically stops them in their tracks. Open-eyed or eyes squeezed shut, everyone becomes completely still. For 30 seconds - today this is the moment the dinner lady chooses to roll a trolly full of napkins through the hall, followed in short succession by the cleaner with a hoover, the security manager and someone trying to dislodge the table tennis table from the cupboard. A last joined Om, and the room erupts into chaos as everyone tries to find their shoes, bags, jackets, letters. I stand ready with the register and handing out biscuits for everyone who can put their shoes on by themselves or asks for help nicely. The motivational prospect of a single biscuit at the end of a task is nothing short of a miracle in this group. I am just a tad tired and close my eyes for a second with a deep breath, when I hear a cry of delight: “Iris! I found my tooth!” All is well in the world today.