Yoga and early childhood teaching have more in common than you would think! After having over a decade of experience in both disciplines, much of what I have learnt from the philosophy of Yoga has informed the way I carry myself and approach different dynamics and situations in the classroom.
I hope you enjoy reading about my discoveries!
Although the physical practice of yoga can offer muscular strength and release, flexibility and clarity of mind, it ultimately teaches us how to apply what we learn from the mat, to our lives.
I have identified four key elements in the practice that can inform classroom practices. The first element is breath. If the breath is short, sharp and lacks flow in the practice, we will eventually notice that the posture will look and feel similar. It will lack integrity and feel unsteady. One of the reasons may be that the mind is pressuring the body to do something it is actually incapable of doing. In a ‘real life’ scenario, if the breath is unsteady, we are generally anxious or stressed about something. Generally, a thought will trigger an emotion which will generate a physiological response. It is important to recognise when our breathing has been impeded and what has caused it to. I know myself that when I am attempting to control a situation in the classroom, or when I am feeling frustrated or challenged, my breath becomes rapid and I feel overwhelmed. This element of the practice has taught me the importance of breathing through challenges and breath and movement synchronicity. When I am breathing evenly, my response to the children becomes less hostile and much more calm. My mantra – breathe; you are only capable of doing one thing at a time.
The second element is transition. In the practice, the way we transition into a posture is almost as important as the posture itself! The transition dictates the depth of the posture that proceeds it. A transition is an approach; an attitude. If it lacks focus and intention, the posture will too. It thus becomes an outcome of our transition. Relating this to the classroom is interesting! Transitions can be some of the most challenging parts of the day, especially when there are 15-20 children to guide to the bathroom before lunch! Now, if the transitions in the yoga practice give us any perspective about our classroom practices, it can teach us that in order to meet the next posture (activity) with minimal stress, we must ensure that the transition is calm, focused and intentional. Transitions can play a bigger part than we are aware of! My mantra, transition with intent.
The third element is the posture itself. The activity we are engaging the children in. Much like the posture, we want to be able to reside in a place of steadiness and comfort (in Yoga Sthira and Sukha) rather than stress and anxiety. So, up until this point, if we are breathing, our transition has been smooth and controlled then there is a good chance that the experience we are leading towards will be a reflection of this. As much as it would be nice to have control over everything, we cannot determine how each child is going to engage with the activity we provide. Some may resonate really well with it, others may not. Just like a posture. Perhaps if you have open hips, a squatting position may come naturally to you and feel quite easy or pleasant however, if your hamstrings are really tight, a forward fold will feel like hell! We can only create the environment, not the outcome. It is not easy. Being an early childhood educator requires patience, compassion and a lot of focus and that’s why we need to remind ourselves that we can only do one thing at a time and do that one thing to the best of our ability.
The fourth element is Surrender. To let go. What is known in the practice as ‘Vairāgya’ or detachment. We can facilitate an environment in which to experience something but we must not be attached to the outcomes. That is why yoga teaches us humbleness. There is no such thing as instant gratification. If we could all wrap our legs behind our heads from the very beginning then there wouldn’t be much to look forward to! If every child behaved perfectly, we would never learn anything. The idea of surrendering to the moment sounds hard and it can be but, we must practice this just as much as we practice everything else. When we are not attached to outcome, we give ourselves permission to be open to whatever arises which builds resilience and strength. When we truly accept the nature of things as they are, and not as we are, we develop the capacity to connect more authentically with each moment in its purity. Rather than our idea of the moment. In a way, we are liberating ourselves from ourselves and this, funnily enough, is the idea of Yoga. Acceptance. Awareness. In the practice, acceptance could look like mental contentment when not being able to touch your toes and in the classroom, it could look like having less expectations of a child. The less expectations, the less suffering. We need to be able to embrace Elsa’s idea of “letting go”. She was onto something….
My name is Alana and I am the founder of Belong Be Become. I am an early childhood teacher, a yoga teacher and a big advocate for educator well-being. I’ve worked in both disciplines for over a decade and have become very passionate about sharing the teachings of yoga to inspire and inform the work educators do. I currently work at a Waldorf Steiner pre-school, teach yoga classes around the inner west of Sydney and facilitate workshops that support the well-being of early childhood professionals.
Follow Alana on Instagram @love_lani