I am happy to see that kid’s yoga is a rising subject all over the world. Malaysia is no exception, however the cultural context may be an obstacle in bringing it to local communities. During my time in South East Asia, I learned that yoga is primarily available to students at international schools and children of westerners, but not readily available for average local kid… If yoga is to reach the local children, there is a need to gather community support, to educate the public and clarify misconceptions, along with making it accessible for every potential beneficiary of a yoga practice.
With this in mind, I went to Kuala Lumpur the first of June for the first big kid’s yoga event in Malaysia to find, connect and learn from yoga lovers who want to bring the practice to children for a lifetime of benefit.
2016 KL Kids Yoga Festival was organized by a community of yogis, teachers and parents connected to the Facebook page entitled „Everywhere is Love”. The objective of the group is to create and increase public awareness of kid’s yoga and its benefits for the children as well as the whole community. As a yoga teacher who sees it’s benefits in every day life, I support and deeply identify with this mission.
Shi Hui of Happyfish Yoga, an event organizer and children’s yoga teacher, explained that the festival is an attempt to introduce different methods of teaching yoga, mindfulness and „quiet time” exercises to children as well as to explore the connection between yoga and family, school and society… all within two days of conferences and multiple workshops, taught both in English and Chinese to the variety of professionals, parents and teachers in attendance.
I attended just Day 1. From the very first moment, I was impressed with the professionalism of the organizers and the wide response for their calling – so many teachers of all specialties – yoga, special education, kindergarten and school teachers, educators and psychologists – all met at Damansara Performing Art Centre to talk and learn about the science of yoga. The day started with two talks in the morning and a workshop of choice in the afternoon.
Rutger Tamminga, a charming and warm guy, with 25 years of experience in running schools in Taiwan, gave the first talk on how to grow the peaceful nature of the child. He talked about an approach to child development aimed at preventing depression, a worldwide epidemic. We were given numerous examples of meditation, breathing exercises, yoga asanas, healthy food and teaching skills which support and stabilize children, allowing them to build healthy families, careers and social lives. The goal is lofty, but peace education and a new approach to teaching may just help to reverse the trend. The talk was a source of useful information, tips and tricks helping to put the theory into practice. There was something new for everybody; participants new to yoga were definitely interested in asana and meditation techniques and their application in the classroom. I, on the other hand, had a chance to collect new songs and games (that could make my teaching more effective). Everybody had a chance to see how simple and beneficial it can be for both sides.
Then came the time for a more serious approach. The second talk, entitled “Mindfulness for kids: a brain focused strategy for children’s well-being,” was given by clinical psychologist – Pheh Kai Shuen from the University Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) in Kampar.
The presentation was packed with charts of mental illnesses and maps of the brain, which I found fascinating! It contained many interesting facts about brain development, research outcomes and epidemiological trends – all logical and well-founded. Incredibly convincing for those skeptics looking for scientific facts to support teaching yoga to kids.
In a really accessible way, Dr. Shen explained how the brain works and how the way we raise children affects its development. The results are horrifying; being mindless (the opposite of mindful) leads to more mistakes and makes children more vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression, lack of emotional skills, disciplinary problems, attention disorders and six months waiting lists to visit a specialist… All of this can be reduced just by teaching the simple mindfulness meditation and exercises that were demonstrated. After all, yoga brings balance not only to the physical body, but to the brain.
I finished the day by choosing one of four workshops entitled “Teaching Love in Schools” by Rutger Tamminga. Basically it was about how to make yoga class appropriate for children. The set age wasn’t given, but the proposed activities seemed appropriate for a class of children not older than 6. We were given a lesson plan containing a greeting song, quiet time exercises, warm ups and an action story with asanas supported by lots of yoga songs and music. I love this part of children’s yoga courses… becoming a kid and doing all of these funny things that make me feel like it’s not work at all! We finished the class with yoga massage, which is very much like northern style Thai massage… It’s all about loosening and stretching the muscles. I found the poses to be similar to yoga asanas.
So much learned in just one day! I left DPAC with a fresh look on children’s yoga and a formula for making the future world better, and more knowledge of the science supporting the traditional yoga practice. I am left wondering about the world’s response. With this in mind, I asked one of the participants about their impressions from teaching yoga in a private kindergarten in Selangor. She answered “They sit too long, they love yoga!”… Which to me says it all! We have a tool to make children’s life better, and they love it. Let’s give them the yoga that they love!