appreciation · balance · heavy-handed metaphors · kid stuff · teaching

What we teach, what they learn, involving child yoginis and the power of example

My daughter’s been taking yoga lessons for two years: picture a sunny room, with hardwood floors, an abundance of bolsters, pillows, blocks, mats, and five- to eight-year-olds, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what it’s like. And what it’s like is mostly shambolic, often adorable, and sometimes noisy, an exercise in crowd control as much as instruction in meditation, self-respect, and rajakapotasana. I observe from the back of the room, reading my paper and drinking my coffee while Amanda does her best to hold everyone’s attention, help them do headstands, leap around like frogs, stop building towers and forts out of props.

Unexpectedly, I had a lunchtime class at my studio with Amanda the other day, and I knew my daughter would get a kick out of us having the same teacher. She did. But she wanted to know: did Amanda do the noodle test on grownups, too?

For savasana, the ‘corpse pose’ at the end of class, Amanda always wanders softly to each child, doing the ‘noodle test’ to see if they’re relaxed. This involves picking up each limb and giving it a jiggle. The kids get to name which kind of pasta they wish to be. It’s pretty adorable. “No,” I said sadly, “Amanda does not do the noodle test with grownups.”

My girl leapt up, “Mommy, I can do the noodle test for you now, so you can fully relax.” (That’s what she said: fully relax.) I lay myself out straight. My girl waited about thirty seconds, and whispered, “Mom, what kind of pasta do you want to be?”

Fusilli.

She ran her fingers from my shoulder down my arm, picked up my arm from the wrist with her two hands, and swung it gently from side to side. She pulled it a little out from my shoulder, and then laid it down very deliberately and slowly, palm side up. “Yesssss,” she said, “a nice, well-cooked fusilli, hmmmmm.” Her voice had dropped a bit: slower and more breather, but deeper too. She moved around the rest of my limbs. “Yessssss, Mom, you are fulllllllly relaxed, niiiiiiiiiiiice wet pasta.”

Two things struck me. First, she was really good at this: it helped me relax. Second, she’s picked all this up from Amanda, sounded exactly like her. My daughter is seven; she is not a certified yoga teacher. But she held the room for me, she used a soft voice and a gentle but firm touch, gave me, FOR GOD’S SAKE, an adjustment.

Somehow, in the midst of the noisy, inattentive chaos of her yoga class, my girl learned something that neither of us realized she knew: how to touch someone gently and with respect, a generosity of spirit, where your arms and legs should be for savasana, what your muscle tone should be like. Amazing that she sounded like she was mimicking Amanda, but in dead earnest: this is how you do it.

Teaching and learning are mysterious. You never know what sinks in, or what is going in one ear and coming out the other. By dint of practice and repetition and example, surprising leaps are made. You just never know, until one day, you see it happen.

4 thoughts on “What we teach, what they learn, involving child yoginis and the power of example

  1. You, Aline, and Erin are so inspiring in your yoga practice. Really makes me want to find a way to afford more yoga class time, and to make practice at home more of a priority. This is also a very hopeful post for all of teachers who sometimes feel like we aren't getting through–we are, even if neither we nor our students realize it!

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