We’re studying the solar system in my class, so last week, I took my second graders on a trip to the moon.
We had prepared for everything an astronaut would need: First we centered ourselves on the mission and focused on the waxing and waning moon phases in our minds. Then, we started off doing basic training by practicing our warrior poses. We put on our (imaginary) spacesuits and brought our (imaginary) moon buggies for exploration. We entered our space rockets, dialed up our compasses, looked out the window at a perfect half-moon, at the stars, and waved hello to the Sun. We took our moon buggies out to explore the craters, and bumped around a bit along the way. And oh, how we enjoyed getting back into our space ships, watching the clouds go by and floating closer to Earth!
My students were elated with the perfect combination of jumping jacks, strong standing poses, visualization and balancing poses. While they were putting their shoes back on, I heard comments like, “That was awesome!" , "It was so relaxing floating back to Earth!" and my favorite, "I feel so happy now!"
Then why was I so frustrated?
I “live” in a small classroom space, and even though there are only 12 children in my class, there’s tables and chairs, bookshelves, and easels to move about. We practiced together in a semi-circle— no mats— in a 10x10 area, with half the children on carpet and the other half slipping, not stepping, on linoleum floors. Any pose that involved arm or leg extension, such as star pose or half-moon became reason for complaining that someone was stepping on them or “poking out their eyes.” My moon songs, (preselected on Spotify) were interrupted by commercial messages. To top it off, I was doing yoga in our reading section. Wouldn’t their favorite books and their lovely learning games be a distraction? I taught the entire class with all my heart, with a fear of failure lingering in that visceral space below; a notion that if it wasn’t perfect, it wouldn’t be at all beneficial.
And then I heard one little girl say, “I feel so happy now!”
I was so concerned that I couldn’t offer them a new setting, something to switch off the daily routines and light up their imagination, that I forgot that Yoga alone was bringing them into a new kind of space. Their breath and physical flow was guiding them through their imagination and likewise their imagination was freeing up their daily physical space, creating a new world, According to John Friend, the father of Anusara yoga, “[One of] the most fundamental ways to measure the efficacy of yoga teaching is to gauge how students feel about themselves at the end of a class…”
No matter how young or old, no matter how much structure they like, a student’s day can be stressful, rigid, and maybe even a little boring! (Hard to believe we would be boring teachers, right?) When we get locked into the same routines and same spaces, we lock our students into them too.
I’m still thinking of ways to create a better yoga space for that class. My battle is not yet over, but in the meantime, I’ve learned not to deprive my students of a trip on a tiny, but magical yoga carpet ~and bring them to a happy BIGGER space.