Pandemic yoga for kids: The good, the bad, the virtual

Yoga presents challenges for kids in the best of situations. Attention spans are fleeting. Desire for stimuli and excitement is great. Disappointment at not getting things perfectly the first time prevails.

Virtual yoga via whatever video screen they had available made this summer day camp extra special.

Two kids in the back seat of an SUV on a cell phone camera.

A couple individual screens from what appears to be living rooms with kids sitting on the floor via laptops.

A tablet screen showing three faces, sometimes four, and a ceiling, front door and eventually a basement open space.

This was my view of this summer’s virtual yoga day camp on Day One.

The brothers in the SUV eventually transferred to inside a house, sharing the phone and trying to listen and move and be respectful at the same time.

The group on the tablet seemed to get into the flow and participated and one even fell asleep in the meditation and “savasana” at the end.

Yoga presents challenges for kids in the best of situations. Attention spans are fleeting. Desire for stimuli and excitement is great. Disappointment at not getting things perfectly the first time prevails.

Virtual yoga via whatever video screen they had available made this summer day camp extra special.

Just B Yoga worked with Communities in Schools Michigan to provide yoga on Tuesdays for six weeks as part of their summer virtual day camp. All of my students were Black and brown children, ages ranging from 8 to 11.

I created a lesson plan for each week to target grounding, flexible minds, trying new things and more.

Going with the flow Trying new things is scary and it can be fun. We play with positions that maybe look goofy or intimidating and approach them with curiosity and playfulness.

Stretch our bodies-Stretch our minds – focusing on movement that creates length and mobility, while tying in meditations that give practice to accepting new and unfamiliar ideas, people and things. (Have a ball – maybe the size of a volleyball)

Strong and Calm,  Calm is Strong – Poses and breath exercises that are invigorating and strengthening while we look at the emotions that bubble up and how we react to them. Then soothing poses but the strength it takes to stay in a calm space.

Loud and Proud. Sound is powerful. It can get us excited, happy, sad, peaceful, silly. Let’s voice and sound out our connection to ourselves. (Be able to yell – so maybe be outside today!) (Bring a bell, chime, something that makes a ringing sound – not a drum)

Seeing is believing? Is everything always as we see it? If we can’t see, how do we feel? We will play with seeing things from different perspectives, maybe even upside down. Notice how changing the way we see things affects how we feel.

But life usually has another plan for my plan.

First of all, our children need us. They need yoga and meditation and calming exercises to help them regulate the tsunami of emotions and reactions they are experiencing. The world and the norms have changed. They are feeling all of our emotions and stress.

They need grown ups to bring their A game and their “never-before-seen” game, being willing to try new things themselves and going with the flow. The kids need it modeled before they can try to practice it.

The good news is they are more resilient and elastic than we give them credit for. Thus, we need to open up to learn from them.

I’d love to tell you how much they learned about their bodies and different poses and how important their breath is. I wish I could pat myself on the back for how well one of the plans went and how much the children clamored for more.

I’m not saying the sessions were not a success. They were in a different kind of way. 

The benefits were born in the connection we all got to make with each other.

  • The students got to walk away with less pressure on outcomes and achievement-based activity. (I had to let go of rigidly sticking to the plan)
  • They got to experience me accepting whatever was present in the moment (and that could be hard with multiple children on one phone, so they could distract themselves and ignore me completely).
  • They all want to be acknowledged. Being seen is important. And if your social interactions have been limited, it’s hard to stand out or be seen in new ways. I had to work hard to remember names and something special about each child so they felt heard, seen and valued. The Simon Says version of yoga gave them all a chance to choose poses and to be “in charge.”
  • They want to move. Maybe it’s because it’s summer. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic and feeling cooped up. Maybe just chalk it up to them being young, but they want to move. They want to move in new and different ways. They are craving new sensations.
  • Not seeing creates believing. Turning the screen off and having them listen more is something I want to incorporate more as I continue to work with children in this pandemic. We are all overly reliant on our vision for everything right now – work, play, entertainment, communicating to one another. This contributes to overstimulation, lack of sleep and general anxiety and lack of focus.  But doing exercises with our eyes closed and tuning into listening and feeling our way with our hands and feet channels our focus and concentration and slows us down to taking better care with how we are moving.
  • They need rest and sleep. Applying themselves to shutting down and slowing down is a valid and valuable skill. They all took to meditation and restful practices very well.

In the final meditation of the week, we did a progressive guided meditation where they each got a chance to contribute what they saw on our journey. In our meditation we started walking on a beach and noticing what we all saw in our mind’s eye. Then I offered one child to share what they saw. “Purple.”

We walked into a field and another child shared, “Blue.”

Back to the beach, “Pink,” and then “Yellow.”

I’ve never had children just share colors. Only one of them shared an animal when we went into a cave: “A bat.” (of course).

But they were all calm and ready for rest and opened their minds to what they saw. A spectrum of colors in a space that felt safe to share it.

I am honored to get the chance to meet these great young people and up my yoga/meditation-in-a-pandemic game. 

Some of my old tools needed sharpening. And in some cases I had to make some new tools by listening to what they needed and practicing letting go of outcomes myself. I got to practice my own resilience and become more elastic.

Oftentimes the student is the teacher.

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