Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Mariam Gates. Mariam Gates is a passionate and inspiring teacher, with over 20 years of experience working with young people. Through the Kid Power Yoga program, she has combined her dedication to teaching yoga with her skills as an educator to guide children in accessing their own inner source of strength, confidence, problem-solving, and creativity.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Mariam and I spoke about introducing yoga into the school system, her vision how yoga and meditation could be taught from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and the huge impacts this could have on reducing violence and emotional reactivity at school and in our society. We also talked about special considerations for teaching yoga and meditation to kids, and her advice to parents on how to introduce yoga and meditation without getting into power struggles with your children. Finally, we talked about Good Night Yoga, her new book, and how it came into being. Here’s my conversation with visionary educator Mariam Gates:
To begin with, Mariam, I’m curious if you can tell our listeners how you transitioned from being a Harvard-trained teacher in the Boston school system to developing Kid Power Yoga.
Mariam Gates: Ah, yes. That’s a great question. I had always—I’m the oldest of five, and so working with kids had always come really naturally for me. It’s always been pointed in a direction with education and kids and afterschool programs. That led me to Harvard. I felt like that would be the place where I would learn the most about how to work with young people.
I think—before I even went there, and I was working in other educational programs—I felt like I was coming into contact with a lot of kids who were already creating identities about themselves that maybe weren’t always positive. They were “not good at math” and “not really into school,” and sometimes negative emotional beliefs about themselves. These kids were seven and eight and nine!
So, even before Harvard, I felt like, “OK. How do I get in there? How do I work with young people and say, ‘Let’s keep the doors open. Let’s keep the windows open. Let’s keep the air moving. Let’s allow for possibility.’?”
At the time, kind of a traditional teaching role made the most sense. So, I got my teaching degree and I got my master’s. I learned a tremendous amount. It was incredibly inspiring to be there and be amongst these great educators. I took all that good learning and went into the Boston public schools.
It was hard. There were a lot of teachers there who were doing beautiful work with young people and had been there for decades, and were really committed and doing the work. Then there were other people there [for whom] maybe teaching hadn’t been a choice. There was a lot of pain and a lot of resentment and a lot of fear.
And fear of the kids, even. The year I taught was the year of Columbine. Unfortunately, we’ve had more of that. But it just threw shockwaves through the public school education system across the country.
I think what happened for me there is that I was young and I was really afraid of going to the waterline. I didn’t at that time have enough internal standards for how to keep the bar very high in my work with young people. I was really struggling. There was so much negativity that it was hard for me to rise above that and hold a higher image.
So, I left the traditional setting and I started working with a program called Citizen Schools. I was a program director, because they were working in the same population with Boston public schools. But, they had very high standards for the educators, for the kids, for the whole process.
I was inspired again, and I felt like—again, in my twenties—and I think this is true, really with anything new. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who are holding you and the work you’re doing to high standards. I just didn’t have it on my own.
So, I did that work for a number of years. I absolutely loved it. But at the same time, yoga was really growing in my life. My husband had made the decision to devote his life completely to yoga. He was teaching a lot, and I was getting more and more involved. It was really transforming my life.
We decided as a couple that—here we are, both working so hard in our lives—it really made more sense to put our oars in the same stream. If we were going to do this kind of work—and if what we believed in was transformation and change—then we wanted to be on the same team. So, we decided to open a studio.
So, I again shifted away from this educational program that I had been directing for a number of years and took the leap of faith to say, “OK! We’re going to open this studio.” I kind of launched into all of that.
It was painful. It was confusing, because my direction had been with kids. My direction had been with young people. So, what was going to be my role? Or what was going to be my path? And yet, I really felt a strong desire and drive—and it felt really right—to move in this direction with Walt.
It was literally two weeks—I think—from leaving Citizen Schools that I got a call from the school that I worked at, asking if I would be their yoga teacher. I said, “Great! You’re going to do yoga?” “Well, we need PE.” At a charter school, in Boston. “We need PE for the next year. Will you do it?”
This was now—I don’t know—maybe 12, 15 years ago at this point. So, I immediately said yes. I hadn’t been doing the two together. I hadn’t been using my background as an educator and my passion for yoga together. I thought, “Oh! Perfect!”
I went in the first day and I taught PE the entire year to their kindergarten, first, second, and third grades—and while opening this studio. I went in the first day and I thought, “This is it.” This is what I meant. This—here, in the classroom, which is where I wanted to be. But in this way, presenting these ideas. Breathing with the kids. Moving with the kids. Talking about possibility, expansion, practicing confidence, practicing a proud seat, practicing balancing energies.
I felt like it all came together. Absolutely I felt like I was home—like this is what I meant. This is what I wanted.
It was really hard! Part of where my own trainings evolved out of was that when I started that work, there was very little [in the way of] resources out there. I was really making it up as I went along and trying to piece together the parts of yoga that I felt like would translated and the pieces of education that I knew were powerful tools. But, I was really stumbling through that entire year. But, it [really] became the roots and the groundwork for everything I’ve done since.
But really, yes, I created Kid Power Yoga teacher training programs because there was so much I needed and didn’t have for that first year—and so much of that was about letting go. Kind of keeping the same principles and the same ideas and the same goals and the same structure, [as well as] hopes and dreams for the students in my class—but really shifting what it looked like some of the time, because I was working with young people. That became really key for everything I’ve done since.
TS: Now, Mariam, I’m curious: I read in an article online that you said, “Within the next five to ten years, yoga in the schools will be the norm.” I thought, “Is that really true? Do you really think that in the very near future, yoga in the schools will be the norm?”
MG: Yes. I actually do. I think we’re always going to be up against people’s concerns or misconceptions around yoga. Certainly, things went as far as a legal case in Encinitas in the last year, where a group of parents were actually suing the school system for teaching yoga, and being concerned about religious overtones. It didn’t pass. The judge overruled it.
So, certainly, it’s not that I am naive in terms of that kind of resistance. But, what I see is adoption, adoption, adoption all over the place. I think these past ten years have been a big ten years in yoga—in terms of evolution, in terms of movement into the mainstream culture—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, depending on who you ask. Certainly, the idea of yoga is not so obscure or esoteric as it was 15 to 20 years ago. It’s absolutely been a big shift.
What I look at as a part of that is that the United States military has been moving in a direction of incorporating mindfulness [and] incorporating yoga. Sometimes, they’re using other words around [it such as] “stretching” and “resilience,” but those guys are really about effectiveness. They are the ones that are often leading the trickle-down in terms of how things are adopted. I think if the US military is bringing yoga as a practice to deal with trauma—to deal with physical trauma, to deal with PTSD—what we’re seeing is that it’s just a matter of time until this is getting even more incorporated into other systems—like our education system.
Right now, if I look at teaching yoga in schools [15 years ago], I would have to write a letter at the beginning of every session explaining what yoga was, what it wasn’t—trying to make it as inclusive as possible. I haven’t had to do that for years and years, in all different school systems around the country. I used to have kids who had to sit out because there was still such a lack of knowledge about what it was, [whether] it interfered with other religious practices, what it [meant]. That just hasn’t been the case for such a long time.
Also, with the increased level of concerns around issues of emotional intelligence and bullying and violence in schools, I think people are really looking for widespread education that has a more holistic approach and deals with the whole child. I just think yoga’s a part of that.
TS: Do you see yoga entering the school system primarily through the physical education department? Is that the way in?
MG: I think it’s the easiest. I think part of what we’re all up against is [that] as the standards increase and the core requirements increase across grade levels—and certainly that’s coming more and more into the elementary level as well—teachers are left with less and less time for anything that feels additional.
So, I think physical education is usually the easiest entry point. Certainly, that’s been the case for—I wouldn’t say the majority of my teaching in schools. I think that finding 30 minutes once a week here and there is still possible.
But, yes—I would say primarily it’s probably the easiest entry point.
TS: What are the special considerations, if you will, when you’re teaching yoga to kids? Another way of saying that is: how’s a class for kids different than a yoga class that an adult would go to?
MG: Well, there’s kind of two answers to that. One has to do with safety. In that regard, certainly yoga is far less taxing on a child’s body than most of the sports that kids are involved in today—to include gymnastics or soccer. The threat of injury is much higher in a lot more of the traditional sports.
But, the safety piece that I address in my trainings—really, it’s no different than working with a group of brand-new, beginning adults. So, people who have all different levels of somatic intelligence and connection to their bodies. They may or may not be aware when they’re twisting their ankle a bit unsafely or moving their knee.
So, for me, a rule of thumb—and part of what I like doing with kids—is really helping them to understand that they’re in charge of their bodies. They’re in charge of what feels right and what doesn’t.
So, if you walked into a class that I teach, you could say, “If it hurts . . .” and the kids would say, “It’s not yoga!” That’s sort of my rule of thumb—if something’s hurting, it’s not yoga. This is about feeling good and finding your point of a stretch, your point in the pose.
So, there’s that piece. There’s always the safety piece. When you’re working with kids and their kind of varying levels of attention issues and their own physical sense of themselves, that’s always first and foremost. But, the second piece is that when I do a class with kids, I really follow the same structure and purpose that is in an adult class.
The kind of style of yoga that I practice is a flowing Vinyasa style. So, what I’m looking at when I’m working with a group of kids is really following a similar formula—which is a series of warm-ups into a flowing sequence, which will include standing, floor, balance, and then a savasana and a rest period. [It includes] an emphasis on breath, an emphasis on mindfulness, and an emphasis on the transitions.
But, what’s different about it is—and I’ll use the warm-ups as an example—in a traditional Vinyasa class—for those of you listening who practice in that style—the warm-up—that kind of repetitive Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B—is really intended for a couple of purposes. One is obviously to move the body, warm up the body, and there’s kind of health practices for the rest of the class to come.
But the other part of that is really a dropping in. It’s almost a—you could almost use the words “a light hypnotist quality” to it. You’re just kind of letting go. You’re doing repetitive movement. You’re letting go of the day. You’re dropping in.
With kids, that can look a little bit different. What I’m doing in a warm-up with kids, before we get into the actual flow of the class, is they have to really have that “buy-in” and that invitation. It’s the same idea. It’s the same principle. It’s the same kind of, “OK, we’re here now. This is a place where we’re accepted. This is a place where we can be.” But they are kids.
So, some of my warm-ups look like that. Some of them are a Sun Salutation A, Sun Salutation B. It depends on the group I’m working. Sometimes, it would look very similar to a traditional class. But sometimes it’s very silly and playful. We’re flopping around and we’re laughing and there’s kind of almost a game to it—because I find that that’s then the warm-up for them. That’s their transition into the rest of the class.
If they’ve done that with me and they’re moving and they’re even sometimes sweating. We’ve been moving. We’ve been playing. We’ve been stretching our bodies. We’ve been feeling all that kind of joy. We’ve been letting go of—usually I’m in the middle of their school day. So, we’ve been letting go of recess, letting go of science, and letting go of math.
Then they’re there. Then they’re laying there, which is not different from the landing that’s happening at the end of a warm-up in an adult class. It’s just beautiful. Once I found that I could give myself permission to give them that, then they were ready to move into really far more adult flow—far more adult breaking down of poses, paying attention, and, “Where are my feet? Where are my hands? Where is my heart? Where are my eyes?”
It’s different. Part of what I love about being particularly in a classroom in a school setting is that they aren’t choosing it. It’s different than working with adults, who all came to this class and paid money and put down their mats. They didn’t choose it, and I like that, because I like the exposure to a population that maybe wouldn’t find their way to a class that I would teach in a studio.
It also means that I’ve got more work to do. I’ve got to take a few more steps toward them for us to do the work that I really want to do.
So, that’s one piece of it. That’s what I mean about looking at: Oh, I’m accomplishing the same goal, but sometimes it looks different because it’s children. Sometimes, the invitation is different.
TS: Now, let’s say someone’s listening and they’re a parent and they have a yoga practice. But, currently, their kids don’t participate in any way. Their kids are running around or perhaps even playing games on the iPad—whatever—while the parent is doing deep stretching and different kinds of postures. What’s the best way—or what would be your recommendation—for how that parent could reach out and involve their kids?
MG: Well, also a really good question. And I think a universal one for many parents who do have a practice.
One piece I would actually say—that I do think that exposure so it doesn’t feel like they’re engaging. I do think that we do a lot of teaching with our behavior—far more than with our words.
So, having a yoga practice around your child—I think is actually powerful and has merit. And probably [audio distorted].
In terms of your specific question about engaging them, I think that finding—again, it sort of depends on age—but I think finding entry points with them is really why I wrote a book about this. It’s why I wrote a book to bring parents and children into a practice together. It’s a kid-centered book for exactly that reason.
Maybe it is a video. Maybe it is an outside class. I think what’s tricky is anything that brings a parent into a power struggle with their child has its own tricky dynamics to it if the idea is, “You should be doing this instead of what you’re doing.” But it’s so different to find some partner poses and see if they want to help you with them at that moment in your class.
Even going online, tons of tons of resources now come up. There’s a lot of fun partner yoga poses that I think are great entry points and great ways to begin to engage.
[At night,] I also really like to use guided visualizations. I think it brings kids more deeply into their bodies. There’s one—Cloud Visualization—at the end of Good Night Yoga for exactly that reason. I just think [that] anything that is helping kids to take that deep breath in and that long breath out, [feeling] into their bodies, makes them more open to more of it. It makes them, “Ooh, if that felt good, maybe I will try Partner Owl pose with you if that felt good. Maybe the next time you’re on the mat, I do want to try it with you.”
Maybe buying them their own mat and block and cushion. Giving them some kind of ownership and connection to it can also go a long way.
TS: Now, there’s a lot of talk about teaching kids meditation as well as teaching yoga postures. I wonder what you think about that. Do you have much experience with that?
MG: Yes! I think that is really, really powerful. I think it’s how we can shift the whole world. If our young people learn how to sit with themselves—I mean, really, meditation is a practice of—at least, in the styles that we do in our household—is learning how to sit with what comes up without reacting. [This] is so key to every aspect of life—watching sensation and allowing it to pass without having to jump into reaction.
So, I think kids can absolutely meditate. I think it’s just an incredibly beautiful practice. I think—like with everything—it needs to be done in a way that suits them. That usually just has to do with limited time. I think that asking a child to sit still and be quiet for 20 minutes is—at least initially—asking quite a bit.
So, when I teach meditation in my classes—and this would be with, say, a first grade class—we do a count of eight. So, I have the students—and this can be 30 kids in the room—close their eyes and try to remove as much visual stimulation as possible, allowing still for what they’re going to hear, because they’re going to be listening to my voice. I do a very slow count of eight. They know ahead of time that it will end after eight, so we’re minimizing any anxiety with the newness of sitting quietly.
We’re just noticing and watching internally. Noticing what we hear. So, we just start with a count of one, and bring our attention to the inhalation and the exhalation of our breath. Then we go to two, and they [maybe] start to notice the sounds in the room. So, they start to hear [that] maybe the heater went on or there’s birds outside. I continue counting. I find that in every class, kids talk about starting to hear what is going on inside their body. They feel like they felt their heart or they could hear their breath.
It’s all just awareness practice. I find that it’s actually easy to do that with kids. It’s a practice, just like with adults. It gets easier the more I incorporate it into the class. Over the progression of a year, the easier and the more ready they are for it.
I’ll add: yoga is a meditation. It’s a meditation in motion. But we talk a lot in my classes about the fact that the yoga is not the poses we’re doing. The yoga is how we’re being in the poses. The yoga is the transition from one movement to the next, keeping our awareness [and] keeping our connection to, “Where are my feet? Where are my hands? Where are my eyes? Where’s my heart?” and just bringing it back, bringing it back.
It’s all just practices to be more in the present moment. That’s the shiny apple. We’re looking at being rather than focusing so much on doing. So, I think the meditation is happening in the yoga anyway. But I also think that kind of a more traditional, specific meditation practice with kids is wonderful.
My husband and my son have been meditating fairly regularly this fall. And he’s eight! They just have gotten into a nice routine. My daughter joins them some. She’s 11, and we’ve been talking about kind of the question that you brought up: which is, she’s not against it. A little bit of it is logistics and sort of when they’re choosing to meditate and [whether] we shift that. But a little bit is also how much we’re exposing and are we making them do it? Are we saying, “This is a value, so you’re going to do it too?”
We come up against that as well. Our whole lives are yoga and meditation. We have those questions too with our own kids, for sure.
TS: I’m imagining a parent who might be listening who perhaps is dealing with a young child who has a lot of behavioral challenges—who flips out a lot, is very emotional. What could they do on the spot—if anything—during some type of emotional freak-out to help their child breathe or relax in some way? What do you suggest?
MG: Well, I think what you’re talking about—for a child, in so many ways—is such a disempowered state. To have that much emotion, anxiety, frustration, or anger—all of that coming up and not knowing how to express it is really a kind of chaotic and disempowered state to be in.
What I love about these practices and about particularly breathwork is how natural it is for us to—when someone’s naturally in an agitated state—what we first tell them to do is take a deep breath. It’s like we know these practices work. We know intuitively like [takes a deep breath] changes something.
So, looking for skills and practices that add to that—that give that parent and that child something that’s more empowered to do with that energy—I will say it’s hard in the moment. Absolutely, take a deep breath or a big Lion’s Breath. All those things in the moment can be very helpful. But I think the work really has to happen on a day when they’re not in that state. I think what you’re really doing with kids—particularly with kids who are prone to more agitated states and have a harder time with frustration levels—I think what you’re looking for is, “How do I do pieces of this with them so that we have a communication [and] we have a language to go back to when we’re in those hard moments with each other?”
So, for me, what you’re looking for is: I do a lot of, “OK, Lion’s Breath! What do you do when you’ve just got so much happening inside you, but you don’t want to hurt yourself or others?” Is there a way or a permission to just take a deep breath in—and Lion’s Breath is that big breath out with your tongue out and your eyes wide, and just a lot of expression and a lot of force of energy out. [You do this] often sitting on your knees, and then just leaning forward with it. Just a [enthusiastic exhalation].
But that would be something that I would want to be working on with them when they’re not in that state, so that we can say, “Ah! Let’s do this. Let’s take this out a bit, and kind of take it out of ourselves.”
I think also what I like about all of this work is that none of this is about not having strong emotions or strong energies. None of it is about being afraid of that or trying to push it down in some way. But, it’s all about, “OK, how do I move with it? How do I manage it? What do I do in the moment?”
Also, it can be—for some kids—really containing to go into a guided visualization if they can calm down enough. Lying on your back and doing muscle tensing and releasing, and then going into more of a relaxed visualization, can be so helpful.
So, lying down on your back and starting with just squeezing your feet and your toes together, and then releasing. Then squeezing feet, toes, knees, thighs—everything—together and releasing. And then going up through the body, all the way until you’re at your face. Then you’re just squishing everything as tight as it can be—and then releasing. Then letting that go into something like the Cloud Visualization at the end of Good Night Yoga or another kind of calming story about going to a peaceful place, or finding yourself drifting or flying.
Again, there’s so many resources now. It’s what’s really beautiful about this work—unlike 15 years ago, there’s so much more out there for a parent who’s looking for more ideas and more pieces to bring into working with their own children.
So, I think any of those things can be so helpful. I do think it’s important—again, the use of the word “practice” is essential here because—just like for myself; just like for adults—we have these practices so that when things are tight, hard, and challenging, we have something to lean on. I think that’s the same for kids.
TS: Now, tell me a little bit, Mariam, how your book, Good Night Yoga, came about. Were you going through a nighttime procedure—a nighttime ritual—with your kids where you were doing yoga before bed?
MG: You know, pieces of it started even earlier than that—with looking for soothing flows for even just calming kids in the middle of the school day. So, pieces of it began even before I was having regular bedtimes in my life. There were pieces of that where, “How do we have something that really takes energy and helps kids move through energy, and then brings them down to a really settled state?”
So, I was always kind of working with that. Then, yes: with my daughter, actually. They’ve never been terrible sleepers, but my daughter in particular has had—I’d say—a harder time settling at night. I think for some kids—and it’s interesting: for my son, once it’s bedtime, he says goodnight and that’s the end of it. He’d like you to stay. He’d like another glass of water. But he’s pretty ready. He’s pretty OK to just conk out.
But for my daughter, it really just depends. We have a sound machine for her. She really needed more ritual. She really needed to get in the chute of going to bed before we even got there. She needed a longer runway, if you will, to sleep.
So, we started doing this kind of practice of Good Night Yoga and moving through these postures, which became really familiar and comforting for her. It wasn’t the only story we read, but it was the last kind of thing we did together—to move through these postures and move through these poses. That’s why—intentionally—at the end of Good Night Yoga, the child is in Child Pose, because there’s a part of it where they’re actually standing up and they’re moving their arms and legs. There’s a balancing piece, and then they’re taking themselves back down all the way to a very relaxed state.
She needed it. She needed to be able to—I think like anything [and] with any ritual, the familiarity became very comforting to her—to have, “This is how we know we’re really at the end. We’re really now moving . . .” It was sort of our communication to each other too that there wasn’t going to be another story and another glass of water and another back rub. This was really: here we were, all the way down.
Then, the visualization: I mean, my son loves that too. I will tell you: every child I know loves guided visualization. Just lying on their back and being taken on a short, floating, feeling-yourself-in-your-body, moving-through-space-and-time experience. They love it! I can teach fifth graders. I can teach tenth graders. High school students—if they know that it’s yoga day—will ask me—they call it “The Cloud.” They’ll ask me, “Are we doing The Cloud today?”
I think it’s compelling. I think it’s true for all of us—to be in intentional, deep, relaxation. They know it’s the good stuff. What I love is that what I can tell them about savasana and that relaxed state is that, in yoga, this is as important as all the movement we just did. This is as important as all the busyness, as all the postures, as all the breath, as the whole that experience we just had. This is as important—maybe more so—is that we just be here now.
TS: Now, Mariam, I myself don’t have kids, but I have some nephews that I spend some time with. One of the things I’ve noticed is how much time they want to spend on the computer or on the iPhone playing games of various kinds. I mean, big-time, high level of interest in these games. I’m curious what your view is of that and how teaching yoga and meditation to kids—how that fits in when there’s so much stimulation—and a different type of stimulation—coming in through digital games of various kinds.
MG: Yes. Absolutely. As someone with kids, I’m aware of how compelling all of that is.
I do think it’s addicting. I don’t think we know yet what the ramifications of that [are] or how serious that [is]. The word “addicting” is maybe too strong. I’m not sure.
TS: I think it’s a fair term. I mean, we adults admitting their addiction to technology, to their iPhone, et cetera. I would admit my addiction to my iPhone. So, I think that “addiction” is a fair term.
MG: Louis CK does that amazing piece on Conan O’Brien—the comedian, Louis CK—where he talks about his problem with technology vis-à-vis his kids. Really—if we’re going to use the term “addiction”—that it’s because we have a sensation come up. Maybe it’s not even a very negative sensation. But we immediately have a way to push it away now. Whether it’s to check our email again or we have our own videogames called Facebook or Instagram or whatever your particular interests are.
Certainly, obviously, that’s happening with kids. Nonetheless, they still strongly want the movement and the expression and the breath and all that happens when they’re not on those video games. I do think that we have to work harder to give them those experiences and keep teaching awareness.
I don’t think that videogames are terrible. I don’t think that media is terrible. But I think it’s like everything—it’s how we’re using it. If it’s becoming how we stay separate, stay separate from ourselves, and stay outside of any sensation, then that’s where we’re running into a problem. That’s just why I do hope-believe-think that we’re going to continue to be moving practices like yoga and emotional intelligence and mindfulness into our schools.
We’re needing it more and more. We’re needing an overt, specific education to just be in our own experiences. You’re right—the stimulations are out of control, you could say at this point, in terms of what’s available to an average child in this country. I think people used to be worried about comic books. They were reading comic books!
I think that more and more, we need to find ways to continue to give them the other experiences. When they have them, they love them and they want them. If those same kids spend an hour outside, they’re having a blast. I don’t find that kids are losing the ability to be kids, or to know what to do when those things are taken away.
It’s just: how much time are they having where they aren’t online? That’s the question. I don’t know if I have an answer. I just keep teaching yoga. That’s my answer.
I think it’s an issue for all of us right now.
TS: OK, Mariam: Just one final question here. I’m curious what your vision is for how yoga and meditation could be taught to kids in the world today. [Do] you have a kind of grand vision of what might be possible?
MG: Oh, yes. Well, I think that it’s such a touching question, actually. I think that kids are—in some ways—our least empowered population. Often appropriately, but they don’t have a lot of choice. They don’t choose what they wear sometimes. They don’t [necessarily] choose what they eat. They certainly don’t choose how they spend their day or where they live. And that’s OK. They’re in this time where they’re being taken care of and those choices are often made for them.
But, I feel like the idea of helping them learn through yoga and through meditation—and a really specific approach—the idea that they could learn, “I can’t control everything that’s happening around me, but I can control my reaction to it,” and the idea that children could be learning the difference.
I feel like it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I even understood that there was a separation between what happened to me and my reaction to it. I didn’t know those were two different things, really.
So, the idea that—as the rest of a person is evolving—there would be an approach where the teaching of mindfulness through yoga [and] through meditation was happening in kindergarten in a way that was a little bit different than first grade, and then a little bit evolved. Just like we do all the other standards in second grade, third grade, fourth grade, and on. It would be building.
I love the work that I do with kids and I do have a lot of students that I see for several years in a row. But if that could be system-wide—I have to say that when I hear about atrocities that people do to each other—things that happen—I can’t help but feel that if that person (and whatever the person on the end of the violence) [was] able to take a full breath in and a full breath out, and really experience being in their body from the tips of their fingers to the tips of their toes—I don’t know if they could have committed that violence against another person. I don’t know that it’s possible if you actually feel the whole of yourself. If you can actually feel a complete breath in and a complete breath out, I think it just changes how you relate to yourself and how you relate to other people.
For me, the idea that that would be happening in schools—because that’s where everyone is, not just the people who are looking for yoga. But that’s where everyone is. The idea that there would be a whole unit that spanned all the way from kindergarten [and] all the way through twelfth grade, building as it went—I think it’s exciting, mind-blowing, inspiring to even imagine what could be possible.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Mariam Gates. She’s the author of a new book for kids. It’s called Good Night Yoga, and it’s beautifully illustrated. [It] takes children through a bedtime sequence of postures and visualization, ending in the Child’s Pose. Then your child sweetly and beautifully goes to sleep, right? At the end of Good Night Yoga?
MG: That’s right. [Laughs.]
TS: Thanks so much for being with us on Insights at the Edge, Mariam. Thank you and thank you for all your good work.
MG: Thank you. It’s an honor. Thank you.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.