Kids Yoga: Teaching the 8s
by: Sarah Herrington
The Eight-Limbed Path and the Eight Intelligences
Different kids learn in different ways. The more you can combine the eight intelligences, or ways of learning in your yoga classroom, the more kids will take in.
The Eight Intelligences:
- Verbal Intelligence: Learning with words, writing, reading, talking, rhyme.
- Mathematic Intelligence: Learning with numbers, counting and problem solving.
- Visual Intelligence: Learning with images, coloring, drawing, building, creating.
- Kinesthetic Intelligence: Learning through movement, dance, touch, physical poses.
- Musical Intelligence: Learning with song, drumbeats, rhythm and sound patterns. When in doubt, sing instructions to kids. This is attention-grabbing and helps with memorizing.
- Social Intelligence: Learning by playing, sharing, communicating, cooperating, doing group or partner poses or games.
- Intrapersonal Intelligence: Learning by introspection, intuition, journaling, reading, reflecting.
- Naturalist Intelligence: Learning through nature, whether its playing outdoors, taking care of animals or pets, or reading stories about animals.
A really impactful kids yoga class will combine several of these intelligences, for maximum learningandfun. How can these intelligences show up in your classroom? Try reading yoga books together, or reading picture books in which you can act out different animal characters with yoga poses. Try holding a pose while counting, by 2s or 3s, all the way up to 20. (and then try counting in Spanish or another language, to also incorporate verbal intelligence) Sing a song to remember the Sun Salutation. Create “Asana Art” in which you are drawing a picture of your friend who is holding Warrior 1. Write a story about the first yogis in India. Create a new group-pose for you and your friends called “Zoo Keeper,” in which you depict different zoo animals playing. The more creative the teacher and students can be together, the better! That way, no learner is left behind, since no two yogis learn in the same way.
The eight intelligences can be used in introducing concepts of Patanjali’s eightfold path to kids. Yoga philosophy doesn’t have to be shied away from in kids yoga classes, it just has to be dealt with in a kid-friendly way and with respect to the environment. (check with public schools first especially regarding the more spiritual limbs)
The Eightfold Path:
Yama: guidelines for living well. The yamas have to do with how to live peacefully with others. The Yamas are: Satya, or “tell the truth,” Asteya or “don’t take what doesn’t belong to you,” Brahmacharya, or “use your energy wisely,” andAparigraha, or “appreciate what you have and don’t want what you don’t have.”
Niyama: more guidelines for living well. The niyamas discuss how to treat yourself well. They are outlined below. TheNiyamas are: Saucha, or “being clean,” Santosha, or “being content and happy with what you have,” Tapas, or “working hard and with enthusiasm,” Svadhyaya, or “studying yourself,” and Ishvara Pranidhana, or “being devoted, or surrendering our efforts to the greater good.”
Asana: asana means “pose,” and makes up all the physical yoga poses we practice.
Pranayama: breathing exercise. When you try “take five” breath or “bunny breath” that’s pranayama. When you focus on your inhale (taking breath in) with one movement and your exhale (letting breath out) with another movement you could say that’s pranayama, too. Changing your breath can change how you feel
Pratyahara: withdrawing the senses
Dharana: concentrating on one thing completely
Samadhi: complete joy, or bliss
I usually explain to young yogis that:
Patanjali was a wise man who lived about two thousand years ago in India. Though people were already practicing yoga, Patanjali wrote down the Yoga Sutras to share the “eight limbs of yoga.” You can think of the eight limbs like branches on the tree of yoga. You can practice as many limbs, or branches, as you are interested in.
Though asana is obviously the “most popular” limb practiced in the west and in kids classes, there are ways to approach the other limbs in kids yoga classes. If you look for natural opportunities to teach them, and utilize the eight intelligences, kids will absorb a lot and get a more complete view of yoga.
For example, there are lots of opportunities to teach the Yamas in the yoga classroom. When we talk about sharing materials like mats, blocks or even space, we can talk about Asteya. Sometimes I’ll start class and then spontaneously ask the kids to switch mats with a neighbor to practice asteya (and also non-attachment!) When we talk about playing the yoga games fairly and honesty, we can reference Satya. When we talk about thankfulness during a Tune-In, we can discuss Aparigraha.
When we clean the yoga room together or roll up mats neatly after class, that is practicing Saucha. When we are ok with our neighbor having the lone purple crayon during an Asana Art project, that is Santosha. When we realize we are a little afraid to go upside down in a pose, that’s Svadhyaya.
The last four limbs of the Yoga Sutras are the more spiritual ones, so they are the ones I use most sparingly, if at all, in a school setting. For example, we can practice pratyahara by closing our eyes when we do poses to notice how the pose feels from the inside. When we do this, the pose becomes a series of sensations and not so much a shape in space. We focus on ourselves and not what our neighbors are doing. It can be a really fun challenge for young yogis to try poses, or even a whole vinyasa, with eyes closed.
We can practice dharana with schoolwork, when we read a book with such focus we didn’t think about anything else. With older kids we can discuss the pluses and minuses of multitasking versus dharana. This is a generation growing up with the internet and lots of media happening at once, busy school schedules, etc. Discuss how it feels to focus your energy on one thing at a time. Some say we wake up every morning with a bucket full of prana, or energy, to use. How do you want to use your energy today? Notice how using your energy on one thing at a time saves more energy for later, as opposed to using it on many things at once. Being scattered can be very draining.
The more creative you can be in using the Eight Intelligences and looking for opportunities to teach the Eightfold Path the more fun and complete your kids class will be.
-Sarah Herrington is a full-time kids yoga teacher and writer living and working in Manhattan. She has completed several kid and teen yoga teacher trainings, through Karma Kids Yoga, MiniYogis, and YogaEd, and received her 200-hour Yoga Alliance certification through Yoga to the People, a donation-based studio influenced by the teachings of Bryan Kest. She has also studied at Laughing Lotus, Jivamukti and with Dharma Mittra. For the last two and half years she has taught roughly 25 children’s yoga classes a week, mostly in the NYC public school and charter school system. She has also created full, year-long yoga curriculums for use in public school. Sarah’s kids classes are infused with joy, fun, and exploration, and her Vinyasa style classes emphasize mindfulness, intention and breath. She can be found online at: SarahHerrington.com