“Mom, look! I have prana. Do you want me to give you some?” said my 12-year-old boy. He proceeds to place his hand on my heart and closes his eyes to concentrate on his breath. He says that he is transferring his prana to me. I realize that I have done that for him many times throughout the years, especially through the most challenging times during his asthmatic spells or emotional experiences. We have been working on conflict resolution methods from the Yoga Sutras for many years, since before he was born. My teacher, Rama Jyoti, taught me that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a road map of living peacefully in the modern era. It is the ancients’ ultimate gift, and it has been made available to all who seek the knowledge. Why not give children the same wisdom and all its benefits? Are not children today seeking the richness of insight? Of course, they are! I will offer to you why the wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is essential for children.
1. Resilience. Resilience. Resilience. In an era where academic knowledge is easily accessible through search engines, there is very little access to authentic wisdom embodied through everyday behaviors. It is more evident that we are asked to discern what is TRUTH and what is false. Discernment comes from intuition and faith. We can teach children to tune into their intuition and become RESILIENT. First, children must know that they have intuition and inner wisdom. Since 2000, I have been teaching children yoga, and I have seen the need to give children the gift of just recognizing their intuition. In the Yoga Sutras, there is the discussion of the four parts of the mind: Manas (conscious), Buddhi (overmind), Ahamkara (ego), and the Chitta (subconscious). If we can give children the gift of knowing these different aspects of the mind, they can learn to identify their own voice of truth. Resilient children are empowered children that can think and express truths of their own.
2. Tools for Transformation. The Yoga Sutras talk about the kleshas of the reasons for suffering: 1) not seeing the oneness, 2) egoism, 3) attachment, 4) aversion, and 5) fear. These afflictions of the mind are reflected in the breath. Even for adults, this skill of self-reflection is quite complex to master. However, it is worth the effort to train children in self-reflection skills to identify their own kleshas. Through self-reflection skills, as mentioned in the Yoga Sutras, children can become very self-educated in identifying their inner conflicts. Throughout the years of teaching the kleshas to children, I am always so pleasantly surprised how easily children embrace their inner workings. It is like a bright light gets turned on for authentic transformation. For example, when I was in charge of the yoga education and mindfulness program for an entire K-8 school, we received a child in our 7th grade that had been in trouble with the law several times. Our Montessori school was the last resort, and the parents were desperate. When the child entered into our yoga education program, it was evident that self-reflection was very new to this student. The teaching team monitored the child’s behavior, and I made sure that the child participated in the yoga, mindfulness, and peace curriculum, all based on the Sutras. Long story short, we did not have any problems with the child. I built a strong relationship with her, and I believe that it was the yoga and the emergence of self-knowledge that completely transformed her.
3. The Power of Stillness. As my teacher, Rama Jyoti Vernon, taught me, the true nature of yoga occurs when the mind is at a place of quiet and stillness, which is also mentioned clearly in the second sutra. For many of today’s children, the experiences of childhood are far from quiet and peaceful. Children face external factors unimaginable, everything from environmental factors to poverty and homelessness. It is the responsibility of all adults to give children a better childhood. Preserving the beauty and sacredness of childhood for all children in the world is not something to take lightly. Suppose we could start by showing children the value of silence than illustrating our commitment to peace in the world. We can teach children the brilliant chemistry of when to act and not act and be in silence. We can teach children how to access their inner silence through mindfulness and meditation. One of the most powerful gifts we can give to children is the skill of tuning into their silence. For example, my son has told me that he just wants to meditate when he is at recess in school. I have also had many teachers tell me that he meditates during recess. I was pleasantly surprised that he learned to manage his energy by using meditation.
Do not get me wrong. My son is like any other child of his generation. As I am writing this article, he is playing Battlefront II on his Xbox. When we teach children wisdom from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we teach them resilience to live an unconditional life. What do I mean by this statement? We are giving children the skills to live a life based on self-empowerment, not based on life conditions. We persevere with the inner strength to not allow our conditions to dictate our moods and behaviors. When we teach children wisdom from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we are giving them tools for transformation. Change is possible, whether if you are five years old or 65 years old. Our journey is our own! Lastly, when we teach children wisdom from the sutras, we teach them the power of peace. The children of the world yearn for peace, and it is possible. We are a world ready for a better way.
How have you allowed your yoga practice to evolve? Yes! Throughout the years, the yoga practice needs to evolve to reflect the ebb and flow of experiences. Before I had my son, my yoga practice consisted mainly of group classes and longer weekend workshops. Well, my yoga practice changed with my journey of motherhood. Instead of meditating three hours at a time, I meditated 10 minutes here and there. I did yoga postures with a toddler climbing me and playing Thomas the Train (where my legs are the train tracks). It was a far cry from the days at a spa-like environment of a yoga studio. So I had to rewrite my yoga practice and allow it to evolve to fit the needs of my REAL life. With the Pandemic fully in motion, we are asked to change our yoga practice. I am curious to know: how has your practice changed since the Pandemic? As a yoga instructor, I am also being asked to change how I connect with other yoga practitioners and my yoga students. I have been putting more attention into creating video content so that it is easily accessible for everyone. I teach online yoga classes more than I ever have in the past. The question comes up all the time: how do you discipline yourself to do a yoga practice at home? I have reflected upon my twenty years of yoga and came up with unique ways to keep engaged in personal practice. Yes! Keep yourself engaged in yoga! Here are my tips on how to create a yoga practice at home:
Remember why you do yoga.
Do you feel good when you practice yoga? Do you feel like yoga helps you relieve stress? Do you feel more connected to the heart? Do you feel like it slows down the mind? Do you sleep better at night because you do yoga? There are many reasons why people LOVE yoga and practice it regularly. Write down why you do yoga and stick it on your bathroom mirror. Many things in life are easy to forget, but don’t let yoga be one of them.
Make your sanctuary.
Make your yoga practice an unconditional practice, where conditions don’t dictate the results of the yoga experience. There have been plenty of times when I just unrolled a mat in the middle of a messy living room, without the candles and aromatherapy. Sure! Candles, aromatherapy, and incense all make a living space more peaceful and beautiful. But learn to practice even when your environment is not the most ideal. In my opinion, it is more important to be adaptable than to be conditional with my yoga practice. You can genuinely practice anywhere at any time!
Allow yourself to skip a day sometimes.
There are times in life when it is okay to skip a day, a week, or even a month. When you are truly in love with your yoga practice, you can easily return to the postures and meditations again. There are circumstances in life where yoga poses are not the priority. Taking care of an aging parent or surgery that is life-saving are just a few examples that take precedence in life. In my life experiences, I found that yoga’s true essence gets more integrated with the mundane. Rama Jyoti Vernon used to talk about using her kitchen sink as a alter for the Divine. When we understand yoga, we know that it is in all that we do and say and feel.
Be your own best friend.
Encouraging words go a long way! Give to yourself as you would give to your own best friend. Develop an intimate relationship with yourself. Know yourself more than any other could know you. Make yoga dates with yourself and make promises to yourself to keep them! We can not serve others entirely if we are empty or exhausted. Allow yourself to receive all that is Divine to be of service to others.
Do short 10-minute (or less) yoga breaks.
When you are vacuuming the living room, take a moment and stretch the arms above the head. When you are gardening, rest a moment and do cat and cow poses to loosen up the lower back. When you are cooking a meal, stand in a tree pose to practice your balance. These are spontaneous yoga breaks that naturally happen throughout the tasks of the day. You don’t need to be wearing yoga pants, and you don’t need to be in a yoga studio. The postures can be done spontaneously. Don’t forget the breath!
I have been practicing yoga for twenty-one years, and indeed, there were times when yoga was not fun. When I was first learning yoga, I was rigid and strict about the yoga practice. As my practice developed, I realized that yoga needs to be fun. Actually, life needs to be fun. Laughter and fun are sometimes the ONLY medicine during your yoga practice. I often laugh at myself when I make my yoga videos because I say weird and goofy things. I often laugh at myself when I teach yoga classes because, again, I say weird and good things sometimes. I often laugh at myself when I meditate. I know many have suffered during this Pandemic, and I don’t want to downplay suffering. In my heart, I know that the Divine delights in the balance of humor and play.
When Rama passed into Maha Samadhi last November, I just was not ready to write out my thoughts into words, not comprehensible words at least. Like many others in the yoga world, I was extremely shocked by her passing. My sister just had dinner with her and Max last September, and I had just talked to her on Zoom during a Yoga Unify meeting. When Max left this world, I sent flowers to her and Myra. It did not occur to me that Rama was on her way to the other side as well. I wish I would have known. This tribute is a love letter to Rama and the cherished moments that I had the privilege to spend with her in the last 17 years. The time I spent with Rama was a miracle in many, many ways. It was a miracle that I stumbled upon her teachings at 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona, Arizona.
Rama Jyoti Vernon's role in yoga will not be easily forgotten, and her presence as a world-renowned master of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is one that occurred through whole-hearted integration. Yes, others study Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and maybe academically understood the Sutras at some level, but Rama lived it at EVERY level. She was an everyday householder with multiple husbands and left behind many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She worked in a household as a mother, washing dishes and vacuuming floors. She went through the trials and tribulations of staying up with children through sleepless nights, as many parents experience throughout the early years of parenting babies and toddlers.
In 2003, My first memory of Rama's was her beautiful voice and her chanting the mantra OM. She awakened something in me that is difficult to explain. Her voice was ancient and alive with WISDOM. I would find out that her wisdom was from her yoga practice and her experiences as a mother and teacher. Her voice awakened something in my bones, and I remember looking at her as a new student of mantra, thinking that the sounds could not possibly be coming from Rama. When I was supposed to be closing my eyes to follow the mantra, I could not help but open my eyes repeatedly to check if she was really chanting. Later I realized that her voice was the voice of every guru she ever studied with, and she studied with many of them. She studied with heart-filled curiosity and receptivity. Her stories about Mr. Iyengar, Satchidananda, and Baba Haridas were insights into the truth of yoga and the ancients.
Around 2005, I attended one of Rama's yoga retreats in New Mexico, where she spoke of her experiences at Yogananda's celebration of life with her mother. Rama's mother was very spiritual as well, and they attended together a celebration for Yogananda Paramahansa's Maha Samadhi. Rama was so devoted to her parents. I remember her talking about her father and mother with tenderness and beautiful caring. As she spoke of the majestic Paramahansa, the retreat attendees felt the presence of the guru in the room. She mentioned his presence with a bright, shining disposition, and the scent of roses became overwhelming. Rama said that you know when the gurus are present because they bring with them the scent of roses. Rama had a deep affection for the gurus and teachers of yoga. She talked about them like they were her family and friends because they were. I learned that she hosted many great teachers in her home in California when she invited them to teach in the United States. She loved them so much, and she cherished them. Even today, I can imagine Rama serving as a gracious host and listening whole-heartedly at the feet of the gurus.
There were moments in my life that I went to Rama for help, and she always made me feel heard. She always made me feel like I was the only person in her presence, even if there were fifteen people around us. She was a mother for me in so many ways, and there are innumerable stories about Rama that anyone close to her remembers with great fondness. Actually, I feel that there is enough for a whole book. (Maybe that is something yet to come.) Lastly, though, I want to mention the most profound impact Rama left on me.
She gave me a lasting impression of her dedication to peace for all people. Peace was of real importance to Rama, and her work in the Soviet Union changed the world. Her work during the Cold War era was brilliant and without-equal, and moreover, it unquestionably illustrated Rama's dedication to peace. Rama had such a clear sense of service in yoga. She committed her yoga practice to the peace of the world. Unlike many yoga practitioners today that treat yoga as the latest fitness trend, Rama knew that yoga was the "how" of the many questions about peace-making in today's society. Rama taught us that there must be a higher intention in our own yoga practice. If I am candid, I am scared that yoga in the United States has become too superficial and that the last great wisdom keeper, Rama Jyoti Vernon, was the only one that could truly teach to the DEPTH that yoga deserves. However, I know if I shared this fear with Rama, she would laugh at me with a gigantic grin and tell me to keep going on my yogic path with a sense of Alice's wonder (like in Alice in Wonderland.)
Dear Rama, there is so much love here for you. Thank you for everything that you gave to this world. Thank you for your relentless service in yoga. Thank you for all your LOVE and KINDNESS. When I smell the scent of roses, I will always think of you. In conclusion, I want to end with Rama's message to yoga teachers. I must have read this message at least 100 times, either as a yoga practitioner or yoga teacher trainer, but its message is different for me now. With my highly regarded teacher and friend in Maha Samadhi, I will hold this new posture with unswerving steadiness. Please read it and imagine Rama's voice.
"There are no teachers. We are all students bound together in infinite enthusiasm of growth and exploration. We are not teachers, and yet we shall teach, teaching not with an attitude of teacher or guru but as a servant, a fellow seeker joyously sharing with others the knowledge and training we ourselves have found.
We are all a part of the greater cosmic plan. Let us honor those that have walked before us and prepared the way. Insignificant as our part may seem, it is a contribution to the evolutionary scope of all humankind.
If you are led to the path of a teacher, then practice what you teach. Let go, and the Divine will work through you and the barriers to spiritual growth will drop away.
Teaching yoga is not a business, it is not even a profession. It is a privilege. Place heart and soul within your teaching wherever you are, whoever you're with. See the Divine within your students and let the teachings be the worship of this universal truth and beauty.
You are a humble servant and as a fellow seeker, joyously share with others the riches you yourself have found. We are all perennial students of yoga. There is always more to learn, more to know, more to realize and more to share.
'Whoever does the work to be done without resort to its fruits. S/he is the Sannyasin and the Yogin, not the man who lights the sacrificial fire and does not the work. '-Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 Verse 1.
To love is to go on teaching forever without growing weary. There may be times when you may cease to love, and groan beneath the burden of environmental obstacles and doubt.
When the first high tide of elation begins to ebb, and you see darkness filling the corners of light, hold your new posture with unswerving steadiness.
There will be periodic moments of wavering enthusiasm and disbelief. Fickleness cannot be prevented but it can be observed. Beware of Tamas. Embrace Satva and be patient in Rajas. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. "
The Sedona Sol Joyful Kids Yoga Blog is sometimes about kids yoga and sometimes about all things yoga. Yes! I love teaching kids yoga and meditation, but sometimes I like to write about peace and my friends. Ana Camacho-Hansen is the author of Yoga For Big Hearts & Little Hands: A Handbook of Yoga Poses for Children. For more information, click here. Enjoy!