Magazine article Montessori Life

"Restorative" Yoga and Silence Games for Children and Adolescents: A Way of Knowing the World More Clearly

Magazine article Montessori Life

"Restorative" Yoga and Silence Games for Children and Adolescents: A Way of Knowing the World More Clearly

Article excerpt

The usual approach to yoga in contemporary America is to take a class. In the class, the teacher demonstrates poses. Usually the poses have a name. Some of the names bring images of childhood to mind: cat, frog, sparrow. Some suggest a sound or movement which children might enjoy imitating-a meow, a churump, a twitter. It's easy to assume that the way to introduce children to yoga is through the imitation of sounds and movements of storybook-character animals. It's easy to conclude that the yoga teacher should encourage the children to perform.

Unfortunately, in a Montessori environment, this approach is fraught with pitfalls. One of the great dangers in emphasizing colorful associations and dramatic elements to small children is that the associations tend to distract them from the primary goals of yoga practice: improvement of concentration, improvement of balance and coordination, improvement of neurological functioning, and, yes, a physically mediated encounter with a spiritually rewarding sense of meditative repose. Performance art is a wonderful thing, but in a Montessori environment, "performance yoga" is a distraction that hinders the very real contribution to children's development that yogic practice offers.

In my last 15 years of yoga practice, as a 3-6 teacher, as a student of adolescent programming, and as a 3-14 program administrator, I've tried a variety of ways of introducing yoga to children. Awkward and easily distracted children in the preschool and kindergarten years are a particularly tough audience for meaningful yoga. Yes, they do like imitating cats, dogs, and lions. And if they can master a pose, they enjoy demonstrating complicated and demanding stunts such as "wheel" (a difficult and impressive backbend) or "shoulder stand."

But most distractible children are equally interested in assuming a standing pose halfway and then crashing dramatically to the floor. The interesting thing, the "point of interest," is the same: It's the show, the attention. It's all outer-directed. It's just a clever stunt, all about the sound of the crash and the glory of attention on demand.

That is not the promise of yoga for the Montessori environment, nor is it what is needed in an environment that aspires to equip children with the emotional and academic skills necessary to become self-directed, self-initiating learners.

Yoga that is Immune to Show-Offs

In yoga the teacher generally demonstrates a pose. In some forms of hatha yoga practice, the teacher gives specific advice on how to place one's feet, how to press this or that bone in a certain direction in order to "align" the posture, and so on. It's all preparation for the big event. When the student is ready, he needs to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. Yoga is all about exertion. After all the exertion, there's a short pause for repose in "shivasana" (literally, the "corpse pose"). The only rest in most yoga classes is the "repose of the corpse": Lying flat on one's back, arms at rest at a forty-five degree angle from the shoulders, palms of the hands up, legs at fifteen degrees, comfortably open. Repose in many approaches to yoga is a form of après-ski, probably disposable, not really part of the main event. That's the impression that students may well take away.

But in fact, that's not the only option. In the approach to yoga developed by B. K. S. Iyengar (1918-), there is an alternative to the stretching poses that is known as "restorative yoga." Perhaps the most thorough exploration of restorative yoga currently available in the United States is Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times by Judith Lasater, PhD, a practicing physical therapist.


A nice example of the principles of restorative yoga is a pose called tadpole. For tadpole, a child needs a yoga mat (or a normal Montessori work rug), a cotton or woolen blanket, and a bolster (a long, narrow cloth bag) filled with foam or some other cushionlike material. …

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