Do children even need yoga? -Kristel Paimla
As of today we will start introducing kid’s yoga teachers from all around Estonia. Our opening interview is with yoga enthusiast Kristel Paimla, who is a kid’s yoga promoter. In the article we will find out what she thinks of kid’s yoga, raising children and life itself, do children even need yoga ect.
How did you discover yoga?
Classic: my personal life had become so uncomfortable at one point, that I had the choice of either shoot someone, use antidepressants or yoga. All jokes aside life directed me to yoga with great changes.
After completing Kundalini yoga teachers training, I found myself at Tallinn’s Disabled People’s House, where I shared the wonderful ancient philosophy of Kundalini yoga, while continuing my own development and healing, which is an inescapable part of being a teacher. I started thinking to myself why does a person have to grow up, letting all things about them go a-wire and only then discover yoga to repair the damages. It would be so great to start this self-discovering road from an early age and stay in a connected state. I asked my teacher Sukhdev Kaur weather there was yoga for children.
The answer was yes. But at that time in 2010 there were no courses in Estonia, but there were great teachers in Spain, Germany and USA. But studying abroad was too expensive for me. So the plan was born with other likeminded people to get together a group of people in order to organize the first children’s yoga teacher-training course in Estonia with leading foreign teachers. And so the snowball started to roll until the Kid’s Yoga Studio was also offering kid’s yoga teacher training courses. Today I am also publishing a kid’s yoga book, which will see daylight in the following months thanks to donations through the site Hooandja.
What has yoga given you in life?
I am at loos for words to describe all that yoga has given me. The main thing is that I have found myself and gotten the courage to walk my own path and do my own thing, which at the moment is being dedicated to serve children and children’s yoga. It was a very radical step considering the fact that I had been working in law since 1997. All jokes aside, today I’m at a point where in my dear homeland Estonia people put an equals sign between my name and children’s yoga and in some circles people consider me the mother of Estonian’s kid’s yoga.
Do you have any sayings that you follow in life?
Yes. The main thoughts are: Everything is good for something. Have the courage to dream and dream big, because all dreams come true sooner or later and in the best way. Everything happens for a reason. You are always held. Give your all. Do not assume. All acts have a positive intention behind it.
Is there a book that has affected you in a great way?
There are many. Starting from “Pipi Longstocking” ending with “Rumi’s 40 rules of Love”. At the moment I am reading Osho’s “The Book of Children: Supporting the Freedom and Intelligence of a New Generation” due to writing my own kid’s yoga book. I am not a big Osho fan, but in this instance I do recommend this book for all parents and people who deal with children, because it is very inspiring, yet so elementary.
Why is yoga important for children?
First I would like to highlight that kid’s yoga, which is based on Kundalini yoga, is not just about physical exercises. It is something much more. Yoga is a lifestyle, which consists of physical exercises, meditations, mantras, humanology (being human, nutrition, development, conscious decisions and communication, taking responsibility etc).
If you give a child the chance to try out yoga, then they like it and usually they stay with it. Though sometimes people don’t understand that children are doing yoga, because kid’s yoga is in it’s essence very playful and creative, where depending on the teacher, there is a lot of singing, dancing, music and art. Children leave the class in a good mood and in a state of calmness. I never see kids leaving angry or malicious. Even the kids who are told that they are bad at home, kindergarten or school are in essence good, friendly and open. They get this label because the adults that handle them aren’t able to handle themselves or don’t understand their behavior because it doesn’t fit in the social norm.
And sometimes sadly the children start to believe the label given to them and so they start acting according to the label. Yoga classes help children just be and feel valuable. Children experience trust, honesty, love and are free of labels, which sometimes can be missing or distorted at home, kindergarten or school.
When we practice yoga, it affects us physically, mentally and spiritually. In classes we often talk about setbacks in life: when something doesn’t work, someone has lost a friend or a loved one and other topics that are important to kids. We discuss these topics rather than hide these emotions. When you are sad you are sad. We dissect topics like love, hate, sadness, loneliness, stress, birth, death – everything that kids want to talk about and of course we do this all in a playful manner. For example we play newspaper ball war and I ask them: “Who has felt anger?” After which all kids raise their hands. Then we discuss it: what anger looks like, where it feels in the body, what they have done when they have been angry and what could be done to release this emotion without hurting anyone. Children come up with fascinating ideas that surprise you. Kid’s yoga has a lot to do with the voice through talking and singing.
Sometimes we do “releasing bad feelings” classes, for example clapping or stomping. We also do guided meditations – we imagine how a garbage truck drives in front of us and we throw all of our anger, fear, disappointments, ugly thought in to the truck and have it taken away. All that is left is love, trust, lightness and joy. Often we sing an Estonian version of a mantra “I am happy, I am good”. Parents have told me that children sing that mantra at home, when they’re in a bad mood or there are hard times at home. This is a way for the child to learn how to support him/herself emotionally.
In addition to emotional discharging, children have the courage to express themselves in yoga classes and what is most important – be heard, involved, appreciated. I have often seen children, who at first don’t have the courage to talk about themselves, because they have been conditioned to listen and be silent or believe that their thoughts aren’t important. Also it is very common that many children have stage fright, but even this is overcome with yoga.
Why should you start with yoga as a child?
We live in the fastest time known to history, where abundance of info and stress is not just a problem for adults. Parents are often too busy with work or messed up themselves, so kids grow up in a world, where they have to face the world on their own and sometime even be a parent for their parent. Children grow up in a world where loneliness, malnutrition, poisonous environments, lack of exercise, electronics, video games, TV, stress from home and school, drugs and poverty are their everyday companions.
I will give you my favorite example. Even though our population is small, our classes are overpopulated and kindergarten groups are as large as in China. We also force all sorts of teachings and after school activities on our children in an attempt to make them happy, successful, talented, intelligent, rich ect human beings. For what? Why force a growing pine, oak, birch? No one buds into the process of a growing tree, but for some reason we want to make kids into beautiful bonsai trees, so that it would be beautiful to watch and to gloat in front of friends and relatives.
What is the result? A bunch of miserable children, who live a life that they have not chosen for themselves, that has been forced upon them, something that has come from a third party and children have not had the courage to say NO! nor the time to figure out what they actually want to do in life. In the meanwhile while we’re trying to make our children into bonsai trees and realize our own dreams through our children, we don’t even have time to go deep and really pay attention to our children, cause we make them run the race to be the best, most successful. To chase money, things and positions. So what are we really teaching our children? I think we’re just sowing forward our own fears, sense of lack, double standards and not being satisfied with ourselves. We sow what we are and the point that we are in, which often makes us mistake fear for love.
Many kid’s sports, which are good for the physical body, are in their essence very competitive and just add more stress to their lives. Not to mention that in most dance class’s children are made to move and act in an inappropriate way. Little girls making moves that would be more appropriate for young women of the age 20+, they also get their faces made up and they are suggested to eat less. This is insanity, because we’re letting kids know that we don not accept them for who they are nor their God given beauty. Yoga is not more reasonable, because the only one you are competing with is yourself, without having to act like you’re older nor use make up. They also don’t have to feel left behind, which often happens in other classes when you have been absent for a few times.
Also breathing fresh air and being outdoors is more a more rare and has been substituted with being inside: cars, home, classroom, sport halls, youth centers, and shopping centers. This is why more a more children and teenagers have all sorts of problems with health, behavior, emotions, concentration, sleep, low self esteem, stress, overweight. What’s more important they suffer under the belief and sense of lack. It seems like children are afraid to live. For example, in an outdoors class I asked the children to lie down on the grass for relaxation and many didn’t do it due to the fear of ticks.
So in order for this not to happen, I think yoga is the best way to support the physical, emotional and spiritual development of children and teens. Not just the physical exercises but also all the tools for life that yoga offers. Yoga helps the child to understand him/herself and be aware of their emotions, behavior, surrounding environment, the world as a whole and how to manage all of this.
How does kid’s yoga differ from other types of yoga that adults practice?
Kid’s yoga based on Kundalini yoga is hard to even compare with adult Kundalini yoga. If anyone would attempt to give a grownup class to children, I would imagine the children running out fast, because it would be rather boring for them. The structure of the class is the same though: tuning-in, warm-up, kriya, deep relaxation, meditation, and tuning-out. When an adult class lasts for 1,5 hours, then a kid’s yoga class lasts for 30-60 minutes, depending on the age of the children.
Since kid’s yoga doesn’t mean statically sitting in one place and doing strenuous asanas or still meditations, it’s more about having fun and accessing peace of mind through that, it suits most children. But there are children who it doesn’t suit and that’s ok too. For instance, there was a teenaged boy that came to my class, who had a very big need for attention and approval. When we were doing yoga exercises in class, then he always wanted to compete with others, wanted to be the first and the best, but we don’t compete in yoga. At the end of the class when we were all drawing, he would solve difficult math accusations, which I found very cool, but for him the yoga class was too boring, because he couldn’t get a first place prize, so I never saw him in class again.
When we talk about yoga with kids of the ages 11-13, then some of them already want to be like grownups and they like it very much when the class resembles the one meant for adults. This is why it is perfectly fine when parents, uncles, aunts bring kids with them to adult yoga classes. At least in Kundalini yoga it is acceptable, because children are a part of our lives.
What are the changes you have noticed on your children from practicing yoga?
Children, who practice yoga regularly at least once a week, become more open, creative, balanced, caring and joyful. They are physically, emotionally and mentally healthier. This is expressed by joy of life, courage, self-confidence, calmness and creativity. Even their grades improve. Of course yoga also improves the physical aspects – endurance, flexibility, coordination and nervous system. It helps digestion and strengthens the immune system.
I have two success stories in my experience – one child overcame stuttering and another who was like an old oak when it came to flexibility, was able to bend and flex like a young birch after some time of practicing yoga. My own children always meditate when they feel in a rut; they start singing the mantra “I am happy, I am good”. The third child is just as good and joyful as he is because of yoga.
How often should children practice yoga?
As often as possible.
When would be a good time to introduce yoga to a child?
The sooner children start discovering themselves, the better and easier it is for them for the rest of their lives. Since most behavior patterns and problems start in childhood, the sooner we repair the connection with the world, and ourselves the better.
Yoga is suitable for children of all ages. For example babies practice yoga with their mothers. From the age 3-4 most children can participate in yoga classes on their own.
Where did you get the inspiration to write a kid’s yoga book?
From children. From life itself. From my everyday practice with children. From Kundalini yoga teachings.
What inspires and motivates you in life, what makes you smile?
Love, that creates. Children, our greatest teachers. Nature. People. The fact that I have come to this world and I can wake up each morning and experience being a human being and the beauty of the world. Even if it is sometimes challenging.
What would you like to say to the rushing person of today?
Be present, recognize and relax. Be you. Even if you have managed to shove a million things into your daily schedule, be present while doing these things. For example when your child, spouse or whoever tells you something, listen and be there for them. When you prepare food, pay attention to the colors, smells, taste and texture. The same with eating or any other activity. Enjoy your life, your being, every act and moment, even when being in traffic jam or experiencing toothache. Ref-