Zoo Yoga

Robin Herrick, Conscious Choice

Whoever invented yoga thousands of years ago surely didn’t mean it to be practiced with blue Play-doh squishing between toes during the sun salute. But with two little girls and a seriously busy schedule, the only time I had to get in a session of yoga was usually in the afternoon in front of the TV with a basic yoga video. I would try to find an activity to entertain my two daughters while I worked the kinks and knots out of my body that inevitably accumulate from playing in pint-sized dollhouses and picking up zillions of tiny mismatched socks.

As the yoga instructor peacefully intoned, “Six slow breaths in through your nose,” my daughters cut in with: “You’re mixing your blue Play-doh with my purple!”

“No I didn’t, I used the red!” And then a chorus of “ Mooom!”

I would sigh, roll off the yoga mat, pause the video and go sort out the girls.

“You’re shredding my Zen, girls,” I scolded.

“Mommy, can’t we do yogurt with you?” my 3-year-old asked.

“It’s yoga, Gabrielle, not yogurt. You eat yogurt!” my 4-year-old daughter, Isabel, countered.

“I wish you could but it’s sort of a big-person thing, you know?” I responded as they went back to their Play-doh and I to my mat. Later that evening, once the girls were in bed, I began to wonder, “Why couldn’t they do yoga with me? Half the time when they’re playing they’re in either a cat pose or a downward facing dog, anyway.”

I sat down at the computer and Googled “yoga with kids” on the Internet, and came up with more than a million sites. Obviously, I was on to something. After browsing the first few websites, I realized yoga could be as good for the kids as it was for me. Many sites emphasized the positive benefits of teaching kids self-control and cultivating the ability to channel frustration and tension in a positive manner.

Gabrielle had been gritting her teeth when she got angry or frustrated, and she didn’t believe me when I told her there wasn’t going to be anything left for the tooth fairy if she kept it up. I wondered if yoga could help her work out her frustrations on something other than her teeth.

But I knew I needed something special to keep their interest in yoga for more than five minutes at a time. As an adult, I enjoyed doing the poses simply for the relaxing sense of well-being I felt afterwards, but little kids would need an entertaining reason. The next afternoon, when I pulled out my yoga mat, I asked the girls if they could come help me.

I put in the yoga video and said, “This woman is doing yoga, and I’d like to try doing yoga with you two. But we need to make it more fun, so can you tell me what animal she looks like?” As we watched her move through each pose, the girls tried it and came up with some hilarious answers.

As I was trying to hold the tree pose, Isabel said instantly, “You look like a flamingo sleeping, mommy, with one foot tucked into your feathers!”

They needed a yoga mat like mine, since their feet were slipping and sliding all over the rug. Yoga mats are easy to find at just about any big discount store and I picked one up for less than $20. Since the girls are only about three feet tall, I decided to buy one mat and cut it in half.

We had a minor disagreement about whether the mat should be purple, Gabrielle’s favorite color, or blue, Isabel’s favorite. So I made the executive decision to go with orange and let them paint their mats in their favorite colors.

During the video, the instructor will generally say, “put your right leg out,” or “reach your left hand up,” and I thought the mat could help the girls with their left- and right-hand and foot skills. I pulled out some blue and purple acrylic paint and painted on their left and right hands, and added the words “Left” and “Right” under each hand, so they’d learn to identify the words. The girls then painted their names on the other side. It was incredibly messy and Gabrielle’s name looked like one giant G rolling down a hill, but they knew which mat was theirs.

My husband came up with the answer to keeping them interested in holding the poses: “Have them be zoo animals and they have to hold the pose for six breaths so the visitors can take pictures of them.”

The next day we pulled out our yoga mats and became zoo animals. We followed the video to a point, but when the instructor was holding the cat pose, we were huge tigers just waking up from our naps and stretching for the cameras. Instead of doing a lunge, we were praying mantises reaching out to catch a bug. The hardest part was remembering to breathe because we were laughing so hard.

Some days yoga consisted of a full zoo tour for all of us, and on other days it was enough for the girls to do a few stretches, be the lion or the giraffe, and then go onand do some other activity.

I could tell they enjoyed the stretching and I was always challenged to keep up with two little girls who could touch their toes with ease.

One afternoon, after a particularly silly round of Zoo Yoga, Isabel and Gabrielle were having a typical minor disagreement. As I walked into their room, I found Gabrielle flat on the floor, facing down. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Snakes don’t grit their teeth because they don’t have any so I’m a breathing yoga snake because I’m mad and I don’t want to hurt my teeth,” she explained in a muffled voice.

I smiled and patted her back.

“That’s a good job, Gabrielle, you’re an excellent yoga snake.”

Robin Herrick is a mom and a freelance writer in Atlanta, Ga. Have a story to tell?
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