Last summer, I taught kids art and yoga. Together. To most people, that doesn’t make sense. To explain to people (and myself) why I was doing this, I worked out a little speech. To this day, I feel proud of it; it captured the chaos in my mind perfectly and caused my gut to have a conversation with my head. You can’t just plan a whole camp on a gut feeling; logic must play a role. So I spent many hours planning my camp, and I wrote my explanation speech. My speech became part of my heart and my brain, maybe their connection, and it became all of my reasons. This is my speech:
The practice of yoga consists of eight limbs, and asana (poses) is just one. In fact, yoga contains most aspects of life in its teachings. The image of yoga today, at least in the United States, is very Westernized, and the idea of what it is has changed drastically from when it was first developed 5,000 years ago. In fact, I was sure that many of these girls had seen people treat yoga as fitness. Putting a way of life and fitness on the same level does not make sense, of course. I know myself better because of yoga. I know that I can’t be my best self every day and that’s okay. In yoga, you are constantly struggling and striving to become a better, stronger person. Yoga teaches you to take a deep breath, and also to relax. Art is a way to creatively express yourself, and also to relax. In a way, it is a lot like yoga. They both promote concentration, stress relief, and reflection. They are the greatest combination, fueling focus and creativity. These two activities cause you to have an inner dialogue with yourself – the product being a series of creations.
I believe these skills are extremely important to teach children, especially today. Children today live in a world of scheduled lessons, busy parents, and organized sports. If they learn the techniques of art and yoga they can navigate life’s challenges with more ease. Because of this, I decided to direct a camp so young girls could understand these techniques.
I kept my speech in mind as I watched six girls wobble around on their yoga mats lined up in front of me in the shade of my patio, protected from the relentlessly shining Texas summer sun. As they fell out of their warrior threes I kept reminding them, “It’s not a competition. Yoga is about knowing how your body feels, and if you need to take a while, that’s okay.”
Afterwards, we sat in a circle.
“Part of yoga is being kind,” I explained. “So we have to learn how to give and receive compliments.”
I sat in wonder as these girls found it hard to do the simplest thing: look each other in the eye and say a compliment. I watched their eyes fill with surprise as they whispered thank you. Everything I had thought, imagined, dreamed had been discarded for something better: to understand that I was teaching them something. As my time with them progressed, I heard only breathing during meditation time, and I watched their fingers touch every bead in their homemade malas. I felt so happy each time one of them exclaimed, “This is relaxing!”
As they colored in mandalas, I loved the way they concentrated on painting their Mondrian-inspired artworks and experimented with different colors and shapes. My favorite part was reading their binders after class. They proved they had learned something.
“Yoga is meditating.”
“Yoga is being kind.”
“Yoga helps me concentrate.”
As they crowded around the table and cut out Matisse-style shapes, I realized that the girls were teaching me so much too. I no longer thought of children’s artwork as “cute,” but expressive. They applied my thinking to it, making each shape special in its own way.
I worked so hard on going over every single detail of this camp. The feeling of complete satisfaction came to me because, even though my speech helped, the time finally came when I could fully express myself. What surprised me was, the girls understood more than anyone.
They learned from me, and I learned from them. I learned from their questions that they already had a grasp on a new way to live their lives – the ultimate goal of my camp.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.