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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Yoga for the Youngest Generation

Aug 04, 2021 06:00AM ● By Sheila Ewers

Amy Haysman (Photo: 2TPHOTO)

Amy Haysman, along with Cheryl Crawford, founded Grounded Kids Yoga, a program that has gained worldwide recognition for its revolutionary approach to teaching yoga to young people. In this interview, Haysman shares with us how it got started and what makes it unique.

Can you tell us about your journey into yoga and how you decided to create Grounded Kids?

During a hiatus from teaching middle school, I began practicing yoga to relieve stress and feel better in my body. I’m a teacher at heart, so during that very first yoga class, all I could think about was how much kids would benefit from the practice. I earned certification with YogaKids International in 2001 and worked for them for the next seven years as program director, mentor coordinator and teacher trainer. I even wrote one of the first-ever curricula for yoga in schools.

While I loved the playful aspect of the teaching, I found that many of the kids were interested in a more serious yoga practice. Grounded Kids grew organically as a response to that desire, and my new career evolved into co-founding Grounded Kids in 2007.

How is Grounded Kids different from other programs that prepare teachers to teach yoga to kids?

Certified Grounded Kids yoga teachers are trained to teach ancient yoga practices in understandable and digestible ways so that it is fun and meaningful rather than watered down or silly. The purpose is not to babysit or entertain but to teach embodied skills that will help children navigate the ups and downs of life with grace and grit. We accomplish this within the framework of 84 poses categorized into sequences reflective of the seven chakras and the five elements.

Most of our poses have kid-friendly twists and creative pose names that speak to the virtues of the pose. For example, we call Crow Pose “Serious Crow Playful” because it requires serious alignment with a playful attitude. Classes often include yoga games, guided meditation and visualizations, art and opportunities for students to create intentional practices to use in their daily life.

Grounded Kids is also different because we keep the yoga authentic. Our Quest For Elevation program is an optional offering where students earn signature bandanas to celebrate learning a pose sequence and skills that take the practice off the mat. As part of the Quest, children design their own yoga sequence to help them with something they are working on in their life, such as patience, perseverance, anxiety or even getting along better with siblings. Eventually, they learn how to teach others what has been so helpful to themselves. 

What specific benefits does yoga offer kids?

Teaching children yoga has gained popularity over the last few years, and for good reason. Extensive research studies [] prove that children who practice yoga have a higher overall sense of well-being and perform better in school. They improve academically and exhibit fewer problems with behavior and absenteeism.

Yoga teaches us how to express, balance, and regulate our emotions. It asks us to know what lies beneath the surface of reactivity and division in order to connect to our true nature, which is at ease and self-assured. Young people learn to recognize when they’re out of alignment with their best pose or their best self, and they discover skills to realign in order to feel better in their body and mind. The practice builds resilience, strength, flexibility and focus while reducing anxiety, depression, negative self-talk and the effects of chronic stress and trauma.

Beyond the research studies, we frequently hear everyday success stories. Parents report that brothers and sisters are no longer escalating disagreements but rather hearing each other out and working together to solve issues with empathy and respect. We receive occasional thank you texts from parents when homework and bedtime go smoothly and the whole family sleeps peacefully. And physical therapists and occupational therapists contact us because they notice significant increases in core strength, coordination and determination in patients who are attending yoga classes—and they want to spread the word. Over the years, teens have messaged us on social media, saying that what they learned in class has helped them deal with real-life issues like breakups, friendships, family struggles, depression and general stress. Student athletes use yoga to prepare both physically and mentally for their sports. And students with special needs discover ways to honor both their abilities and their vulnerabilities.

The two yoga sequences below are typical of Grounded Kids’ practices, and they’re perfect for kids who are returning to school this month. The illustrations that accompany them were created by a 13-year-old boy during one of the first Grounded Summer Yoga Camps, and they have become an integral part of training manuals, practice decks and supporting materials.

Focus and Concentrate Sequence

This sequence is helpful preparation for homework and study time.

(1) Focus Five Breath

Press your thumb and pinky together as you take a deep breath in and out. Press your thumb and ring finger and take another deep breath in and out. Continue breathing as you press thumb and middle finger together and thumb and index finger together. Conclude with a fifth deep breath as you give a thumbs up to the universe.

(2) Double Check

Cross your right elbow under your left and join your palms. Bend your knees and cross your right leg over your left to balance on one foot. Breathe evenly and alternate your gaze from your hands to something in the distance and then back to your hands several times. Unravel your limbs and repeat on the other side. Feel balanced and alert at the same time.

(3) Dark Seed Light

From all fours, touch your big toes together and widen your knees a little. Reach your arms forward as you bring your hips back toward your heels. Rest your forehead on the ground. Pause there for several breaths. Nuzzle into the darkness like a seed gaining nourishment to grow in the light.

 The Bedtime Sequence

Practice these poses in bed for a peaceful sleep.

(1) Lotus Breath

Bring your palms together in front of your heart. Press the outer edges of your hands together and open your fingers away from each other to resemble a lotus flower. Inhale and lift your lotus toward the moon. Exhale and release your arms out to either side. Connect to your heart and let go of tension.

(2) Do The Twist

Lie on your back with bent knees and outstretched arms. As you exhale, drop your knees to one side and turn your head in the opposite direction. Inhale to center. Exhale to switch sides. Continue to move in rhythm to your breath for several rounds. Unwind from the day.

(3) Resting Pose

Lie on your back and stretch your legs. Place your arms by your sides. One at a time, squeeze and then release your toes, legs, hips, belly, hands, arms, shoulders and face. Pay attention to the flow of your natural breath. As you inhale, think, “I am …” As you exhale, think, “… relaxed.”  ❧

For more information:  

Sheila Ewers, ERYT500, YACEP, owns Blue Lotus Yoga in Johns Creek. A former professor of writing and literature, she leads group and private lessons, yoga philosophy workshops, yoga teacher training and retreats. Contact Sheila at [email protected].

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