The Game of Yoga, by Scott Florence
One of the best things about teaching yoga to children is that they don’t take it seriously. They laugh, they giggle, they fall out of poses (if they’ve even managed - or bothered - to climb into the pose in the first place) – in short, they behave in all the ways that make your typical adult yoga practitioner become more and more tense on the mat.
The child came to a yoga PRACTICE. Your average adult wants a yoga PERFECT.
There is no perfect in yoga. It’s all practice. All process. It’s a game, where you are constantly making an adjustment to find a balance between your mind, your body and your spirit.
The asanas, the physical practice on the mat, that’s not yoga. That’s just a means to an end, a game to play as you balance your mind, your body and your spirit. I use the word balance rather than unite, because unite implies that the three are unconnected and through the practice of yoga we bring them into connection; but that’s not true. I know my mind, my spirit and body are all connected – my spirit yearns to connect with something greater, my mind gets tricked into thinking that worldly ambition is that greater connection, and my body goes into overdrive with stress to achieve that ambition. The connection is clear – but it’s out of balance. The practice of yoga is the practice of bringing balance to my mind, body and spirit – and only in that sense do we mean the three are united through yoga.
Back to children, having fun on the mat, laughing and falling and not taking the practice seriously. Perhaps those children are practicing stronger yoga than your average adult working so seriously to be perfect on the mat. “Wait a moment” I hear you saying, your blood pressure rising, “They may be united in Mind Body and Spirit as you propose above, but there is no way they are in balance.”
Are their minds, their bodies and their spirits connected – or rather, are they in balance? A complex question. If we measure them by adult standards, no; but then, they aren’t adults. Children are still learning, growing, and developing their cognitive and emotional abilities. How do they learn and grow? Through play! My 3 year old is constantly reenacting what happens to him during the day. He is constantly reenacting what he sees around him, sometimes directly (he loves to play “put the baby to bed”), sometimes through interpretive creative play (playing monsters, where sometime’s I’m the monster and sometimes he is, and so we learn to explore our fears and our courage through interpretive play).
More to the point, the child on the mat isn’t making the achievement of “the perfect pose” the point of yoga. They are engaged in a joyous practice, continuing to learn how to bring their mind, their body and their spirit into balance, for where they are, today. They do it with joy. They do it with elan. They don’t care if they wobble – they glory in it. They play with their wobbles. They use their wobbles to define and explore their limits. They don’t take themselves or the practice so seriously. And neither should any of us when we are on the mat.
The mat isn’t the point. It’s just a means to an end. So the next time you’re on the mat in downward dog, let out a little bark. Just to keep yourself in balance.