Coaching Yoga Warriors: the Hearts & Minds Behind SBG’s Kids Yoga

On April 23rd our Growing Gorillas re-launched it’s kids yoga curriculum so that it implements the most successful elements of the kids martial arts promotion: ranking and promotion. The improvements will encourage kids to deepen their yoga practice so that the benefits last a lifetime.

I sat down with Coaches Kisa, Sunni, and Cheryl to talk about the exciting new changes.

How did the idea for the kids yoga curriculum come about and how did it start?

Coach Kisa: The newest rollout is more of a change to how we implement [the curriculum] and how we ensure that kids are staying connected to their work through yoga.

We’ve added the same structure for promotions to help mark kids’ progression on that path. In jiu jitsu they get stripes and belts to mark their progression as their jiu jitsu skills improve. In yoga, they’ll have different color mats including stripes in the form of ribbons to mark progress on their yoga journey.

The meat and potatoes of the curriculum itself isn’t much different. What we’re most excited about is this external acknowledgment of kids’ progress will keep them engaged for longer periods of time.

One of the yoga sutras talks about a zealous commitment to practice sustained over a long period of time. Our goal is that the kids will stay engaged and the parents will see the kids’ progress and make the decision that their kid shows up to class.

Coach Sunni: Kisa found out that I was in the Leadership of the Flathead Program and that I had a 2nd year project that I needed to work on to integrate kids yoga into schools. We had coffee. She told me what they were envisioning and proposed the idea to me, and I felt so fortunate. I think we even shed tears, yeah we did. [laughs] It was pretty amazing. From there you put your mind to something and get it done. And to share it with the kids, they were so happy to receive their mats.

KD: As a leader I have an idea of where I want to see not only our students and members go and how I want to see them go, but there’s a sense that when things are right, they’re right.

All of our teachers for kids yoga classes have been fantastic, and they planted seeds for what we’re rolling out now. We’ve come this far because of their dedication and passion for teaching yoga. Now, we’re ready for kids yoga coaches, who can lead the students to a whole new level of training.

We have the right people in the right places. having kids yoga coaches like Cheryl Anne and Sunni, that’s been the missing piece. Now it’s go time!…Cheryl Anne’s going to cry now.

Coach Cheryl: [laughs] Shut up.

SG: It’s beautiful.

KD: There’s a difference between being a teacher and being a leader. There’s a difference between wrangling kids, teaching kids, and leading kids. I can get wranglers anywhere. Teachers are relatively easy to train.

But to have a leader, someone who’s going to bring out the best in kids and show them that they have everything they need, those are hard to come by. And that’s what we have with Sunni and Cheryl. These are leaders.

CAB: We wrangle sometimes, too.

Oh yeah. I sat in those classes. I saw the wrangling. Cheryl, what made you want to get involved?

CAB: Sunni and I took the Coaches Course together. The first time around I thought I wasn’t ready for it in my journey in yoga and where I was at in life. The next time around, the Coaches Course came again, and I started getting that thought process.

I’d just talked to Sunni a few weeks before about watching her teach kids yoga at the schools. A few weeks later, Kisa inquired if I would like to get involved and assist in kids classes.

Like Kisa said, when it’s right it’s right. My heart was like, this is what I’m supposed to be doing now. This is what I need to gear my life to. And then I got into my first class and I realized how much I love those kids!

Like Sunni said they are so excited. Every day they come in and ask, “How do we earn our next stripe, how do we get our next mat, what is the process?” They focus is already starting.

KD: Now, they’re going to take that enthusiasm and what their parents thought was, “Oh isn’t that sweet, they’re going to learn some cute little yoga poses. Now their parents will start to have some more respect for our kids yoga program as the same version of child development that our jiu jitsu program has. This is something more than just yoga or martial arts. This is helping kids find their way through themselves into life.

SG: I’ve already started to tell them about how to gain another mat you’ll have to look like you’re paying attention. You’ll have to stand tall and alert. So they’re already standing tall and alert.

KD: They respect the mat. I still have an entire box full of all my kids’ jiu jitsu belts, because they respect that and what it represents, all the relationships they made, the friendships they built, the coaching they received.

And also the stages in development of who they were when they were a grey belt. Yoga is seen as spiritual or woo-wooey to people on the outside or who don’t understand it. What would you say to parents who feel hesitant to get their kids in yoga because of that perception?

SG: It’s not like that at all. Mainly, it’s self awareness, not only being aware of where you are in space or how you move. But also the concept of breathing. Sometimes we just don’t get the sleep we want to get. Maybe we didn’t have a great breakfast or nothing for lunch. To just inhale deep and slowly let it out.

CAB: This day in age people are so wrapped up in “what do people think about me”. Nobody gets inside and starts thinking “what do I think?” Nobody thinks about, “what is going on with me and what’s inside me.”

Through yoga, we teach to observe what is our body doing, what is our mind doing, how am I breathing in certain circumstances? Anger and sadness happens, and sometimes kids don’t express it the right way, because they don’t know how. You teach them to look inside. Why is my body feeling like this? Why am I shaking? Why am I so mad that I want to throw my toys? Backtrack and look at what’s going on, what happened that day, and getting in tune with how their bodies feel.

SG: When they practice yoga –

CAB: They know what calms them.

SG: That’s exactly right. They’re not focusing on these external things going on, is my leg in the right position, am I breathing.

Have either of you seen changes in your students, since you started teaching?

SG: I most definitely have. I have some very hyper, fun-loving, joyful monkeys who have really began to trust me. I can tell because they’re not as rambunctious. And they encourage the other students. They want to coach the kid to not be disruptive.

CAB: I’m still kind of new to the classes, but definitely the trust is starting to come around. They realize that I’m not going anywhere, and they can listen to what I say.

People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. Breaking that boundary was the beginning parts and now I’m ready to get into the meat and potatoes.

They had to trust you first. It’s like Kisa said about how they need a leader before anything can stick.

CAB: I’m excited to see what transpires.

SG: It is exciting. I’m glad I get to do it with you.

CAB: Sunni & Cher!