As a kid's yoga teacher, I think I've learned more from the children then they have learned from me. Especially about Ishvara Pranidhana, the fifth niyama in our yogic guide to health and well-being, and our focus for March.
The sanskrit word Ishvara translates as “higher power” and Pranidhana as “devotion" or "surrender.” Much has been written about Ishvara Pranidhana, with definitions of Ishvara ranging from “God” to “self” to “universe.” It's a tricky topic because “yoga is not meant to be a religion or a dogma.” (BKS Iyengar)
So what then does Surrendering to a Higher Power mean for the yoga practioner? Here's where the kid's enlightened me.
When I first started teaching children, I struggled with getting the kids to pay attention to me and follow the yoga. Then one day, they surprised me. With little prompting, they lined up and walked themselves mindfully to our classroom, took off their shoes and socks, and set up their mats. Then one of the girls said to me, "remember last week when we talked about what we did well the week before? Can we do that again?"
She was asking me to review the class rules again.
It was in that moment that I realized that they were learning despite the chaos. That chaos is the norm for children's yoga. I immediately "loosened my reins" on the class and started improvising. I turned wandering off the mat into a lesson about how we can calm ourselves down by connecting to the earth. I turned "farting poses" into a lesson about how yoga can help us to feel better when we have a tummy ache. Even the wildest of the kids became (almost) totally engaged.
And I learned that this is what Patanjali was talking about with Ishvara Pranidhana. I had surrendered my teaching approach to the true nature of the children. I learned to embrace the chaos and recognize that the yoga learnings -- even for the children -- lie in between the poses. Since then, I have come to interpret "higher power," as "the true nature" of whatever I am working with, and I am learning to embrace that true nature accordingly. In a nutshell, I am learning to "go with the flow."
So this is our focus for March. What "true nature" are you resisting? To what do you need to surrender?
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Jamie Walton is a Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher with more than 8 years (1000+ hours) of experience teaching group exercise classes, and has been certified by the American Red Cross to administer First Aid and CPR.