There are two facets of my life that I use to define myself when introduced to new people. I use these two features because they are so different, an by saying that I am half of one, and half of another, my new friend will come to an immediate understanding of the two very distinct elements of my life.
I am a yogi.
I am a childcare worker.
Polar opposites. One is about centring yourself, finding your higher self, and your innate stillness from within. The other is noisy, loud, rowdy, craziness that is over in a blur of magic-markers, tears, laughter, games and a whole lot of mess. And did I mention the racket?
I have been practicing yoga for many years now, and have been working with children for about two years, yet it has only recently dawned on me how much my yoga practice has prepared me for working with children. The postures and positions that I have spent countless hours practicing, developing and strengthening were actually developing and strengthening my teaching.
Tree pose, for example, teaches me how to balance, concentrate and focus – a key for anyone who is working with children. Many days when I am responsible for organizing seventy 5-10 year-olds it feels as though I am standing on one leg and if my concentration slips just a touch I will topple over into one giant heap. It takes some practice to be able to breath, focus and keep yourself upright, even when you (quite literally) are being pulled in every direction.
Garland pose gives you the tools to get down to a child’s level. Anyone who has ever has to reprimand a small child knows the difficulty in getting them to look you in the eye. They will look anywhere but where you are (that is why children should never play poker, well that a few other reasons…) in an attempt to mask their crime, a sort of ‘if I can’t see you I did nothing wrong’ rationale. By looking at a child face to face you can see their emotional rollercoaster: anger (I didn’t do it!!), guilt (ok, so maybe I was there…), sorrow (I am so sorry, I promise it won’t happen again!) and fear (are you going to tell my mum???). You can tell a lot just by seeing the world from the position a child sees it, where everything and everyone is ten times bigger and thirty times scarier!
One of the most difficult thing to cope with is children fighting – tears, tantrums, drama and many, many versions of the same event. It is near impossible to try and determine exactly what happened based on the complicated and varied twists of the tale you hear. It is at these times that I find myself turning to my Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog. It is comforting to know that you can remain so grounded and remove yourself from the situation – bowing your head so that you do not become overwhelmed with what you may hear and arise only when you feel connected, secure and ready to decipher the messages sent your way.
Headstand literally runs you off your feet, a phrase that has a definite place in childcare. Headstand allows you to see the world from a different angle, and gain perspective that can only be attributed to the fact that all the blood is pumping straight to your brain. It is this perspective that helps you get through such musings as “I don’t like eating fruit, I only like eating M&M’s – my mum let’s me eat them”, “but WHY do I have to play with him if I don’t even like him?!” and the all important question, “Miss, how did that lady get pregnant?”
But most of all, children make me laugh. No one can be as brutally yet refreshingly honest as a child, and in many ways there is no way to prepare for what is to come. I am taken back to one particular afternoon when an unfortunate pimple outbreak occurred right in the middle of my forehead. Knowing that any make up will simply further aggravate the already inflamed area, I cleaned my face and set off to work with the outbreak on full display and was doing fine until “Miss, you usually look so pretty in the afternoons… but today you look like you have chicken pox on your head! What is that about?!” Nothing, and I repeat nothing can protect you from this crossfire – but if you can channel your cleansing breath and simply do what my yoga instructor tells me to do when faced with a challenging posture and smile, you can get through anything!!
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