Saturday, July 2, 2011

Little Yogini

Yoga seemed like a good idea.

At home, I taught Sophia a few poses: Downward-Facing Dog, Tree, Child’s Pose, Cobra. Sure, she only held them for a nanosecond, but she liked the idea of twisting her body into new shapes. Then she started inventing some of her own, such as the “Geeky Bop” pose which consists of poking your butt out and holding up one of your arms at a right angle. So we went to the library and took out a book that I had loved as a child, Be a Frog, a Bird, or a Tree. Sophie thumbed through the pages and did her best to imitate the kids photographed in a variety of postures. Most were still too hard for her, but she liked Bird pose a lot, leaning forward and flinging her arms out behind her. So when the children’s librarian told me that they were going to run a summer yoga series for kids, I thought she would love it.

The first session, I made the mistake of allowing Sophia to bring Snakey-Pie, her beloved stuffed friend. Sophie insisted that Snakey join her on the mat, and when I asked her to leave him in the stroller the teacher, full of good intentions, said, “Don’t worry mom. This is a no-judgment zone. It’s fine if she wants to have the snake with her. We can do a snake pose.” What the teacher, we’ll call her Lola, didn’t know in her effort to be inclusive and accepting is that 1) I really didn’t want her to have the snake, so (quite inadvertently), she had undermined me; and, 2) As long as Snakey-pie was around, Sophie was going to lie down on her mat and stroke him while sucking her thumb, which would ensure a lack of participation. I thanked the teacher for not having a problem with Snakey Pie, but told her, “I have a problem with Snakey-Pie,” who I promptly took from Sophie and sent to live in exile in the stroller.

Of course, Sophie threw a royal fuss. The non-judgmental mothers were trying very hard not to look judgmental.

The instructor had brought her own three-year-old child, we’ll call her Olivia, who, in three-year-old fashion, was not interested in participating that day. Sophia, who admires and imitates impish behavior, wanted to do exactly what Olivia was doing: not yoga.

Well, fine. I wasn’t going to force Sophia to do yoga. And, as Lola said, yoga is not about forcing anything…your body, other people’s bodies. I could lead her to yoga class, but I could not make her pose. So, she flitted about, in Sophia fashion, occasionally landing on her pink mat to bend over or lift a leg or lie down and suck her thumb.

Ten minutes later, she grabbed her crotch and screamed, “Oh! Pee pee!” (Translation: I waited until the absolute last minute to tell you I have to go to the bathroom and any second my bladder is going to explode or leak onto my yoga mat.) So, because both of us were shoeless, I scooped her up and ran into the library, slapping her down on the toilet just as the deluge began.

When we returned to the class, Olivia announced coyly, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom!” Hmmm.

“But you just went to the bathroom before class,” Lola reminded her.

“But I’ve got to go AGAIN. NOW.” Lola sighed, asked another parent to take over as she brought her child to the bathroom.

Sophia did rejoin the group and briefly modeled bird pose before taking off in flight and running wildly across the library lawn. One-by-one the other children jumped up and took off after Sophie in a mass show of yoga-refusal.

I looked around at the disappointed faces of the non-judgmental moms in the group. I apologized to them, and though they all immediately chorused, “It’s fine. It’s okay.” I knew that it wasn’t fine with them. They did not bring their children here to be led astray by my deviant child. But who’s going to say, after Lola had declared it a no-judgment zone, “could you please leave and take your disobedient child with you?”

Lola and Olivia returned from the bathroom. A few of the moms quietly retrieved their kids from Sophia’s clutches. Perhaps I should have just picked Sophia up and left at that point. Maybe I was still hopeful that Sophie would do some damn yoga. Maybe I’m just stubborn and didn’t want to give up the vision of the two of us doing yoga together. But we stayed. Or rather, I finished out the class, while I watched Sophia dance in the sunshine, out of the corner of my eye, and fretted each time a child jumped up to follow her joyful example.

It was anything but relaxing.

At the end of class, I reiterated my apologies, and the moms assured me it was fine and that we were welcome back. I wanted to believe them.

Later, Sophia told me, “I had a great time at yoga!”

We skipped last week, as we were away, but today I bit the bullet and we went back. Nobody seemed too horrified to see us. This time, we started off on the right foot, leaving Snakey-Pie at home. It was a gorgeous day, warm and bright, perfect for Sun Salutations. I breathed a sigh of relief to see Olivia was not there. Sophie rolled out a pink mat and sat down. She stayed with the class for the first fifteen minutes, occasionally straying to pick up a branch or run in the grass or ask another child if she wanted to play, but, more or less she participated. In the last fifteen minutes, her focus waned. She tried to grab a ball away from another child and sulked when I made her give it back, sitting in the grass a good 30-feet away for the remainder of the class, angrily shredding leaves. But she returned when the teacher invited each person to pull two cards from large tarot-like decks. Sophie came trotting over me to show me her cards.

At the top was written “The Child.” Underneath these words the card declared that she loved children—being with children, playing with children, and reminded her to remain in touch with her inner child, retaining her youthful playfulness.

What is the measure of a successful yoga class? A child who obediently stays on her mat attempting the poses to please her mother, or a child who doesn’t need to twist her body like a pretzel to experience tranquility. She’s already there.


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