On the first morning of my second year teaching kids yoga at the spectacular
Brimmer and May Summer Camp, I found this quote in a magazine:
"I alone can not change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." --Mother Teresa
I cut it out, put it on the fridge, and walked out the door thinking, "Totally true for Mother Teresa, but me? Not so sure..." My mind began to spin into the future, pondering the wisdom of signing up to teach 72 kids-yoga-classes (ages 3-10) over the next six weeks. I know from experience that for me, teaching kids requires some significant time off to stay fresh and energized and I was not going to get it until August. Why had I done this? What good was it going to do anyway? I thought about Mother Teresa's quote and my mind was convinced that any stone I cast would simply plop in the water and do nothing at all.
I noticed my thoughts, and took several deep breaths to come back to the present moment. My intention for the summer bubbled into focus: I had chosen to teach camp because it was an incredible opportunity to teach kids to connect to their breath as a tool to help calm their bodies, center their minds, and make good choices. It was a simple intention with a potentially profound benefit. As an adult, I discovered the power of my own breathing as a tool and that has changed the course of my life. I knew it could do the same for kids.
A few more rounds of breath and I heard my wise teacher, Andrew Tanner, reminding me to, "Just show up for your Dharma (purpose) and let go of the outcome." I kept breathing. By the time I got to the school, I was able to leave everything outside except a bin of yoga props, my lesson plans, my giant yoga mats, and my intention to teach kids to breathe. I went in to cast my stone without any expectation of ripples.
Here is a sample of what happened during camp.
The Kid's Spontaneously Shared:
- Mom of a 3-year-old boy related to me: "I love yoga. We breathed." Mom said, "Show me what you learned." He did and now they use breathing as part of their day--especially when things get challenging.
- 6-year-old girl: "Miss Elizabeth, I couldn't fall asleep last night, so I did my belly breathing and then I fell right asleep."
- Two brothers, age 7 and age 5: "It was my brother's idea, (to do yoga with their parents every night before bed)," the 7-year-old told me. "We do it every night and we take turns being the teacher. I like to teach your breathing stuff. Then we can fall asleep."
- Boy, age 7: "Miss Elizabeth, I was at the lake with my cousins this weekend and we woke up at 5:30am. We aren't allowed to get out of bed until 6:30am, so I asked what they wanted to do yoga. They said 'yes.' They never did it before so I was the teacher. It was really fun and they really like it a lot. Especially the breathing part with the belly."
- The class of 7-year-olds were doing a yoga relay game and everyone got out of control. I asked everyone to stop and find a way to calm their body. Immediately 15 children chose one of the following without direction or suggestion: lay on their back and began belly breathing; sat in sukasana (criss-cross applesauce) with hands over head breathing in and down through center breathing out; or sat in sukasana with fingers in "okay" position with eyes closed.
- Boy age 7, "Elizabeth, my plan is the make a book of yoga poses with stick figures and give it to you forever."
- Girl age 9, "My mom got me two books to read and I was so excited I couldn't decide which one to read first. So I took some time in my room and I breathed with my eyes closed. When I was calm, I knew which book I wanted to read. And then I felt happy."
- A 5-year-old girl said, "My mom got angry at me and it made me really angry, too. When she went to make dinner I laid on the couch and did 10 belly breaths. It made me fell all better."
- During class, a 5-year-old girl said, "Miss Elizabeth, can I take a break?" I said, "Of course." She went into to child's pose and did 7 deep breaths and then rejoined our activity.
- 5-year-old-boy stopped me in the hall with his counselor. The boy said, "Miss Elizabeth, I have a present for you." He did deep breathing, raising his hands over head breathing in and down through center breathing out. "That's your present," he said. His counselor added, "He breaks into this breathing randomly all day and he totally calms himself. It's awesome."
- During bad weather, the 5-year-olds were eating lunch in the yoga room when I arrived. I chatted with them and then got out my yoga mat to stretch before teaching. Spontaneously, one by one, six children joined me on my mat and copied everything I was doing without speaking. They stayed with me until lunch was over and they did not want to leave.
- Counselor on my last day at camp said, "Elizabeth, Jorge (age 10) was about to throw something at someone earlier today and I said to him, 'Remember what Elizabeth taught you?' He stopped himself and said, 'Oh, yeah.' Then he breathed and used his words instead.
- Dad of a 7-year-old boy said to me at camp assembly: “It is because of Elizabeth that I have a son who walks around the house like this..." Dad demonstrated tree pose and did deep breathing. "Thanks Elizabeth," he said. "It has made a world of difference."
1. Cast your stone.
2. Every ripple counts.
3. Your may never know who your ripples reach, AND you can trust that they do.
4. The ripples you create are unique. Don't deprive the world of the changes only you can set in motion.
5. If you are touched by the ripples someone set in motion, TELL THEM!
In a world that appears to be increasingly more distracted, more complicated, more electronic, and more disconnected, YOU as teacher, parent, friend, partner, child or adult can make a difference every day by casting YOUR stone. Trust in the ripples. And if you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of their effect. I was that-kind-of-lucky this summer. I am so deeply grateful.