Want to Play?

Want to play? Making children’s yoga classes more fun. Here are six principles to keep the game going in children’s yoga. By Gopala Amir Yaffir

I have been a father for a while now, a partner for a bit longer, and a yoga teacher for both adults and for children for even longer. If I have learned one thing from all of the hard work and heartaches that come with those complex relationships, it’s that play is extremely important.

I’m not talking here just about children. Adults are big kids too, pretending to be all grown up, and have made everything so damn serious. Whether it’s a relationship, work or yoga, we have weighed it down with seriousness.

However, just because we are grown ups, it does not mean we are mature! We too are still figuring out how best to live and being who we really want to be.

Play is a great place to relieve tension in a relationship, resolve complicated issues without even talking, role-play different scenarios, exchange roles for a bit, test the boundaries and, most importantly, reconnect to each other.

If we talk specifically about children, play helps to develop skills such as planning, problem-solving, explaining, conversing, negotiating, empathy, sense of self, self-esteem, confidence, resilience, sharing, staying focused, and achieving goals.

This translates into curriculum areas covering numeracy, literacy, social and emotional learning and more. Sounds good, right? And that’s why play is coming back into school curriculums and therapy.

Playing is where it all happens. It is where we develop real skills in positive communication, trust, leadership and so much more. While playing, we learn to take things lightly, laugh about ourselves, and move on. Oh my, how much do grown ups need this too?

Fun and play are a social endeavour; something we do together. As such, it is a great way to bring people together. Whether it is children at school, partners, families, or whole communities.

Stress stands in the way of loving relationships, happy families, learning at school, productive work, and functioning communities. Play can be the medicine!

But to get the most out of play, we need to learn how to play well.

The principles of awesome play below I constantly need to remind my children, children in yoga classes, serious adults in yoga teacher trainings, and of course myself. When we forget how to play, quarrels can start; but when we play well, we have fun and the game can continue forever

Here are six principles to keep the game going in children’s yoga:

1. Announce yourself

We need to know what part you are playing in the game so that we can interact with you in the way you want us too.

Kids version: I’m a princess, I’m a robber, I’m a policewoman, I’m a unicorn etc.

Grown ups version: Wanna play? I feel like dancing, take me out tonight, I’m the leader, as you wish, I’m excited!

2. Yes to everything

Hearing “no” is not fun. When I hear you say “yes”, it feels like you want to play with me. You can redirect the game with your suggestions, but don’t dampen my spirit by denying me altogether. If someone says “no”, “you can’t do this”, “you are a monster and not a princess”, “I don’t want to” etc, the game ends. Saying yes keeps it all going.

Kids version: Yes, you are a princess. I’m a dragon and I’m going to eat you alive!

Grown ups version: Yes, I want to play. Acro Yoga? I’ll be the base and you’ll be the flyer.

3. Go more with what is fun

Go with what works, move with the flow. Don’t force anything, and don’t insist on a particular way. Whatever works, do more of it; let go of the things that don’t work. We are complex beings, and we cannot be everything for everyone, or dream to agree on everything, want the same things, and answer each other’s expectations to the fullest, so take it easy! Take the easy path, and enjoy the journey.

4. Create opposite roles and twists in the plot

If it is always the same, if the game is not evolving, if it is not exciting enough, one of us, or all of us may lose interest. It takes hard work sometimes and a lot of energy to keep the game going. And yes, sometimes we need to break it up for a bit and have some time on our own.

But really we do want to keep the game going for as long as we can, and to do this we need to be creative, throw in some unexpected characters and events, and be extraordinary at times.

If we both have the same role, there is not enough happening to keep the game going; there needs to be a bit of a Yin and Yang to keep it electric. At the same time, don’t get stuck in one roll, change and evolve to fit the game and the circumstances.

Kids version: We can’t all be doctors in the long run, so there needs to be doctors and patients. Good and bad is a big concept as well, like super-heroes and villains.

Grown ups version: A bit of teasing, and lots of surprises can help in keeping the fire going. Remember to switch roles too.

5.Think in associations

To keep the play going for longer it is important to free our mind and not get stuck on one way to do it. Try not to create too many rules, and jump excitedly to the next great idea whenever the energy goes down. Whatever was fun and worked well can be enhanced and taken to the next step by thinking in associations and moving forward in some continuum to something even slightly related. When things get to a totally cathartic state, we take it all down to a new beginning.

6. If in doubt, do what everyone else is doing

Sometimes you are out of ideas or just not sure what to do; well, then just tag along and go excitedly with what everyone else is doing. When a great idea comes into your mind, jump right back into the centre; until then, simply support everyone else.

Gopala Amir Yaffa

Connecting people through yoga and making the world a better place!