Kidding Around Yoga (KAY)—developed by Integral Yoga teacher Haris Harini Lender—specializes in blended trainings for almost anyone who works with or has children. What sets KAY apart from similar companies is our unique approach to teaching children’s Yoga and a series of original music written and performed by the founder Haris Lender. Our blend of independent online learning (OKAY) and 2 day face-to-face intensive training is a fantastic way to learn to teach kids Yoga without sacrificing the typical three days. Our incredible graduates are integrated into the tight knit KAY family through an invitation only teacher’s forum and receive access to MANY more resources via the back pages of our website. Nothing gives us more joy than to watch our trainees sharing the gift of Yoga with their kids.
An Interview with Haris Lender
Haris Harini Lender has been teaching kids and developing Kidding Around Yoga (KAY) since 2000. She offers the KAY training to anyone who works with children and would like more tools for their toolkits. In this interview, she talks about the qualities of a good children’s Yoga teacher and how she leads children and teachers into a deeper Yoga experience.
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): Most Yoga classes for kids are just games and stretching. KAY has those too, but you do a full Integral Yoga class. How?
Harini Lender (HL): Yes, if you watch the class, you see fun, games and sometimes chaos, because they are kids! But, we open with a chant and we close with a chant. We do forward bends, backward bends and half spinal twist. We do deep relaxation, which I call, “The Secret Garden,” so foundationally it is an Integral Yoga class. By the time I get through a class, I’ve pretty much touched upon everything in Yoga. I talk about all the branches of Yoga. When they are in The Secret Garden, I may read to them from Enlightening Tales, or I may talk about Karma Yoga. I sometimes say, “Your assignment for tonight is to do some Karma Yoga for your mom or teach The Secret Garden to your sister or brother.” I’m teaching the five branches of Yoga within the class.
My class is essentially stress management for children. Many of the kids we teach are ADD, ADHD and are totally stressed out. The best way to get the kids to The Secret Garden is with lots of exercise beforehand. I teach them how to meditate, and we do all the things we do in an IY class, but in the middle of the class, we jump, we dance, we jog. I firmly believe in high activity. I have to have that in order to get them to lay down and experience Yoga Nidra. I’ll often put on a song and have the kids do some jumping jacks or “jog through the jungle” (a song on one of my CDs) in between doing some of the asanas. I do a high energy activity, or some pranayama games. We’ll chant, but I bounce them around in the middle and let the kids get exhausted and then they happily lay down and do the guided relaxation. Having the KAY music has been really helpful as well for many schoolteachers and PE teachers who use it as a tool. It gives them another way to practice Yoga with their kids, even if they aren’t a certified Yoga teacher.
Most parents who observe my classes can’t believe their kids are lying quietly, doing the deep relaxation. The parents’ jaws are practically on the floor and they’ll tell me they’ve never seen their kids relax like that! Parents write our teachers things like, “My son told me he went to The Secret Garden on his own yesterday.” How great is that! If you use the music CDs, you’ve got a kid in their bedroom doing Yoga by themselves. Do you think 7- or 8-year-olds will go do a little Yoga practice alone? Probably not, but they might decide to listen to the music and do the Yoga poses and things on the CD by themselves at home with their friends or siblings.
IYM: What makes a good children’s Yoga teacher?
HL: For me it’s about finding my inner child. I laugh a lot and have a lot of fun in class. I know I’m teaching them through my actions. I don’t stand up there and recite sutras but I teach them through actions. I teach the locks and keys early on in class. So, for example, if a child comes up and says, “Bobby said something mean to me,” I remind them of the key to use for that: Disregard the mean. If someone brags about their new puppy and another child complains about it, I’ll say, “Isn’t that delightful that Sally got a new puppy?” If someone found out a grandparent died, we talk about another key: compassion. So, I remind them about the locks and keys and demonstrate how we have an opportunity to practice compassion. Teaching mindfulness is another big thing. The kids will walk in and kick off their shoes. The first thing we teach them is to mindfully place their shoes in a line—which I actually learned from Mataji in the ashram! We have eight activities that teach mindfulness in the class. My Yoga practice is mindfulness all day.
A good Yoga teacher makes the children feel that he or she is fair, kind and loves kids. We don’t do a lot of disciplining. I have ways to keep chaos to a minimum, but the bottom line is you have to be lighthearted and fun; you have to want to find your inner child. Teaching Yoga to kids is not for everyone, but it does keep you young! You need to be able to create a safe place. Especially, because some come children come from very bad environments, teachers need to be able to embrace them and love them for an hour.
IYM: What do you do when things get out of control?
HL: If kids aren’t listening or if they’re fighting I say, “Pick a partner” and I’ll put them in partner poses. That works really well, because it usually takes them a good 30 seconds to pick out a partner and taking that time redirects their behavior. Another thing, I may do is to immediately pull out a story and start, “Once upon a time . . .” and I continue reading one of my own Yoga stories and the kids act out the story with poses.
I don’t turn children away from the class unless their behavior is really extreme. I really haven’t done that because I feel I can deal with anything for 45-60 minutes! My daughter used to say, “That kid should be kicked out or not come back to camp,” and I’d explain to her that’s the very reason why that person needs to be there.
IYM: Are many of your KAY trainees school teachers, play therapists, PE teachers, but aren’t certified Yoga teachers?
HL: Yes, this was something I really agonized over when I first started KAY. I didn’t want to accept those into my programs who didn’t already have a 200-hour certification in Yoga. But, I soon realized that many of those who were interested in the KAY program weren’t going to teach a 1-hour Yoga class for kids. They were looking for more tools to add to their kits to assist them in working with children. Today, Yoga for kids is a part of play therapy. Therapists were coming to KAY looking for stress management training, meditation and breathing exercises to use as tools.
I spend a lot of time in the KAY training on the science of Yoga. The first thing I tell the trainees is that I’m not there to teach them 400 asanas—they can learn those anywhere. Many trainees think they’ll be doing pose after pose. I actually spend more time on Raja Yoga. Many don’t even know about the Yoga Sutras. I want them to know that Yoga isn’t an exercise class. Many go on to take a 200-hour teacher training course because their interest in Yoga deepens, which is very rewarding to see.
IYM: Are you hopeful that Yoga will be included in public school curricula?
HL: Nothing would make me happier! Kids have so many challenges today and they can’t just sign themselves up for a Yoga class, so I’m on a mission to get it into school systems. How many more adult Yoga teachers do we need? There are videos all over the Internet and news reports of how this is spreading. I feel so grateful to get to see the reaction that the therapists, teachers, nurses and anybody who works with kids have when they see the amazing benefits Yoga has on the children.
So, it seems perfectly logical to me that Yoga in PE classes would be something that is offered at least weekly or optionally after school. Look back at how Yoga for adults exploded over the last 10 to 15 years and mark my words: It is happening now for kids. This is the beginning of a very big boom. And thank goodness, because I can tell you that kids today lead very busy and stressful lives. They need it as much as we do.
Unfortunately though, to have Yoga in the public school system is going to require funding. We all can see that the arts are being cut left and right. There are many non-profit groups raising money for Yoga in the public school system and as yogis we should all be supportive of this. My company, Kidding Around Yoga, is doing our part. I request each of my teachers to teach one class per month as Karma Yoga. Often times it’s in a public school.
We teach in a Title One school in St. Petersburg, Florida. Imagine 35 inner-city kids in a big circle out on the basketball court. We need a megaphone for this class! But, they do know how to meditate and the teachers ask us often to share this with them for use in the classroom. They do know the poses and we have our KAY music to keep them dancing and moving. We tire them out and then we take them to The Secret Garden. This is the most beautiful thing to see. Yoga makes you nicer. Kids are challenging, but when they get up out of deep relaxation, they’ve been infused with bliss and they float out the door.
I once heard Swami Satchidananda say, “It’s Integral Yoga if they float out the door at the end.” So, Kidding Around Yoga is Integral Yoga for kids.
Haris Harini Lender is the founder of Kidding Around Yoga™ and is a certified Integral Yoga® teacher at the 500 level. She has also been certified in Prenatal Yoga, Raja Yoga, Children’s Yoga and Yoga for Stress Management. Haris has traveled around the USA sharing the KAY program and she also ran the Camp Yogaville program for 11 years. In addition to her popular music CDs, Kidding Around Yoga and Namaste n’ Play, among others. Haris lives in St. Petersburg, Florida with her husband and four kids. For more information please visit: www.kiddingaroundyoga.com.