At the end of September, I went to the Childcare and Education Expo. It is such an amazing place to learn more about EYFS and Primary education. I met some inspirational people, all supporting children to learn in this very important phase of their lives.
I met Susan and Katie at their stand, and was smitten by their book, because as you all know, I believe that there is More to Books than Reading.
It was a pleasure to interview them about their passion.
How did Yoginis Yoga come about?
Yoginis Yoga was born from the shared passion of its founders, Susan Hartley and Katie Brennan, to bring the benefits of yoga and mindfulness to all children regardless of ability or socio economic background.
Having taught for many years in nurseries and schools we have been able to reach all children, not just those who have parents or guardians with an interest in yoga and mindfulness or who can afford to pay for out of school activities. It is important to reach these children who are more likely to experience trauma and as such have reduced higher education and job prospects. We know through neuroscience that yoga and mindfulness techniques can help children to manage the stress response and move beyond survival to the fulfil the higher needs as discussed by maslow of love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation and that such learning before the age of 7 years can have a major impact on a child’s future. All children though can benefit, even the most loved and academically able child will not fulfil their potential if they have a sense of not being good enough or are unable to cultivate the awareness to discover their life purpose.
In our early days of delivering yoga to children (2006ish), we found that the accepted story telling method of delivering yoga was both time consuming to plan and that not all children engaged with this platform especially in educational settings. Both being qualified yoga teachers with the British Wheel of Yoga, we wanted to follow the traditional yoga journey and format to build skills for life in the same way as reading and writing and that this would be achieved through routine, repetition and structure. Over a number of years we developed what is now the Yoginis Yoga scheme of work, this is based around a ‘grab and go pack’ which is a visual timetable that drives the yoga session. It consists of a set structure with interchangeable activities and postures which the children become familiar with and which enables them to feel empowered to take the lead and become the teachers themselves. One of our most exciting moments was seeing a child with additional learning needs spontaneously take the lead and for both himself and his key worker glow with pride as he did so.
A major turning point for Yoginis was when we were asked if we could train teachers and early years practitioners to deliver this themselves and Yoginis Yoga Training was born. We have been delivering our progressive training programme for 4 years and now hundreds of children (ages 2-11) and their coaches who include primary school teaching staff, early years practitioners, sports coaches and childminders benefit from the scheme of work not just in our local area but across the country including the Isle of Man. These key workers are best placed to understand the unique needs of each child and are best placed to bring these skills at the right time and place for best effect to all children in their care. Not only can they deliver a yoga session, they can use their skills to bring focus to learning or to help calm a child.
The book ‘Let’s Go Yoginis’ was a direct request of sorts from the children. Sue or ‘Yoga Sue’ as she is affectionately known (the funniest name we get called is ‘Oga’!!!) was asked by the children if she could please go to their house to teach their parents, for a while we just thought this was adorable and then we began to think how we could achieve this. Enter our book.
I love the book! What do you think your readers learn from the book?
We love books too, there’s nothing quite like the smell of a bookstore or the feeling of a book that has never been opened before, not knowing what wonders might lie within, for me this throws me into mindfulness unconsciously.
There is so much that our readers can and do learn from the book, although it may appear very simple it operates on a number of different levels. Leonardo Da Vinci said that ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. We love this quote. In life so many things are overly complicated and yoga unfortunately is one of these things, one of our key values is to ‘keep it simple’, and it works!.
Children who take part in Yoginis Yoga sessions at nursery or school are able to take home what they have learnt and share it with the wider family, this is an opportunity for us to help break family cycles and so it is important that the book is non threatening and accessible for the whole family. These children can open the book, recognise the image and show their parents how to do it, what we have also found is that children can use it independently to make their own entertainment (as much declining but necessary skill) and to self regulate, this is an important first step in learning to manage their own physical and mental health and wellbeing.
This is also true of children who experience Yoginis Yoga for the first time through the book. Using colourful illustrations and photographs means that even those who cannot read are able to pick up the book and use it. Parents can learn to work with their children, introducing them to the book and its contents but allowing the child to take the lead in what they want to do, it is often tempting to feel we need to teach and lead but true learning happens when the child takes ownership.
As children learn to read they can use the instructions and develop their posture (we never talk about perfecting or similar words as we focus on fun not form, all bodies are different and there is no one right way, this leads to injury and feelings of not being good enough) there are ideas for exploring the posture and questions to encourage curiosity and conversation. Curiosity can be lost after childhood and we hope that this is reignited and that readers can learn to apply curiosity and wonder and take this into other aspects of life.
Children can learn how to use a book, from developing fine motor skills required to turn the pages to using the contents page to find what they are looking for.
Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s we appreciated the simple things in life, before phones, social media, a million TV channels and so on. We were the children who played out on the street, engaged in risky play, played family board games and made our own entertainment with a plastic cup and spoon on a beach and we were happy. We don’t want children to learn that every activity needs to be accompanied by high tech graphics and sensory stimulation, boredom arises when the brain searches for stimulation and can’t find it. We want them to learn that when you explore, be curious and use your imagination, boredom ceases to exist and the brain grows.
As you have found Kat, the book isn’t just for kids, adults don’t need to be presented with yoga and mindfulness in complicated ways either. Body awareness is one of the most important things that readers can learn from our book. Body awareness is key to learning and although negative thought patterns that cause mental health problems originate in the brain they are experienced as physical sensations and can be triggered by sensory input so it is important build this awareness and learn to interpret the signals, this is how we have the power to heal ourselves or to know when we need to seek help. Body awareness is achieved through movement and ‘play’ in the postures.
The postures include all movements of the spine so that children learn to keep their spines healthy, a healthy spine protects the nerves of the spinal cord. Tech next is a condition which is affecting young children and causes spinal degeneration and its associated symptoms at a much earlier age.
Breath awareness is introduced in practices which are safe and appropriate for children, they can learn laughing crab, hissing snake and angry cat. The breath is the connection between the body and the mind and helps to calm the nervous system, children can learn to manage their stress response.
The sloth teaches children to be still, to have time alone with their thoughts, out of choice not because the social media network has gone down and they are forced to be with their own thoughts. One of the main reasons for the spike in mental health issues as a result of the pandemic was because people were forced to stop and be with themselves, and a bucket load of issues surfaced, regular checking in with ourselves allows us to deal with these as they arise and resolve more quickly.
Children learn the Yoginis Yoga promise, this is based on kindness. Kindness is the secret to happiness. When we give or receive kindness we are flooded with happy hormones to beat stress and improve wellbeing. Kind Hearts, Kind Words, Kind Thoughts” is an affirmation which plants a seed and manifests in our lives. It also opens up conversations about kindness to self and others and as such is our tool for co and then self-regulation.
Most of all its intention is fun, when we have fun we learn more and are more likely to develop a positive attitude to exercise and wellbeing. Smiling and laughing releases happy hormones and fights the stress hormones, this is cardio protective, increases our wellbeing and connects us with our thinking brain to learn and make good choices.
And a little bit about your journey…
Our journey, it seems, is less of an all inclusive round the world tour and more of an uphill climb with the odd landslide thrown in to keep us on our toes. What we have come to learn however is that when we are faced with challenges we are constantly reminded about how important the tools that yoga and mindfulness have given us are; resilience, tolerance, awareness, acceptance, kindness amongst others.
Our business is not just a business, it is our life’s purpose and we don’t know what else we would do. Yoga and mindfulness has been in our lives for longer than we have been attending Yoga classes, although that’s a long time as well. We often talk with each other about feeling different to others even as young people, my primary school report described me as an ‘enigma’. Although this upset me at the time and caused me self-doubt I now take pride in this as I know it was just me celebrating my uniqueness and I am happy to be me. Sue now understands that she had undiagnosed learning difficulties and like me was made to doubt herself. What we actually find in each other is a complementary whole, not many people can say that about their business partner.
Our early experiences explain why we feel so strongly about promoting kindness (including to self), celebrating uniqueness and why we keep it simple and focus on fun not form (our mission) and why we bring yoga and mindfulness to children, because this is what saved us and we wish we had these tools as children.
We met in 2007 on our British Wheel of Yoga teacher training course. Sue and I both taught children’s yoga, Sue full time and me part time around my career as an accountant with Greater Manchester Police, we could have been competitors but we both feel that collaboration is better and supported each other. It was when Sue required an operation and I covered her classes that we began to work together more closely having both moved away from story based yoga to more education based delivery. In 2015 my husband sadly lost his battle with cancer and I left my accountancy job as I felt a desire to make a difference. Sue and I have been working as Yoginis Yoga ever since. As a cruel twist of fate Sue’s husband was also diagnosed with cancer and lost his battle around 18 months later in 2019. Covid followed and at times we have thought about giving up but we can’t, it is what we do. We face the challenge, take time to reflect and then we find the things we can be grateful for and find ways to make the best of any situation because we have learnt through experience that you can’t change a situation but you can change how you respond and really that’s what mindfulness is.
Our children are a further testament to the importance of our work. They all lost a parent at an early age but each one is individually amazing in their own way, they are not only high achievers, they are kind, passionate and have emotional intelligence that far outweighs that of most adults. They have experienced the mental health challenges that accompany grief, they are aware and can talk about their feelings and know when to ask for help, they offer support to their friends in a non-judgemental way, but they are also able to set their own boundaries and manage their power, taking time to do the things they need to recharge and are not afraid to walk away from people or situations that deplete them. They have bad days but do not allow these to define them, they embrace life and learning and they aim high, in a word they are resilient.
Every day we wake up, our work varies but our mission is the same to bring the benefits of yoga and mindfulness to all children regardless of ability and socio economic background and not just
because it’s a buzz word of today but because it’s what we’ve always done and it’s simply our purpose.
I follow Yoginis Yoga on Instagram and very much love the affirmation cards they post daily. You can follow them across social media here:
Buy the book http://www.yognisyoga.uk/shop-1
Social media @yoginisyoga
Insta Yoginis Yoga Training Ltd (@yoginisyoga) • Instagram photos and videos
For the chance to feature in this blog, post a picture of you and your child doing a yoga pose! Which ones are your favourite? I, for one, like sloth!
Love Kat x
For last weeks blog on Thinkably and the competition, click on https://moretobooks.blog/2021/10/05/thinkably/