Educating the Whole Child through Yoga
Marsha Wenig is the founder and President of YogaKids®, an international organization dedicated to bringing Yoga to children. She has been a pioneer in the field of Yoga for children and draws on her roles as mother, teacher, poet and author to inform her work. In this interview she shares the benefits of teaching Yoga to children inside and outside of the schools.
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): How do you see Yoga as uniquely benefiting children?
Marsha Wenig (MW): I started Yoga with my own children when I was pregnant and believe that all Yoga practices set a template for life. Yoga increases children’s self-awareness, self-care, self-esteem and compassion and improves their overall health. Yoga also improves a child’s posture, flexibility, strength, balance and coordination. Educational kinesiology implies that Yoga postures and breathing practices actually change the neurophysiology of the brain. Yoga is a non-competitive activity that can increase the imagination and readiness to learn. My goal is to get kids excited and interested in using Yoga-based ideas and techniques.
IYM: YogaKids® is one of the first programs to serve children. How did it begin?
MW: I started teaching Yoga in the Los Angeles public schools in 1984 as part of a program called California Poets in the Schools. I was just beginning my explorations integrating Yoga into creative writing classes. Children, like adults, get writers block—what do I write? How do I say it? They get stressed over spelling. I would ask them, “Do you know you have a third eye beside your two eyes and you can see things with that eye and feel things that you never knew before?” These simple Yoga-based phrases helped them with their imagery. They could find their own authenticity and realize that what they wrote didn’t have to be “right,” but should creatively reflect their own unique experiences. People started saying, “I want to do what you do,” so we moved from an hour-long workshop to a full certification program that trains teachers and child professionals around the world.
IYM: Do you integrate the philosophy behind Yoga?
MW: I think it’s important to never lecture about the philosophy behind Yoga; some students are simply not going to resonate with that. I do talk about kindness, love and self-esteem. Swami Satchidananda was an inspiration for me this way. He always spoke in a language that people could understand. This approach has helped me to work with children and parents. YogaKids makes Yoga a little less intimidating because it does not contain dogma, it is playful. They are positively astonished; this is Yoga? This is so fun!
IYM: Is there any work that you think still needs to happen with Yoga for children?
MW: I’d love to see Yoga as part of the academic curriculum for future teachers, because this is where I believe Yoga belongs. I’m invited to Germany to train health professionals, families and soldiers of the US Air Force. Every time a parent is deployed, the stress ripples through the whole family. I will be doing a workshop with the parents and one for children talking about what we can do in trauma situations and how Yoga might be able to help. Teaching Yoga to families outside of the schools is also necessary…
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"The whole world
is an ocean filled with waves.
Learn to float on them and
don't get caught in them.
Equanimity, or balance,
is Yoga. Learn to balance
yourself - then you will
- Sri Gurudev