Yoga Calm began in 2000 with one counselor in a rural Oregon elementary school – Lynea – striving to meet the needs of increasing numbers of students with extreme behavioral issues. Soon, we were teaching it to others in the Portland Metro area – a program that became formalized when we started teaching it as college-accredited courses in 2005 and published Yoga Calm for Children back in 2008.
Today, we have trainers in other states and an online course series that makes our curriculum available to educators, counselors, OTs, and other health and helping professionals around the world.
In fact, individuals in more than 11 countries are now working towards Yoga Calm certification!
One of those is Irina Yalanzhi of Vladivostok, a city in the far east of Russia. We asked Irina if she could share a little bit about her experience with yoga, Yoga Calm, and sharing yoga with children.
We were grateful for her immediate “yes!”
Irina: When I first started to practice yoga, I knew nothing about it. It was just physical activity for me and nothing more. But then I realized that my body was changing, and my mind was changing. I became more open, more balanced, positive and mindful. And as I have kids, I thought of how it might influence them.
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It took me some time to start thinking of teaching yoga – and some time to feel ready for it. Two years ago I started. I studied with the Russian kids’ yoga teacher Victoriya Zankina and took a course on yoga for special needs kids, too. Now I am completing my course work for Yoga Calm Certification.
Yoga Calm: How has the course been for you?
Irina: This is the first time I have tried online study. I have always been against it because I thought that nothing could substitute the live communication when a student is receiving not only knowledge but real experience and energy, emotions and smiles. Sometimes it becomes even more important than the knowledge itself. But I thought, “Why not to try online anyway? It may become good experience, too!” And it has been.
It is great that there are a lot of videos in the course! It is very important to see the lessons , kids, relations between kids and kids and teacher. I am glad I decided to try it.
Yoga Calm: What kind of teaching are you doing now?
Irina: I teach now in private studios, but I have never worked in schools. But I feel that there’s a great need to have “yoga time” in schools here. Our children need relaxation, stillness, grounding – especially when they become students. One girl told me that on her way to yoga class after school, she feels like she is carrying a big and heavy bag on her back, but on her way home, she feels very light, calm, and relaxed. “This is miracle!” she says.
Yoga Calm: You know, here in the US, kids today face a growing amount of stress. Many factors feed into it: high-stakes testing and the pressure to achieve; troubles and even trauma in the home; the social-emotional challenges of navigating online life and violent media; lack of time in nature; the lack of opportunity for free, unstructured play.
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What are some of the issues you see Russian kids facing – issues that yoga might help them address?
Irina: I think children in most cases are the same everywhere. They face almost the same difficulties and problems. And things that can make them happy are also the same – love, acceptance, our patience to their impatience and hyperactivity , understanding, attention to their real needs. We give our children good education, but we do not teach them to breathe and listen to themselves. That is what yoga gives kids – a way to connect to themselves.
Yoga Calm: How did your own kids respond when you began sharing yoga with them? Has it made a noticeable difference in your home life?
Irina: I have two boys, 10 and 9 years old. They are very very different, and so is their relationship with yoga. They started to practice yoga a few years ago. It was a group, and they liked it very much. Then summer began, and the group stopped functioning. Unfortunately, there was no kids’ yoga around, so we sometimes practiced yoga at home. That was the time I started to think about becoming kids’ yoga teacher.
When I started a group, my kids went there, too, but my younger son says that I am his mum, not a teacher for him, so he quit going to my group. Nevertheless, he sometimes practices at home by himself and asks me for help if he experiences difficulties. And he likes to breathe. He is very active boy, and when it is difficult for him to concentrate on his homework, he starts breathing. He says it makes him feel more mindful.
My elder son goes to my group with other kids and feels comfortable. And sometimes when I feel frustrated or get angry, he tells me, “Mum, do not forget to breathe! Breathe in and breathe out!” And that is all I need to calm down.
My husband does not really like to do the physical poses, but sometimes he lays down in relaxation pose to feel calm and at ease. But I think that although they do not practice as much as I do, they all understand the power of breathing and relaxation, and that is very important nowadays.
Yoga Calm: What inspires you to work specifically with children with special needs, as well as children in general?
Irina: I do not really know what inspires me to work with children. I just like to be with them and practice yoga with them, to see how yoga works and how children change. It makes me feel happy. Yoga just works, and it works with special children, too . May be children themselves inspire me to teach them!
Live outside the US? Enroll in our online Youth Instructor Certification Course Bundle with the discount code INTERNATIONAL and get a $100 discount! Offer starts June 6, 2016 and is good through June 25, 2016.