Many of you know that part of my gig as a yoga teacher is teaching children in the pediatric department at a hospital in Brooklyn. This is thanks to the generosity of the Starlight Children’s Foundation, where I used to work. I was (and am) so excited to be back working with Starlight, which does amazing work for seriously ill children and their families–such as providing yoga in the hospitals!
I was fully prepared for the emotions involved with working with sick children; I don’t think you ever get over seeing small children in a hospital bed (or crib for that matter). However, what I had not been prepared for was the fact that it is virtually impossible to be prepared…at least, not in the way that I was familiar. No day at the hospital is the same, so every week I am presented with any of the following: group classes, bedside breathing/guided imagery, private sessions with family members, teenagers, toddlers, and everything in between.
Oh the anxiety!
I spent the first few weeks feeling like a fake. Thoughts of nervousness and doubt were constantly ambushing my mind. Sure, I’m a yoga teacher and I get along really well with kids, but does that make me a great children’s yoga teacher at the hospital? Not necessarily. But how do I become one? I just spent 20 minutes doing yoga with a little girl’s Barbies, how is that going to help her? That group class was chaotic, didn’t flow at all, and the one little boy didn’t try any of the poses or breaths. Why are you even doing this?
Then one day I was leaving, once again being overly critical of my teaching, when I saw a sign with this quote posted on the wall just outside of Pediatrics:
“It’s not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”
And it all clicked. What I am doing is great, not because my teaching is perfect, but because my intentions are good. In yoga, we always begin our practice by setting an intention; life off the mat is no different. The mission of the Starlight Children’s Foundation is to brighten the lives of seriously ill children and their families–which is exactly my intention. So if playing yoga Barbie brightened that little girl’s day, then that was successful. Keeping this in mind has given me greater confidence in my abilities as a yoga teacher, which in turn has helped me to relax and just have FUN with it–because at the end of the day, seeing a smile or hearing that what we did felt good to a child is way better than teaching the “perfect class” (what is that, anyway?).
Last week, I had the opportunity to have a second session with a little boy who I’d met the week before. Then, he had limited mobility, so he stayed in bed and we had the most wonderful session of guided imagery; the places he went and the things he saw were truly heart-warming. This time, I was glad to see that he was up and walking about, with just a slight hunch in his shoulders. I asked him what he would like to do and he said, “I think I should do some stretching since I can move around more now.” We ended up squishing ourselves into the only space we could find. A few months ago, I probably would have been stressed out because the space was not ideal and limited what we could do. But this time I kept Mother Teresa’s words in mind and, together with his mom, we breathed deeply as we did basic seated stretches, twists, heart openers and some standing balancing poses (his favorite). We giggled as he renamed Cobbler Pose “peanut butter and jelly” (because your feet touch like a sandwich), and encouraged mom when her hips weren’t as open as his to move into a pose. When we were finished, he stood up and his mom pointed out how much taller he was standing. He had a huge grin on his face and told me that he felt more relaxed, which in turn made me feel wonderful.
When you put all the love into the doing, it comes back to you many times over. All it took was a sign on the wall for me to realize it. What signs have you been given?