Kids' Yoga: Mary Kaye Chryssicas Interview

Tracey Kelley
Instructor Mary Kaye Chryssicas

If you want to learn more about kids' yoga, Mary Kaye Chryssicas can help. She is the author of the book I Love Yoga; the book and DVD, Breathe: Yoga for Teens; and the Yoga for Teens card deck.

Chryssicas has nearly 20 years experience teaching yoga to children. She holds kids' yoga classes through her practice, Buddhaful Kids Yoga, at Laughing Dog Yoga Studio in Boston, and is involved in numerous yoga-at-school programs.

LoveToKnow Yoga asked Chryssicas to share her expertise for teaching kids' yoga, what methods work best, and what her superhero power might be.

Kids' Yoga: Mary Kaye Chryssicas Interview

Please tell us a little about your yoga journey

I always wanted to be a teacher. Yet, after college, I held a job as advertising director of a magazine. It wasn't a family-friendly career and included late hours and stress. I was exhausted with the demands of raising a family while keeping my employer happy.

I was always a happy person by nature, and when I noticed how a friend became more positive and energetic, I asked her what she was doing. She told me that she tried yoga and loved it. We started practicing yoga in her living room, and I immediately connected with all it had to offer. My whole body felt alive and energized, and I stayed in a great mood all day - nobody could rock me!

What sparked your interest in kids' yoga?

I wanted to find a way to spend time with my three children while doing what I love. I knew that I loved to write, make people laugh, practice yoga and work with children. I started writing children's books and helped a friend open up a yoga studio. She taught the adults while I taught the children.

Soon the kids were begging mom to go to yoga so that they could go to yoga, and the idea of kids' yoga skyrocketed in popularity. I started teaching in schools, after-school programs, and studios. Children, teens and parents gave such positive, great feedback that I knew this was something that I must introduce to as many children as possible.

Teaching Children Prompts More Freedom

Why did teaching yoga to children resonate with you?

I couldn't help but think of how much I would have gained had I been introduced to yoga as a child. I was always a high energy child (with loads of scars to prove it!) and only valued by being busy and achieving. Nobody valued down time or meditated -- we just wanted to be busy because that would lead to success.

Teaching yoga to kids requires completely different skills to teaching adults. I teach yoga as well as how to approach life. In fact, I'd like to see more adults hang on to the childlike qualities of their younger years and be more spontaneous, tolerant and less anxious. I think that's why I respond to children: they appreciate spontaneity and unabashed craziness! That doesn't mean I stand on my head and stick my toe in my ear - oops, I do that! - but it gives me a freedom that most adults fear.

How do the children and teenagers respond?

Through kids' yoga, I help children feel less self-conscious about their bodies and who they are. I don't judge and believe children have an incredible ability to break negative habits and thought patterns. Children respond because I make them laugh, release their fears and help them understand why people do the things they do.

The teenagers in my classes are very responsive, and appreciate what yoga offers. This generation is used to instant gratification with instant text messages, instant computer research and everything they need with a click of a mouse. They have little idea of working and waiting for something. Yoga teaches values like humility and patience that can be extremely beneficial to this generation.

Techniques for Teaching Kids' Yoga

How is it different to become certified to teach kids' yoga?

To teach children, you actually need to be certified first to teach adults. From there, go to children's yoga training workshops to develop ideas for games and kid-friendly poses.

I'm certified to teach adults and always attend teacher training workshops for new ideas and to keep my approach fresh. But, truthfully, I have developed my own unique style. I'm a storyteller, and kids naturally respond to my way with words so I weave lessons while teaching the asanas. I love making children laugh and find laughter as healing as yoga, so don't expect a quiet class from me!

Chryssicas with a group of youngsters.

What qualities have you developed teaching children that you didn't have teaching adults?

I've become more patient, and learned to go with the flow. The children I teach have made me feel well-loved, which sends out more love to the universe. I'm probably even more affectionate and expressive than I was before, so it's only had positive effects on my life.

To teach children, you just have to love what kids do and say. You need to walk into the class with no expectations, because kids will almost always surprise you. They say whatever comes into their head, they fart and burp, they crave attention.

You need to understand that each face has a story and each needs to be treated differently. Some need strict guidelines, others gentle encouragement, but they all need to get positive feedback. That is the one constant.

The Impact of Yoga on Children

Please share a story or two about how yoga changed a child's life.

I speak to kids about the energy they project and ask them are you the child that is always complaining: "I'm cold", "I can't do math", "I'm not pretty enough to be popular"? While teaching yoga, I try to get them to hear their negative self-talk and realize that they are just attracting more negative energy, negative people (gossips, whiners, complainers, etc.) and negative experiences.

One girl that I had been teaching since she was 8-years-old came up to me in our teen class and said, "Mary Kaye, I was that girl but I can honestly say she is gone now." That is huge benefit for me to hear -- I knew she was that girl, and she's made a complete transformation.

I've also worked with physically and sexually abused children at the Walker School. One girl could not even close her eyes in Savasana when I first started working with her because of the violent sexual abuse she had experienced as a child. She was fearful of the dark.

After weeks of working with this girl, I finally got her to feel safe when she closed her eyes. The yoga relaxed her, she trusted me and felt safe. I told her over and over that she was safe now while in Savasana, and one day she just closed her eyes. Tears trickled down my cheeks -- I felt she had come so far. It's hard to erase some of their past but over time, the power of the mind can do wonders if you just teach children how to use it.

Chryssicas uses humor to help kids become more comfortable with their bodies.

At the Epiphany School, an inner-city school in Boston, I have a room full of about 40 kids. In that room, about four have lost a mother, father or sibling to gang violence. Their stress is a different stress, but they all immediately respond to yoga.

One girl asked me if I could come to her home to do yoga with her mom for her birthday. I said sure and gave her my card. I figured she would forget because kids say that to me all the time. She told me that her mom was a single mom and really needed yoga. She called me that night. When I asked her when her mom's birthday was, she said July 21st, which is my birthday, too! And this sweet daughter was planning four months ahead! I knew my kids didn't plan four months ahead for my gift!

So when I arrived, the mother said, "I'm not doing no yoga! It's my birthday!" So I told her how her daughter had planned this and she thought she'd love it. I played "Bongo Love" -- beautiful African drumming - and taught this mom and her three dedicated, kind-hearted children yoga. By the end, the mother was hugging her daughter with tears in her eyes and said she thought she had gone back to the home country. She loved yoga! It was nothing like she thought it was. And that was my birthday gift!

You have a number of works out to help teach children yoga, including I Love Yoga, the Breathe: Yoga for Teens book/DVD, and the Yoga for Teens card deck. How did you whittle down the complexities of yoga into information children and teens can relate to?

I actually felt that what was on the market at the time was outdated and didn't make yoga look very cool. So I decided to freshen the approach while keeping accurate details on alignment and names of poses. A lot of kids' teachers invent names to poses, but I give them the English version as well as the Sanskrit version. When they eventually graduate to an adult class, they will recognize the names.

I Love Yoga is for younger kids, packed with poses and information and details.

For Breathe: Yoga for Teens, I included all the ideas that I loved as a teen, such as journaling and quizzes. On the DVD for that title, I insisted the publisher include our yoga bloopers from the video shoot because then they realize that these yoga models are not perfect and fell out of poses. One teen told me she wasn't going to do the video because they were too perfect -until she saw the bloopers and then she laughed and decided to try it. I love that!

More About Mary Kaye Chryssicas

What else are you working on?

I have a yoga calendar coming out in 2010.

If you could be a superhero, what powers would you have?

If I was a superhero, I would read minds! I'm fairly intuitive, so I'd just like confirmation on what I think people are really thinking! This gift may help me save some souls.


Kids' Yoga: Mary Kaye Chryssicas Interview