Asana: We always say “Namaste” before and after a yoga class. Yet, it seems that not many really understand its meaning. How does it relate to you?
Tammie: I have heard and read many definitions and explanations of “namaste”. To me, the semantics are far less important that the feeling and intention embodied at the moment you say it. Namaste is about connection and identification once the veil of illusion is lifted. Asana practice helps us to “lift the veil of illusion” created by man, culture, and society and connect to the true essence of life, the “spark” that is the same within me, you, and all living beings. When I say “Namaste”, I am acknowledging and honouring the interconnectedness of all life and especially the qualities that I have in common with the human being that I’m greeting.
In the case of a yoga class, I think of every member of the class as spiritual beings housed in physical bodies joined in our endeavour to strip away our illusions and obstructions through the practice of asana. By the conclusion of a yoga class, I feel more in touch and aware of my true essence or “spark” and it is simple to see the same in my students. I like to pause and drink in that moment, concentrate my energies around my heart and then say it with the intention to truly share energy.
Asana: What inspired you to write this book? How long did it take to fruition?
Tammie: My children inspired me to write this book. When I became pregnant in 2002, I started looking for children’s yoga books that I would be able to read and share with my soon to be born daughter. I found only a few and none that satisfied both the yoga teacher and the story lover in me, so I set out to write it myself.
I felt very strongly that children would find yoga postures more meaningful if they had a character and story to identify with as they learned them, rather than having asanas introduced to them as separate, discrete exercises. After all, yoga is about connection. I have been taught that you know your progressing in your yoga practice when you find ways to take it off your mat and it permeates into every aspect of your life. I wanted to illustrate how the benefits of breathing, posture, and visualisation could be simply and seamlessly integrated into any one’s life. It took over 11 years for this book to move from my initial idea to fruition. It was a journey much like a yoga practice. There was the initial inspiration and enthusiasm of a beginner which included periods of great creative progress. And then those periods were inevitably followed by fallow periods, times in which it was more difficult to measure my progress and stay committed. In the end, it is commitment and a mixture of strength, balance, and adaptability that make any journey possible.
My original idea became completely reworked over the years as I had new experiences and input that came from raising my own children, working with closely with students at my school, and developing an honest discourse with my publisher/editor. When I sat down to write the draft that was eventually accepted by my publisher, it only took me about 45 minutes. However, that would have never been possible without the nine and a half years of struggles, rejections, experiences, practice, persistence, and passion that preceded it.
Asana: Is this your first book? What has been the greatest challenge in the book project?
Tammie:This is my first book and the greatest challenge for me was sharing my writing and “risking rejection”. I am prone to self doubt and I would never have been able to face so much rejection without my yoga practice. The second greatest challenge was having patience through the rejections and then later through the illustration and publishing process.
Asana: What is the theme of the book?
Tammie: The book follows a young girl through an ordinary day in which she deals with stressful situations by assuming a yoga posture, visualising herself as something in nature, and then listening to the wisdom of her breath. These things carry her through her day gracefully
Asana: Who are your primary target readers? What do you aim to achieve from authoring the book?
Tammie: I hope this book appeals to parents, caregivers, grandparents and teachers who want to share yoga and its benefits with the children in their lives. The book works on many levels and for many ages. I could see toddlers through school- aged children enjoying this book read aloud to them with a chance to practise the poses. I can even imagine adults who are novices and completely new to yoga learning a lot from the ideas in the story and the non-fiction, educational section included in the book that gives instruction in a scripted format on proper alignment, breathing, and focus. As an adult who came to yoga in her 20’s, I have often looked back at my childhood and wished someone would have taught me how to breathe with my diaphragm or stand confidently and comfortably in tadasana. My hope is that this book will give parents and children a platform for discussing and doing yoga together, but also for simply discussing the nature of life and stress and how to adapt and be at ease in any situation.
Asana: How has yoga transformed you?
Tammie: I could write a novel on how yoga has transformed my life, but I will try to be succinct. When I came to yoga, I was filled with self-doubt, anxiety, and fear. I was prone to headaches, lethargy, and depression. As I started practising, I discovered I was extremely loose-jointed and found it difficult to “organise” poses like downward dog or find the strength and roots to create solid standing poses.
As I began to “see” my physical body through my practice, I realised it was a mirror for my mental/emotional body. When I started to have a better balance of strength and flexibility in my body, I also started to have a more balanced approach to my relationship with life. After several months of practising, my very stoic, Midwestern farmer father basically looked at me and said, “You’re a changed person. Whatever you’re doing, don’t stop.”
Practising and studying yoga with the incredible teachers at The Temple of Kriya Yoga has changed my perception of life and myself (and still is). Instead of struggling through life, I feel more at ease and comfortable in it, even in the areas of my life that will always present a challenge, but I am now equipped to deal more gracefully with stress – just like the little girl in my story.
Yoga has taught me to put down roots, open my heart, and still my mind. It has taught me how to breathe fully and without obstructions. Life gets a whole lot simpler and more enjoyable once you know how to do those things.
Asana: How did you come about teaching Yoga Kids 22 kids yoga? Do you try to promote yoga practice at your school?
Tammie: Teaching yoga to kids was a natural progression for me. I was a certified Special Education Teacher before I pursued my Hatha Yoga Teacher Certification. Shortly after I completed my coursework through The Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago, IL, I became a mom. I wanted to share yoga with my children and I already had a background in pedagogy that helped me translate yogic concepts into kid friendly activities that children could enjoy and understand
Yoga is a fundamental component of the PE program I have created in my school. It is not the only activity we do together, but it lays the groundwork for teaching most other skills and concepts by creating a balance between strength and flexibility and a creating clear, calm mind to increase focus.
Asana: Did you face any resistance when you first introduced yoga to kids? How did you overcome it?
Tammie: I have been blessed to work in a small, private, progressive educational setting where the mission statement is “to create mindful, self-directed learners for life”. Teachers at my school are empowered to focus on the individual student and foster creative thinking through different modalities of learning. When I interviewed there I explained to the administrators that yoga was a valuable tool in creating mindfulness and self-direction. They have always been completely supportive of teaching the kids yoga and the parents have followed their lead.
In the public school system in the US, it is much different, but not impossible. More and more people are recognising the value of teaching yoga to children because you cannot deny the science and research that support its health and emotional benefits. I think that finding and using the right language to talk about yoga is important when discussing how it will benefit their children.
Asana: What is the most difficult teaching kids yoga? From your experience, which are the poses kids enjoy the most? Which postures are not suitable for them?
Tammie: Once you surrender the notion that yoga must be quiet or “serious”, teaching kids is pretty easy. Children naturally love movement, making sounds, exploring their bodies and playing “make believe” and those qualities are a great foundation for introducing many asanas and other yogic techniques like breathing and chanting. One of my favourite teachings from my guru is that a yoga practice should be sincere, rather than serious. This makes perfect sense when working with children. If children see an activity as fun, they will be sincere. If they are sincere, they will learn what they need to from an activity. I find that even older children whose mind may be resistant to trying yoga can be won over by presenting standing balances, arm balances or other poses that “challenge” their preconceived ideas of what is yoga is or isn’t.
My younger students really enjoy bidalasana, adho mukha svanasana, and bhujangasana paired with rhymes or poems. In my experience, younger kids are more open to back bending postures than older kids or adults. My older students enjoy surya namaskar variations and doing trikonasana or ardha chandrasana when I present it as though they are spies trying to retrieve a jewel in a room protected by laser rays. I explain that they must be careful to not “trip” any alarms by not allowing themselves to lean forward and or tilt back. It’s the perfect incentive for teaching the alignment of spine and chest over the front leg and without allowing the hip and/or buttock to jut out.
In general, I teach children most of the same poses that I would teach in a beginner’s adult class. I personally don’t teach shoulderstand to adult beginners because most adults I teach do not have the shoulder stability and alignment to do it without a risk of injury. I don’t teach it to kids, either, for the same reason.
Asana: What is next for you eg writing another book?
Tammie: Up next for me: starting a new school year with my students and my own children! The beginning of the school year is always exciting and inspiring. I learn more from my students than they could ever learn from me. I can’t wait to see what they teach me this year — maybe it will lead to another book – you never know!
It is inspiring to talk to Tammie about her interest and passion in yoga and the book project. Writing Namaste: A Little Yoga Folks’ Tale has been an opportunity for her to learn, to grow, to evolve and to share. She was sure that she was on the right road so there was not a need to plan her journey. Step by step, she makes it – without burden or doubts.
Namaste: A Little Yoga Folks’ Tale can be purchased at either www.junglewagonpress. com or amazon.com. Readers can keep up with Tammie’s ongoing yoga adventures by reading her blog at http://theviewfrommyyogamat. blogspot.com/ or connecting with her on her Facebook page of the same name https://www. facebook.com/TheViewFromMyYogaMat