(Photos by Loyall Hart)
Dynamic Druid Hills resident, Cheryl Crawford, is an instructor at Decatur Yoga who is bringing yoga to Atlanta’s schools, hosting a television show, and much more.
Can you share a bit about your background and how you got involved with yoga?
My teaching journey began in the public elementary schools in Fulton County, where I worked as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and curriculum coordinator for eleven years.
I began my yoga journey soon after my three daughters were born. My shoulders were hunched and my spine was almost diagonal after four months of bed rest and caring for infant triplets. At the invite of a close friend I took my first yoga class and I immediately loved feeling centered, strong and calm and noticed it’s almost impossible to breathe deeply and be uptight at the same time.
In the the winter of 2003, Debra Kelly, a fellow yogi, called me up and said she was opening up a yoga studio and wanted to build a room for me to teach kids. I found Marsha Wenig and trained with YogaKids a week later. That studio (Decatur Yoga) now has kids and teen classes each day of the week. I was also inspired by my own kids desire to do what I was doing and to marry my love of yoga with my passion for classroom teaching. I met Amy Haysman a few months later at Marsha’s book signing, and we’ve been kids yoga teaching partners ever since.
For those who aren’t familiar, what is yoga? What do you find compelling about it?
Yoga is exercise with soul. It gets us deeply grounded so we feel at home in our body and at home wherever we are. Yoga is finding ourselves in good alignment, feeling aware of our center, empowering us to take action. Yoga consistently grounds and elevates me at the same time.
What are “Grounded Kids” and “Atlanta Yoga Movement”?
Grounded Kids is a methodology, a way to help children bring out the best in themselves. How? GROUNDED teaches kids to funnel their negative habitual pattern surges down thru the nervous system and into the earth, and transform these surges into the higher energies of creativity, courage, compassion, strength and connection. YOGA teaches kids and teens how to manage their body through alignment actions, and observe reactions and tendencies without judgment. LAUGHTER fuels our classes and reveals the silliness of kids’ innate joyful nature that is often hidden within their hearts. ELEVATION is the surge of empowerment kids receive once Grounded in wisdom enough to serve others to do the same.
Atlanta Yoga Movement is a non profit organization bringing yoga into our Atlanta Schools. We receive grants and donations that serve thousands of children in over 30 schools. The success of this movement is due to our heart centered teachers, the Grounded Kids curriculums and the brave and daring schools that invite us in.
The children in our community are incredibly wise. A 4th grade student is responsible for the word “Elevation” in our Grounded slogan. Another student created cartoon-like drawings of the yoga poses making the images much more accessible to children. Many students write for our blog. The entire Grounded methodology is based empirically on the way children received our yoga tutelage. It works because we listen to the voices of the children.
Will you tell us about the new TV show you’re working on?
Yippee Ki-Yay Namaste is the first TV show for elementary aged children. Its mission is to connect children to their breath, to their bodies and to each other.
The AIB network show gives you real-time access to a children’s yoga class: you’ll experience revolutionary teachings, plus have a bird’s-eye view into the process of mindful movement from the vantage point of our Fernbank Elementary School students.
The unrehearsed and authentic nature of our show helps viewers feel part of the action and as a bonus, you’ll see how differently- aged children respond to the practice.
This show isn’t a series of static demonstrations or even watered down yoga. Filmed live and in real-time, it captures the perspective of the class participants, as well as the awkward learning moments and the organic process of becoming more embodied. This provides our viewing audience the sense of being an integral part of the show.
The first eleven shows are based on my celebrated Yoga By Number Curriculum. Expect healthy sequences, practical yogic skills, real-world yoga applications for kids, creative encouragement, self-discovery and expression as part of each yoga show. The show debuted in August and airs Tuesday through Friday at 3:00 and 4:30 as well as 9:00 AM on Saturdays.
What would you recommend to our readers who want to try yoga? What about those readers who want their kids to try yoga?
You will gain flexibility but it’s SO much more than that. In order to manifest what you truly desire, you need a clear mind, a healthy body, and a conscious relationship with your breath. By focusing on our breath we become more oxygenated, which gives us more energy and a clearer mind, which allows us to be more creative, more pleasant to be around.
There are many different types of yoga and lots of studios to choose from. You can even stream yoga online. Choose a lineage or a style that resonates with you. There’s everything from restorative to power. And if you want to strengthen your nervous system, so you can handle more in your life—whether that’s more joy, more energy, more love, more money, more of anything, there’s Kundalini Yoga which is my great love and what I teach.
Children can join a yoga club at their elementary school or take it as a high school elective at Druid Hills High, practice at Decatur Yoga, or take my Yippee Ki Yay Namaste class on TV. We even have a YouTube channel.
How is adult yoga different from kids yoga?
I compare this to dogs and cats.
An adult class can consist of just instructing breath and movement (inhale lift your arms up, exhale fold forward) and while it may seem meaningless and boring grown- ups will take part and most likely get something out of it. Moving with breath is quite powerful, and even more so when done collectively. Dogs will follow directions and move with their pack.
Many adults like to do the same sequence over and over and may bark if anything shifts or if the temperature isn’t right or they don’t like the music.
Children’s yoga demands meaning and purpose. Classes are themed around what matters to them~ how to work with anger, how to have the courage to be more daring. The instructor teaches from an intuitive and heart space to connect to the kids. Children connect to authenticity and will want to run out of the room when confronted with anything less than that. They crave a grounded space where they can move in their bodies and not be told what to feel or when to smile.
Children laugh when they fall out of a balancing pose. Lots of laughter and even meowing out the sensations they are feeling before they learn how to witness them. This is why many of our sequences include mantras, humming, whistling, words, and silly sounds so they can release excess noise. They ask for partner and group poses where they can assist each other with alignment. They don’t hold poses as long unless working on their fire element.
I strive to harmonize my adult and children’s classes by balancing playful and serious and calm and silly. All Down Dogs and Cats are welcome.
Can you tell us about the yoga pose that we see in the photo above?
This is traditionally called the “Cobra” pose. We call it “Snake” so children can decide how poisonous and friendly they want to be. Our legs get really steady and our chest is able to lift and open. It helps relieve stress and fatigue and opens the heart and lungs. Tongues are out here for the breath work that helps tone abdominal muscles and build up respiratory capacity. It can help improve overall health and immunity, and it usually makes us laugh!
Can you also describe the yoga pose in the photo below?
This is a connection pose called “Tree Friends”. We root our standing leg down and lift our torso up. Our bent leg is the branch that can press below the knee or higher up on the thigh. Our arms represent higher branches that may be straight or bent depending on what we are strengthening and opening. We press our palms into each other for balance and cooperation. Sometimes when we are feeling particularly enlightened we notice fruit or flowers or even squirrels in each others’ branches. Other times we sway from the wind and keep our roots strong and grounded. Tree Friends is a way to build focus and concentration as well as open our hips.
Sites for more info:
Yippee Ki Yay Namaste TV show: https://aibtv.com/kidsyoga/index.html