ChildLight Yoga, Yoga 4 Classrooms
Lisa Flynn is founder and CEO of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms, organizations providing evidenceinformed yoga and mindfulness education to children, as well as training and support for thousands of educators, kids yoga teachers and professionals worldwide. Recently honored as Dover, NH region’s “Small Business of the Year,” ChildLight Yoga Studio serves as headquarters for its internationally recognized trainings and products while providing award-winning programming for expecting parents, babies, toddlers, children, teens, families and adults. Lisa is author of the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck: Tools for Learning Lessons for Life(2011), and Yoga for Children: 200 Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children (Adams Media, 2013). Her work has been featured in publications including Yoga Journal, Parents, and Yoga Therapy Today, and on TV programs including Fox News. Lisa contributed to the first research study to use subjective and objective data to examine the acute and longitudinal effects of a school based yoga intervention in young children. The manuscript was recently published in the Journal of Evidence Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine.
How long have you been teaching kids yoga [or working in the kids yoga field or doing xxx]? What inspired you to get started?
During a dark period of depression and anorexia during my college years, yoga was presented as recreation therapy during my stay an in-patient treatment facility. I didn’t fully appreciate it then, but the seeds were planted. Years later, as a much healthier, newly married, successful marketing executive, I rediscovered yoga and began to wonder if having these tools earlier in life may have made a difference. Could yoga serve as preventative “medicine”, helping to strengthen emotional resilience, particularly for children and youth affected by trauma or adverse life circumstances? At the time I didn’t know the hows and whys, but I knew from my own experience that yoga could indeed help to heal the body and soul. Years later, as a new mother, I noticed that when my then toddlers would join my morning yoga practice, it was not only fun and natural for them, but seemed to improve their focus and mood as it promoted our family bonding. I went on to search my local area for children and/or family yoga classes and came up empty-handed. So, I did what every passionate momma would do I attended the first of many related trainings in 2003 and quickly was teaching up to 15 classes per week. Yoga found me and I found my calling through the experience. ChildLight Yoga was officially founded in 2005, and subsequently Yoga 4 Classrooms was developed in 2007 and officially launched in 2010 after 3 years of piloting in schools.
Tell us a bit more about your work. What does a typical class [or day] look like? Who is the community or population that you serve?
While our instructors and trainers focus on teaching to children through ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms, my focus right now is mainly on creating ways to empower educators and school teams to implement yoga and mindfulness school wide. My typical day is spent supporting the staff and operations of our three divisions (studio, ChildLight Yoga Trainings, and Yoga 4 Classrooms), writing, consulting with variety of schools with a diverse demographics, and traveling to present trainings and workshops to educators and schools.
What are the specific ways you think yoga can be helpful for kids? [or How would you describe the benefits of yoga for your students? or Why do you think yoga is so important for kids?]
There are incredible number of benefits for children. It would take a book to list them all as related to physical, social, emotional and cognitive development and support! However, I really feel like emotional resilience is the most profound benefit of all. We can not teach resilience, but we can cultivate it through consistent yoga and mindfulness practices presented in a child-friendly format. It starts with educating the adults who work with children. Slowly, adults are coming around to realize that self-management and emotional resilience is the foundation for learning and life success. In fact, it’s critical.
Tell us about that one pivotal experience—the student, class or moment—that keeps you going even when your work gets challenging.
About a year and half ago, my staff had a heart to heart about where we wanted to go/take ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms…or not. Frankly, we were feeling burned out. Our programs were continuing to grow but it was tough to get our arms around it all. At one point in the meeting, someone whispered, “Well, maybe we just close down the studio and operate out of an office close down the community/studio programming. After all, it’s not the money-maker.” Silence. Within a few seconds everyone in the room looked up with tears in their eyes in understanding of the same thing…it’s never been about the money (goodness knows, there isn’t much of it out there for kids’ yoga…yet), and nope, it isn’t easy to figure out how to reach more children without burning ourselves out in the process. But, if it’s our mission is to do just that, we needed to get creative and continue to figure it out. Shortly thereafter, we not only moved our studio and headquarters for ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms, but we expanded and fit it up to be a beautiful, inviting training center with the intention of creating a space for teaming, connection, collaboration and education, a space to bring people together, children, parents, educators, childcare providers, yoga teachers, for the purpose of learning and expanding this beautiful movement, while also providing services to our local community. It was a big and risky move but we’ve never looked back. Shortly thereafter, we learned we were being honored as “Small Business of the Year Award” by the regional Chamber of Commerce, in large part, honoring our efforts to support our community. Standing on the stage to give the acceptance speech, I talked about the importance of establishing core values and how, with those in place, making decisions becomes much easier. I go back to the moment in the office with my staff when our core values clearly revealed themselves it has become my compass when work gets challenging.
Who or what inspires you the most in your work?
Where to begin?! I’m inspired by all the evidence coming out in support of yoga and mindfulness for children in and out of schools, my colleagues and their amazing work and contributions to the movement, my students, my staff and friends on this journey with me, the National Kids’ Yoga Conference (we have a conference now! Thank you, YoKid!), but most of all it’s my own children that inspire me the most. My son was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, ADD and anxiety (read the story here Part I and Part 2 . At one point, I was told by a psychologist that not treating my son with anti-anxiety meds and ADHD medication “would be like withholding insulin from a diabetic” and that “it’s very possible he will end up on drugs and in all kinds of trouble.” He was 6 yrs. old. As a mom, I questioned what to do. As a yoga teacher, I knew what I had to do. Jack has been my student and my teacher in many ways personally and also throughout the development of CLY and Y4C. I’m not opposed to medication for children who clearly need it, but my gut told me otherwise for my own child. With my help and the support of a few teachers who saw his gifts as clearly as I did, he was able to learn tools for self-management and slowly build his own emotional resilience, more so over time. Two weeks ago at a school assembly, Jack, now going into 7th grade, rec’d one of a small handful of awards given to students who received straight A’s for the entire school year. He’s a diehard skier (competed in the NH Champs in 2014), a good friend to many, and he proudly works in the family business as a cart boy and table busser. He wants to be a neurosurgeon after witnessing his Dad’s journey with neck surgery. And you know what? He’ll do it. He’s smart, but he’s also wellequipped to deal with the many challenges, falls and scrapes that he will surely be faced with along the way. This is what we want for ALL children. This is why I do what I do.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I feel so rewarded ALL of the time, but here is what comes right now: 1) Watching the movement grow and grow and grow. When I first started sharing yoga with children in 2003, no one knew what the heck I was talking about at the proverbial dinner party conversations, so I just stopped talking about it, put my head down and did my thing. I learned to let go perceptions (or rather, misperceptions), educate without attachment to needing people to understand or agree with my views, and forge ahead without much in the way of “rewards.” Now, yoga and specifically yoga for children is EVERYWHERE and getting a good deal of attention, and rightly so. Seeing news clips, new programs launched, new books on the topic published, articles written, research published…it’s so validating and makes it incredibly rewarding to be on this path. 2) When I see the inspired eyes of educators and other adult trainees and hear the ‘aha’ moments of reflection in our trainings, I know I have planted a seed that just might sprout whether it be that day or in the future on another leg of their journey. Brainstorming ways to make yoga more accessible, such as creating the Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck, or putting a training online and offering it for free this provides me with a mission and purpose, not something I was able to cultivate as a Marketing Director of golf courses or as a technology Ad Exec. I’m blessed to be able to do this work and that gratitude grows in my heart every day. 3) I get to work with my best friends every day and am grateful to have cherished, valued relationships with my colleagues in the movement.
Describe your vision for the future of kids yoga.
In 10 years, I envision SEL, Yoga and Mindfulness integrated at every school, school wide, as mandated by educational policy for the purpose of improving physical, social, emotional and cognitive health and wellness of “schools” students, teachers, parents, and overall school climate. At the same time, I envision therapeutic yoga integrated into pediatric treatments at hospitals, juvenile detention centers and physical and mental health therapies of all kinds. It’s happening already it will only continue to grow as support increases in the way of scientific evidence and following that, policy and financial support.