When A Stranger Blows Your Mind | A Book Review of ‘The Magic Mat’

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When on silent retreat, it is typical to find all sorts of things to do other than simply sit with oneself – walking, yoga, swimming, reading (although it’s advised to rather read the ‘journal of ones heart’) and, if there is a shop of sorts at the venue, to spend semi-infinite amounts of money on things one doesn’t really need. I am very good at this. I have any number of shawls, meditation cushions, incense, prayer flags, mustard baths, insect repellent, cook books and so on that I have purchased whilst on retreat. It’s usually my last ditch attempt to not look within, although of course sooner or later you are just left with yourself and that’s why we go on these retreats after all.

Sometimes, in my wonderings and wanderings, I stumble across a real gem of a book, and last month at Bodhi Khaya (where I was fortunate enough to be teaching yoga on one of Sue Cooper’s nurturing retreats) exactly this happened. This particular find is called ‘The Magic Mat’ by Carmen Clews and it is a book and DVD set aimed at introducing yoga to 5-12 year old children. Of the myriad books on children’s yoga that I have read over the years, this one is quite honestly in another class. I bought it almost instantly and read it cover to cover a number of times, getting more and more excited at just how beautifully and creatively it is written and illustrated.

Incidentally, please note that I was very aware of, and present in, my conscious action of distracting myself from myself through my absorption in this book, so surely that gives me some spiritual brownie points?

Having a six- and eight- year old of my own, I could immediately tell that the way that the lessons are presented would appeal hugely to their age group, and that for a yoga teacher such as myself, it is laid out in a way that is just so accessible and easy to present and interpret to the little ones.

I’ve long wanted to teach yoga for children at my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch but one of the main things that’s stopped me is that I’ve not felt that I’ve found exactly the right style that I wanted to present – I covered some teaching yoga to children in my advanced teachers training at Ananda Sangha a few years back, but it just hasn’t gelled for me – until this wonderful book ended up in my hands. I wouldn’t change a thing about how Carmen has presented it, and so I felt compelled to write her an email, expressing my delight in finding the book and to humbly request her permission to offer a pop-up children’s yoga workshop at my studio, using her book as the inspiration.

It’s possibly quite a cheeky request, and I was fully prepared for either a ‘yes but you’ll have to pay me’ or a straight ‘no’ response, but I do believe in just asking – just putting it out there, because increasingly my experience is that there is a whole lot of love in the world and a whole lot of willingness to help and to share knowledge and resources – it all comes back to us in the end. Even so, to receive Carmen’s completely delightful and overwhelmingly positive and generous response just a few hours later was an utter delight. I had what my children call ‘happy tears’ in my eyes as I read her lovely reply and blessing to use this valuable resource at my studio, with no strings attached. I am so grateful, and I am so excited, and I cannot WAIT to share her beautiful teachings with the kids that will be joining me on Monday.

Her approach is so playful but yet so profound – using animals to embody certain qualities such as a wise owl, a flexible cobra, a duck that shakes things off its back… taking children through some lovely simple asana whilst weaving a beautiful story throughout, and leaving them with a reminder that the magic on the mat is actually within them and is accessible at any time they need or want to tap into it.

The book and the DVD themselves are fabulous, and Carmen’s genuine and heartfelt wish that they go some way towards making yoga more accessible to as many children as possible was a huge and refreshing breath of fresh air. I strongly recommend that anyone with children, or with friends with children, or who is thinking about one day having children, or those who have grandchildren, or teachers (at schools or yoga teachers), basically anyone who has involvement with children and believes in the transformational power of yoga, gets at least one copy of the book. You can find all the details and order the book / DVD and optional mat at her website – I am sure you will be as delighted as I was and still am.

And if you are a parent living in or near Stellenbosch, there are still a few spots left in my pop-up children’s yoga workshop taking place on Monday morning between 10 and 12 – you can see the details on my Facebook page. Bookings essential and spaces limited.

Thanks again, Carmen. You rock.

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Yoga For Children starting at Yoga With Nicci in 2016

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I am so excited to make this announcement! For a long, long time now I have been wanting to offer yoga for children at our little Stellenbosch yoga studio, but simply have not had the time or the bandwidth to do it myself, despite the many requests I have had over the years.

And then, as has happened with all of the teachers at our studio, the right person just appeared!

Nia Thorpe-McFall will be teaching children’s yoga at the studio from early next year, and will be offering a kiddies workshop just as the schools break up for holidays in a few weeks, just to give you – and your little ones – a taster of what it’s all about.

Nia is highly qualified to lead our little ones in the ancient practice of yoga and mindfulness.

Nia is highly qualified to lead our little ones in the ancient practice of yoga and mindfulness.

She was recommended to me by a fellow teacher and when we met a couple of weeks back, there was an instant connection. I have two little ones (as most of you know) – seven and four – and I just know that Nia is exactly the sort of person that will be able to do enchant and inspire them and all their peers. She is calm, gentle, smiley person who commands ones attention despite the fact that she is softly spoken. She has a lovely way of making you feel like you are the only person in the world when she is talking to you, and I can understand exactly why she gets such wonderful results from the kids that she teaches.

Originally from the UK, Nia is a qualified primary school teacher who has taught here in South Africa but also in the UK and Spain. She has practiced yoga since she was in the womb and dedicates time daily to enjoy a self-led intuitive yoga and meditation practice. She has studied yoga under the British Wheel of Yoga and has done children’s yoga training through Yoga Beez, a Yoga Alliance teacher training provider.

Previous to becoming a primary school teacher Nia worked in the field of art curation and education as well as supporting NGOs. “I thoroughly enjoy teaching children yoga as a way to enhance their natural intuition and imagination- they are such natural yogis! With my background in formal and informal education I really understand that children need to work on balancing out their pressures and determining a more productive, confident understanding for life. I therefore aim to make each class I teach both fun yet grounding and do this by incorporating creativity, playful movement and peace.”

Aside from private and group lessons for children, Nia and her business partner also offer a powerful approach called ‘Calm Classrooms’ which encourage children to slow down from the inside out and provide meaningful tools they can draw on for their whole lifetime. These resources are currently in use by therapists, schools, teachers and parents, and I am a massive believer in the value that the tools of mindfulness and more can bring to our children as they make their way through the world.

You can find out more about Nia on her website and watch this space for further details on the upcoming workshop. Classes will be on a Wednesday moving forward next year and will cater for two age groups – to be confirmed but more than likely along the lines of 3-5 and 6-12.

We can’t wait to welcome Nia to our studio and we know that any mums and dads that already know the benefits of this amazing practice will be delighted to have someone properly trained and passionate about passing them on to the younger generation.