If there's anything Kelly Wood loves more than teaching Kundalini yoga, it's teaching Kundalini yoga to kids. After training with Golden Bridge Yoga's Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Kelly opened Karuna Yoga in Los Feliz, including weekly kids' classes as part of the studio's regular schedule. She describes the unique satisfaction that comes from introducing kids to a regular yoga practice: "Teaching children the value, the necessity of calm breathing helps fire up neural pathways that can help a child think more automatically about pausing, breathing and making good choices."
In 2002, some of the parents at Karuna asked Kelly to donate her time to teach yoga at their kids' public schools. So many kids these days are involved in a variety of after-school programs and activities, making it hard to squeeze in a regular studio yoga class, so the move made sense to her, and she's been doing it ever since.
The response from teachers has been overwhelmingly positive, although Kelly has encountered some resistance to some of the spiritual elements of Kundalini, such as the use of a mantra. Her classes now use only English words and are very secular, but she emphasizes "the heart of the class remains the same, teaching children that the first step in centering, focus and calm is our calm yoga breathing." To address issues of obesity and nutrition-related health problems in children, Kelly incorporates the discussion of making healthy, sustainable food choices as part of her yoga curriculum.
Kelly also offers Kids Yoga Teacher Training, a program I was fortunate enough to experience a few years ago. She invites those trainees who are ready and interested to join her in donating their time to teach at public schools. I spent some time volunteering at an elementary school near MacArthur Park, and saw firsthand the calming influence the practice had on the students. Now that my own son attends kindergarten at a public school, I see the challenges large class sizes pose for teachers, and have an even better understanding of how important it is for children to approach learning from a calm place.
In order to bring yoga to even more public schools and expand her teacher base, Kelly created the SCHOOL, Inc. nonprofit organization in 2012. Her yoga program is now in nine public schools in Los Angeles and Pasadena, with two more getting ready to start.
How do we all benefit from bringing yoga into our schools? Kelly sums it up pretty well: "I look out into the faces of these 800-plus beautiful children each week and hold in my heart that we are helping to cultivate members of our community who can pause, think calmly and help others."