stories

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Since January of this year, I have been in Asia immersed in both disciplines of yoga and circus, happily discovering more of who I am as a CircusYogi!!  While in Chiang Mai, Thailand I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with the inspiring folks at Thai Freedom House, a community center for Thai Hill Tribe and Burmese refugee children.  We met in the courtyard at the charming and colorful Baan Jing Jung Guest House just outside the old city, and played CircusYoga with about 25 kids and adults!  Lots of new friends I’d made (fellow travelers) had a chance to share their circus skills, most of which these kids had never seen before!  It was my first time teaching CircusYoga to a non-English speaking population, and clearly, play is a universal language.  CircusYoga is a perfect match for the playful spirits of the Burmese!!  —Amy Dawn Verebay

Reflections on Teaching EBD Children

Over the years I have brought new challenges to my teaching and learning through the development of programs with varying curricular areas and “fringe populations”.  Lately I have had the opportunity to share my passion, joy, silliness, clowning and the concepts of CircusYoga with mostly boys in an exclusive Emotional Behavior Program.  Physically active, emotionally explosive and challenged with working in groups these boys have blossomed in a safe, expressive and collaborative environment.  They were reluctant to join with me in creative movement games and expressive walks.  They quickly discarded juggling scarves in frustration and refused to work in pairs.  They were extremely dramatic and expressive inappropriate ways.  After a few days they began to realize that I celebrated what often was considered “inappropriate school behavior”, I laughed with them and encouraged play—to find the game, not to win.  A slow motion running race turned the tables for us.  The more expressive, silly and creative they became I applauded them more eagerly.  I patiently offered new juggling games, assuring them that I knew they would be successful.  I presented multiple ways to interact, create and rely on others for support and creative ideas.  We played with partner acrobatics and pyramid building.  Initially voicing an inability to work with each other, two boys became acrobatic partners and created new creative support shapes.  After two weeks they have worked in groups of 4-5 to create clown skits, choreographed skill displays and will be performing for their school of students with a variety of disabilities, their parents and the administration of their special needs school district.  These boys who have been unable to navigate a regular school and classroom situation have found new pride in their ability to learn and work together in a supportive creative CircusYoga environment that celebrates play, community and acceptance of all.  Their teacher told me, “This is very therapeutic.  I can see their self worth rise each day they come to this room.”  That is the real power of light, play and community.  That is the power of CircusYoga. —Perrin Boyd

Adventure Across America

CircusYoga instructors Anita McFarlane & Kelly Curtis had an amazing adventure this spring, traveling from the east coast to the west coast on a CircusYoga teaching tour as they moved Anita from New York to British Columbia. They hit the road in late March and taught seven workshops together in New York City, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Montana, & British Columbia. The tour was a great success! Anita and Kelly are so grateful for the entire experience, from having gracious and kind hosts all along the way, to learning about the art of co-teaching, all while sharing the magic of CircusYoga with so many delightful people.

CircusYoga Rocks India!

Never been seen before!!  CircusYoga has arrived to India, first in the southern reaches of Bangalore and Kerala with Kevin and Erin Maile and a host of new CY teachers,  then up to the Himalayan hinterlands of Sikkim for the first ever CircusYoga in the Center of the Universe!  Never in the history of circus or yoga could one imagine the village of Tashiding, West Sikkim come alive with the power of play, interaction and performance!

Our group, now called Circus Sambar (sambar: a delicious, nutritious lentil and vegetable dish which is a staple in south India), arrived in the village of Tashiding to share our CircusYoga fun with a week-long play camp for the kids afterschool time culminating in a never-been-seen-in-Tashiding Village-before group performance with Circus Sambar and the kids who worked hard all week on Poi, Devil Sticks, Spinning Plates, Throwing Plates, Tumbling, general song and dance and everybody’s new craze: Hip-Hop dance.

Imagine a final performance, in the night, fire spinning and kids rockin their best hip-hop dance with spinning plates and serious pop-lockin-n-rockin!  The bags made a special appearance as wrestlers and hip-hop dancers themselves as well as a flaming tea party complete with biscuits and bananas on fire.

Tashiding Village of West Sikkim, India is considered one of the most holy sites in the entire region.  The whole of Sikkim is a  Mandala (sacred wheel, medicine wheel, sacred spiral) where Tashiding is the center of the Mandala, also believed to be the center of the universe.   Sound interesting?  Come and join the fun!

— Yoli Maya Yeh (email), April 2010

Peace Child India & a Government School for Boys

We were fortunate to have a visit from Kevin and Maile, the founders of a contemporary company called CircusYoga. CircusYoga combines the fun elements of both circus and yoga to foster communication between people of all ages. They were kind enough to spend their last day in India running a workshop for our boys. We played a few games to get the boys comfortable in the group and then paired off to do partner exercises such as Mirror Imaging and Counter Balances before finishing up with a group performance and pyramid. The boys really fed off of Kevin and Maile’s enthusiasm and energy, and we are looking forward to having them visit again soon!

— Peace Child January-March 2010 Newsletter

CircusYoga Journeys to the Middle East

In August 2008, Kevin and I were invited to teach Flying Yoga and CircusYoga at the UNITY Yoga Conference in Israel. One week before the conference, we got the news that the conference was cancelled and that’s when the adventure began.

Thanks to the sponsorship of Reidman College and the tireless creativity of Ronit Aizenberg, we had a very full Israeli Tour. We taught a flock of workshops in Flying Yoga and CircusYoga. The response from the Israelis was phenomenal. Then, we led our first CircusYoga Teacher Training in the Middle East and 19 of us rocked Reidman College in Tel Aviv (apologies to the massage sessions nearby).

When we weren’t teaching, we were eating incredibly delicious Israeli and Arabic meals and exploring Israel. We toured Jaffa, Haifa, Acco, a kibbutz on the Lebanese border, the Golan Heights, Galilee, Jerusalem, and an eco kibbutz with a watsu center near Eilat.

The Sea & Ancient Life of Egypt

Egypt was an astounding adventure. We spent five marvelous days scuba diving in the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula. Then nine hours on a bus to Cairo to experience the pyramids of Giza, Memphis and Saqqara! As you can see, we were inspired by them!

Africa Yoga Project

In December 2007, Kevin and I teamed up with Paige Elenson, founder of the Africa Yoga Project, to offer a benefit community workshop at OM Factory in NYC. The Hope and Healing Through Movement event was centered around Mizero Children of Rwanda. Twelve kids orphaned by the Rwandan genocide, were traveling with their dance teacher across the US to raise global awareness about their stories and to raise funds for a new group home. They inspired us with their music, voices and dance, but it was the heart connections we made dancing and playing together that made everyone beam.
Supported by CircusYoga teachers Jen Taylor, Kyoko Jasper, Jenny Sargent, Deven Sisler and Acro Yoga teachers, we co-led an hour and a half of community practices in yoga, circus, and acrobatics. We took turns leading the group as our instructions were translated for our honored African guests. If you’ve ever been translated, you know how this slows down the rhythm of the dialogue. So, at some point, I let go of my words and began to teach with non-verbal sounds and body language. The attention of the group became focused and excited. We moved as one. Then I passed the focus around the circle and everyone had their moment to shine uniquely. After we could feel ourselves come together as a tribe, we began to partner through push sticks, partner yoga, acrobatics, and flying. The room was vibrating with joy, laughter, and the common language of play.

Following the community workshop, NYC yogis gathered and folks from Karma Krew held a silent auction. The evening raised $2900 for the Mizero Children Hope Tour. I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa and now we have friends to visit and a practice to share.  —Erin Maile O’Keefe

Drop-in Center for Homeless Youth in Los Angeles

You know that feeling that comes when someone asks you to do something that you really want to do, but at the same time you are really scared to do it? You’re not sure if you’ve got the chops? What if you fail miserably and leave the experience humiliated and rejected? Well that was exactly how I felt when Philip Solomon, the director of Cirque du Monde called us a few years back. Philip works for Cirque du Soleil and runs the Los Angeles-based circus program for youth-at-risk. They partner with a drop-in center for homeless teens coming in off the streets in LA.

I knew CircusYoga worked well with middle class parents and kids on retreat at Kripalu, and it worked for the mainstream kids in schools. But, would it really work with the hardened teens Philip had told me a few hair-raising stories about?

We set about to include Cirque du Monde on our West Coast Winter Tour. First, Erin and I lead a CircusYoga Level 1 Teacher Training for Philip and his teachers. It was a rollicking and fun three days and we all felt infused with a new spirit of enthusiasm for the work. Even still, there was wonder from the group of teachers as they considered applying the CY principles and practices to their youth population.

“Well this is all fine and good but what about when Omar comes in right after smoking crack? What do we do then?” “Yeah and don’t think about getting these kids to fly one another if they haven’t changed their socks in two weeks.”

They were skeptical and their skepticism fed my fear and doubt. Thankfully, I had my co-teacher, co-creator, and Hawaiian goddess with me to make eye contact.

We took a deep breath before the first class with the teens and twenty minutes into the class they too were rollicking on the floor, making new connections and taking appropriate risks. We thought it had gone well when the kids didn’t want to leave at the end of class, some asked to stay for the next class, and one or two exchanged contact information with us. However, when Philip and the other Cirque teachers reflected on how much of a breakthrough that experience was for most of those kids, we knew how successful the class had been.

What I keep discovering as we apply CY to new populations is how we are all, essentially, the same beneath the surface differences of class, ability, race, ethnicities, and experience. We all want to live fully in the moment, to love one another, to laugh at ourselves, to grow and keep growing. CircusYoga is my way to do that. What’s yours?    —Kevin O’Keefe

Academy for Career and Living Skills Takes Flight

Martha Gold found out about CircusYoga by taking a Flying Partner Yoga workshop that we did one night in NYC. She came with her fiancé Alex and they had a lovely time learning more about trust and communication through the practice of flying. At the end of the night she told us about a wonderful school for kids with disabilities in the South Bronx. It is called The Academy for Career and Living Skills and is administered by the NYC Department of Education. Martha worked there as a physical therapist and yoga therapist.

“Would you be willing to come up sometime and help? No money, just for fun?” Martha asked.

“Sure,” we said.

We signed in past the bored security person and went to the basement gymnasium of the old building. Many of the kids were already there and a few wheeled or walked their way in with the help of their teachers or paraprofessionals. Many of them needed one-on-one care to negotiate the hallways and stairs. The school serves kids with a wide spectrum of special needs including autism, learning disabilities and emotional disturbances, cerebral palsy, or other neurological challenges.

We were looking forward to working with them and their caregivers. Martha once told us, “It’s not the kids that are a problem it is the adults.” First we taught juggling with scarves. After teaching thousands of people to juggle it is easy to forget how wonderful scarves look floating in the air. Those kids reminded me. So many of the kids were game for whatever we offered. Quite a few teens got out of their wheelchairs and flew on Erin’s or my feet. That was a thrill for everybody. They enjoyed the release as much as any prisoner. If you spend your life in a wheelchair the weightlessness of flying is a breeze.

Martha Gold is one determined lady. She single-handedly instituted Namaste Day into the school calendar. She gets all kinds of people to donate time and services to provide their children with a wonderful celebratory day.   —Kevin O’Keefe

Namaste Day celebrates the light in every child

Martha Gold is a pediatric physical therapist who works with children at the P.S. 811X Academy for Career and Living Skills, a New York City public school for children with multiple handicaps located in the South Bronx.

Four years ago, Martha, a Kripalu-trained yoga and CircusYoga teacher, designed a yoga program to help introduce her school community to this practice. Martha enlisted many of the school’s physical and occupational therapists as co-teachers and assistants and together they now lead students of all abilities in weekly yoga sessions.

Martha has tagged her classes at P.S 811X “Yoga Wonderland:  Where Children of All Abilities Shine Their Lights.” Together, Martha explains, she and her students find ways to support, honor and enjoy each other regardless of physical or emotional challenges.

“In one class,” says Martha, “there may be a student who is profoundly disabled and can only move her head and blink her eyes along with kids who have challenges that are more mental/emotional and not as physically apparent.”

“Don’t ask me how or why these classes work so beautifully,” she says, “they just do!”

Recently, the children, their teachers and other staff celebrated the school’s third annual Namaste Day. This party is given by the school’s therapy department staff to honor the kids who have committed themselves to the yoga program throughout the year. One hundred and fifty of the school’s students were guests at this year’s event.

Here is Martha’s account of this heart-centered celebration:

“The party is quite an event! Volunteer face painters, clowns, magicians, balloon artists—many from the CircusYoga tribe—and others come together to share their talents and love and make this an unforgettable day for the children.”

“Every time I take on such an endeavor, doors seem to fly open and I encounter the most caring and generous individuals who are only too happy to be a part of this beautiful thing. Each year’s party exceeds the party of the year before. It is something the kids eagerly anticipate and talk about for months afterwards.”

“It’s so amazing to me how the administration at the school has embraced Namaste Day and that it has become an annual event.  Even more exciting to me is that almost everyone in the school has now learned the meaning of Namaste: to honor the light inside each of us.”   —Christine Carpenter

The P.S. 811X yoga program and Namaste Day are solely funded by Martha and by contributions from businesses and caring individuals. In addition to her school-based work, Martha provides workshops to therapists, teachers, parents and others on teaching yoga to children of all abilities. For more information about these programs, or to learn how you might help with her school-based teaching, contact Martha Gold at martha@yogawonderland.com.

Sometimes a scarf is just a scarf…unless, of course, it’s a hankie

Ontario-based CircusYoga teacher Angela Savory learned first hand that when “YES!” is the mantra, things wild, wonderful and even a bit gross are possible.

“I didn’t truly appreciate what I was getting myself into when I started teaching CircusYoga,” says Savory. “It’s really quite amazing!”

Here, Savory recounts some of her experiences while using scarf-play at a number of summer library programs last summer:

“I have found that the groups I teach vary tremendously in how creative they are willing to be with the scarves. But one group I worked with really surpassed itself.”

“I made the scarves I use from organza as I couldn’t afford to buy lots of juggling scarves. The material is shiny and sparkly, but also a bit slick—so of course, perfect for slipping on.”

“Right off the bat, one of the boys in the group slyly smiled, put his scarf on the floor and stepped forward, pretending to slip on the scarf as if it was a banana skin. Of course, all the children took delight in copying this. What’s that I remember about being cautioned to teach safely?!!”

A girl in this group then took the scarf she was holding and pretended to blow her nose with it. The look of horror that passed my face as every child in the group giggled and then copied her was undoubtedly quite something! Fortunately it was pretend and I didn’t have to wash all the scarves afterward.

“At another library that summer, we were doing scarf yoga and a little boy asked, ‘Can we do anything with this scarf?’ Of course, I said ‘YES!’ He proceeded to wave his scarf while leaning forward with his body. He then hit the floor, hands first and kicked his legs up in the air. This was very reminiscent of another boy at my CircusYoga training who pretended to be an exploding clown. It was a delight to see him do something so ‘outside the box.’”   —Christine Carpenter