This week’s interview is with Michaela Sangl - one of the most experienced teachers of yoga for children in New Zealand and the founder of Yogi Kids Professional Development.
Her primary focus is now sharing her wealth of knowledge with educators, yoga teachers, practitioners and caregivers.
Talking with Michaela …
Contemporary Yoga (CY): How and when did you begin your yoga journey?
Michaela: My yoga journey began when I was 19, when I spontaneously decided to join a friend travelling to Ganeshpuri ashram, north of Mumbai. It was a definite eye-opener for somebody who could never sit still, as the focus was on meditation.
Each morning at 3.30am, we all wandered silently out into the spacious gardens to sit in solitude and focus our awareness solely on the breath. At 5am, a gong sounded and without exchanging a word, we gathered in a dimly-lit hall to drink spicy Indian Chai. We then sang from Sanskrit prayer books for a good hour, seated on the ground outside, as the rising sun gently ushered in the day.
CY: What did you take away from that initial experience of yoga?
Michaela: “It is not how far you walk, but how you walk.”
After six weeks at the ashram, my always-on-the-go teenage self had discovered the deep fulfilment of taking time to be still, turn inward and observe what is arising in each moment. To just ‘notice’. One of the greatest gifts of yoga is that you develop an increased overall awareness: of your breath, your mind and thoughts, of your physical body and how you move.
Your senses become heightened and your appreciation and experience of life intensified. Life feels more expansive, ripe with possibility. You become playfully skilled at flowing past obstacles and transforming seeming setbacks into opportunities. Awareness is always the first step to change.
I tell my students of all ages that we are all ‘works in progress’, moving towards being the ‘best YOU that you can be’! So be kind and loving towards yourself, always!
CY: What enticed you to specialize in yoga for children and teens?
Michaela: I absolutely love being with children. They are so in-the-moment, spontaneous, uninhibited (the younger ones!) I love the playful connection that doing yoga together provides and it’s hugely rewarding to know that you are giving tamariki life skills amidst all the fun! Sharing yoga with children is totally aligned with my core values of creativity, freedom, curiosity and playfulness.
I feel our tweens and teens in particular need a yoga practice to anchor them and nurture a sense of wholeness in this fragmenting, information-saturated world; to understand the power of their breath to calm and release negative emotions, to learn to fully love and accept themselves and tune into life at a deeper level. And they also need to stretch, strengthen, laugh, clear their busy brains and re-tank through creative visualization, or simply resting.
CY: Who has had the most significant influence on your yoga teaching?
Michaela: My daughter Isla has definitely been my guiding ‘kids-yoga-beacon’ and my greatest teacher over the last 12 years. When she was 4 years old, and I was illustrating children’s books in Berlin, Isla participated in children’s yoga classes there.
I fell totally in love with this wonderfully holistic concept and could see how beneficial it was for children on so many levels: sowing the seeds of breath awareness, deepening the mind-body connection, fostering imaginative play and confidence, respect for self and others.
Kids yoga was so much fun and my girl was always so happy and relaxed afterwards! I couldn’t find any classes on our return to Auckland, so I trained as a Children’s yoga teacher and Yogi kids was born.
Isla attended weekly classes throughout her childhood (and she would tell you that she wrote all the Harry Potter class plans and movie themes that we did!) She assisted at festivals and family yoga events and was very quick to tell me what was ‘fun’ and what was ‘boring’ and if, for example, I had talked too much about yoga rather than just getting into it!
As a tween/teen, she proposed themes such as ‘self-appreciation’ and suggested great music and sequences for yoga flow classes. Isla is now 16 and her positive outlook on life, her centredness, confidence and compassion is a clear testament for me as to how beneficial it is to introduce yoga to children.
CY: Is there one element of yoga that is of uttermost importance to you?
Michaela: The defining element of yoga for me is the breath, and paramount is to master your ability to breathe well. For me, this is inseparable from movement, even if it is just the awareness of the body being breathed by the breath! No asana is ever static, rigid.
The magic of yoga for me happens in synchronizing movement and breath, feeling an active expansion on the inhale, a release or contraction on the exhale. This connection to the flow and rhythms of nature, to the rise and fall of the ocean waves, of sun and moon, is deeply centering and energizing.
For children’s yoga, it is the joy-factor that I wish to nurture, through a sense of community and in discovering the peace and love inside each of us.
CY: If your students were asked to describe your teaching, what comments would they make?
Michaela: Adult students often say I am passionate, highly creative and encouraging. My goal is to help other teachers discover their own authentic way of sharing yoga with our tamariki, through offering many ideas and tools to see what resonates! We yogis are explorers! Very hands-on and ‘see what sticks’!
Kids? “That was so cool!” “I really like the lying-down bit.”
And at the end of a weekly session: “I wish that every day was a yoga day!”
To conclude Michaela’s interview we suggested she provide some favourite quotes …
Base your choices on love, not fear.
Do or do not. There is no try
Yoda in ‘Star Wars’
You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So … get on your way!
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
To contact Michaela
To find out more about Michaela’s courses:
Upcoming professional development workshops designed for educators, yoga teachers, storytellers and caregivers of children aged 2–6+years: