Yoga isn’t about touching toes or encountering a spiritual experience. For Stacey Alysson, it’s about mindfulness and stillness, but try teaching that to 300 kids every week.
As a certified yoga instructor from Beverly Hills, Alysson began teaching yoga at the Beverly Hills Hot 8 Yoga studio before traveling the globe teaching yoga to kids as young as 2. Alysson wanted a yoga children’s book to share with her young yogis. The problem was that she couldn’t find any of the elements of yoga she wanted to teach—so she wrote her own.
Beyond The Interview caught up with Stacey Alysson to learn more about her journey in teaching yoga to kids and the process of writing a children’s book all on her own.
Beyond The Interview: How did you start teaching yoga?
Stacey Alysson: I started teaching yoga when I was pregnant with my first son and only child, who is now about seven years old. I was going through a difficult divorce and I got into prenatal yoga, and I noticed that it was more than just an exercise. It really helped calm me down and make me feel really good and get me through my divorce. And then after my son was born, I practiced a lot of yoga and I did my 200-hour teacher training at Beverly Hills Hot 8 Yoga. And I always loved working with children. I’ve worked with children pretty much my whole life, voluntarily and working at hospitals. I volunteered at National Institute of Health growing up in Washington D.C. and pediatric oncology and I’ve always felt really good afterwards. I just love being around children so I just started working at my son’s preschool teaching yoga and it blossomed into Parker Pig and this whole company.
BTI: What looks different when teaching yoga to adults versus teaching kids?
SA: Well, first of all, the reason why I love children so much is they have such innocence about them. They’re pure souls, they have no ego, they don’t judge, they’re fun, they’re fearless, they’re brave, they’re courageous. I think adults have a lot more stuff and they’ll think of so many limitations. So Parker Pig is written for adults and children. It is meant to empower the adults that read it and the bigger message behind is that anyone can do yoga. So many adults are like “I can’t do yoga,” “I can’t touch my toes.” It’s all these limitations adults give themselves that hinder them from everything. So, I think working with children is fun, playful, carefree, they’re present, they’re aware. I am teaching them mindfulness and how to calm their bodies down through mindful breathing and I empower them by doing positive affirmation, “I am kind” “I am loving” “I am powerful” “I am strong.” And help build in their confidence now, and empowering them now, yes you can do it, you can do anything. I’m giving them tools to calm their body as well as teaching them yoga, teaching them to practice.
BTI: You teach yoga to kids at local schools, how do you find these schools you teach at or do they approach you?
SA: Well, the first school I started at was my son’s preschool when he went to preschool. I started two years ago, and then I branched out to their other campuses, they have two campuses, Wilshire Boulevard Temple Grade School. That’s where I started. My son was in school there and then through word of mouth, another school heard about me and asked me to come teach. Next year, I’ve already given noticed that I won’t be able to teach at the schools, because I’m traveling and teaching at [other] schools, events, and festivals.
BTI: Wow, that’s exciting that you get to travel!
SA: Yeah, it’s great! You know, my passion has always been working with children and that is never going to stop. I always want to teach, I just need to travel. I want to travel the planet. I’m going to be teaching at different events, and children from all over are going to be coming to it. So I’m reaching out, I want yoga to be in schools around the world. That’s my goal, my mission. I want children to be able to have yoga in the classrooms, so even though I’m not going to be teaching at the schools I’m teaching at now next year, I’m still going to be teaching.
BTI: How do you get 300 kids to stay still? What does a typical kids’ yoga class look like?
SA: Well, that’s a good question. First of all, kids have a shorter attention span, right? You got to make it really fun and really playful and really dynamic that’s why I wrote a book because I wanted more material to share with them to keep them stimulated. What sound does the frog make? Ribbit ribbit. They’re jumping around. Oh let’s moo like a cow during cow pose, which is actually the real name of the pose. So the class is about 20 minutes for most children and then the older ones, 30 to 45 minutes, and I play music, I play games, let’s keep our bodies so still deep breath in deep breath out. So you know, when they first start it’s a lot harder but then it becomes a game, it becomes a challenge and it’s fun. They really like how it makes them feel and they like how it makes their bodies feel calm and they like having control of their own bodies with the breathing I teach them in class. So they enjoy it but it’s not like an hour long class like adults.
BTI: What has surprised you the most from teaching yoga to kids?
SA: I guess really how much they retain. How much they are actually getting from yoga, and how much impact it’s having on their lives. They’re actually going home and they’re teaching their families yoga. Using the yoga to sleep at night when they can’t calm their bodies down and getting feedback from them. They call me Teacher Stacey or they call me NamaStacey, it’s pretty funny, but they say "Teacher Stacey I wanted you to know that I couldn’t calm my body down, I couldn’t sleep but I did the breathing you taught me and my body was calmer before I went to sleep." Or "I got really afraid on a trip to the south with a possibility of a tornado and I got really afraid and I used my breathing and it helped me feel calm and safe." I get feedback from them and that to me has been the most amazing because they’re actually retaining it and using it in their lives and these are the preschool kids and the kindergarteners who are really practicing it and retaining it, so I’m loving them making an impact. And the families, they’re actually getting their parents on the mat, getting their grandparents or getting their friends, and teaching them yoga. So they’re not just learning it, they’re actually sharing with others and I love it.
I want to break the hesitations that people have about yoga, like that it is only religious. I want it to be about mindfulness and empowerment and calming children’s bodies… Yoga is not religious, a lot of people don’t want to embrace and accept yoga into their schools because they think it has a religious attachment to it. I want it to be about the mindfulness aspect and being able to calm your body down and dealing with your stress. The stress of life, the stress of school, the stress of exams, the stress of living and I want these children to have a mat in their classrooms and to be able to go to it, sit down, breathe, and take a moment and be still. And react less and deal with our anger or just be more aware. Yoga creates more aware, mindful, present people. They’re more aware of themselves, they’re more aware of their own emotions, they’re more aware of their own bodies, they’re more intuitive, so it just benefits every aspect. And this is why I want yoga everywhere and I’m writing books to be able to show that to people in each step.
BTI: How did you first go about getting your book published? And what did that process look like?
SA: So literally I just decided I wanted more material. And I already had all these books, which are all fabulous and I think all the authors are great and I use them for my class along with my book, Parker Pig. I wanted to write a book on my own in how I teach and I wanted to have the messages I wanted children to have all in one book. So, that’s a roadblock in not being able to get a literary agent. I’m not a writer, never was one before and I couldn't get a publisher and I said, "you know what, I’m going to self-publish." And I did. I Googled and I found one, I Googled illustrators and I found one. I got some money together, and I hired an illustrator and self-published in the self-publishing format. After that, walked into Barnes and Noble, walked into all of these places, contacted all of these places and I got in.
Not having a publisher want me or a literary agent hire me or take me on that was NOT going to stop me. I want to inspire every single author, no matter who you are, how much money you have, don’t let not having a publisher stop you. Because believe me, I get it, I walked into all these places, and I’m all over the nation now. I did it by myself without a publisher. You don’t need one. And I’m here to empower people to get rid of the limitations they give themselves on the mat and off the mat. Don’t limit yourself, your fears are what limits you. Anything is possible, if I can be an author and I can write a book, anyone can write a book let me tell you. Anybody. Literally 30 minutes ago the illustrator just gave me the cover to it and I just put it on Twitter. It looks awesome. He’s amazing and so talented. Literally, he is Parker Pig and I wouldn’t have been able to have a successful book without his illustrations, he is majorly gifted.
I always loved helping people and giving to people and it made me so happy. I know that sharing and giving and empowering adults and children alike to change the world will help change the system, and change how these children are growing up, and help with their emotions, and help with their development. It will help the world become a more peaceful place to live in. Ultimately, that’s my mission. I want to help people.
For now, Alysson is busy globetrotting with Parker Pig from Bali to Australia. Her booth, Stacey Alysson Yoga, will be at the Yoga Expo in Fort Lauderdale on April 14, The New York Book Expo in May, the Festival of Yoga in San Diego on June 24 and the Orange County Yoga Festival on July 28.