• Joyful Commitment to the Local and the Global: An Interview with Karen Gilmour

    We are so proud to spotlight Little Flower Yoga Teacher Karen Gilmour!  Karen is the director of Alluem Kids, an ever-growing yoga program for kids, teens and families located in Alluem Yoga in Cranford, NJ. Upon discovering yoga in 2004, Karen watched her true-self shine through every time she stepped on her mat and grew passionate about bringing this practice to children. She completed her teacher training with Little Flower Yoga in 2009 and a couple months later the Alluem Kid's program began and has grown to be an influential part of the community serving hundreds of children throughout the years.

    Karen continuously strives to enhance her knowledge of the practice by attending many developmental workshops with Little Flower Yoga, Karma Kids, YogaKids, and Embody Love Movement. She is also an active participant with Off the Mat Into the World and is a member of the Yoga Service Council. To see what the Alluem Kids are up to, visit: www.alluemkids.blogspot.com

    This September, Karen will be presenting at the First Annual National Kids Yoga Conference in Washington, DC. She is honored and humbled to be sharing her knowledge and passion alongside some of her greatest influence and teachers in the world of kid's yoga! You can find more information on her website: www.karengilmour.com

    And in between kid's summer yoga camps at Alluem Yoga, you'll find Karen co-facilitating a week long Kids Yoga Training Intensive with Melissa Kleinman of Go Give Yoga (gogiveyoga.org) in Haiti - a place Karen has traveled to before and has grown to love. They will be enhancing the Haitian teachers' knowledge and use of yoga with the children in their classrooms as well as provide concrete techniques and a curriculum to use in the classroom.  

    To get a taste of what Karen offers in her classes and kids camps, check out her "8 Limbs of Yoga Obstacle Course" video. 

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    What prompted you to start teaching yoga to children?

    All my life I knew I wanted to work with children. As a kid, I wanted to be a pediatrician so I could “help kids feel better”.  During my senior year of high school, I decided Art Therapy would be my path. I would be able to help kids heal through the arts. In college, I started in the psychology department, then switched to art education and finally decided I could make kids feel good through the books that they read. After all, art and books were my passion. I graduated in 2003 from Marywood University with a BFA in Illustration and became a proud member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (scbwi). After trying to survive as a freelance artist, I started working for a large book company. I worked my way up the ladder to corporate ranks and started seeing a shift in my career path…a shift that didn’t make me happy. I didn’t like the direction in which my life was going and I always felt like I could be doing so much more with my life.

    I found yoga as a means to deal with the stress in my life and absolutely fell in love with the practice. I grew close to my teacher and after many long talks, she said to me, “Karen, promise me one day you’ll teach. You have such a great knowledge of the practice…you have to share what you know.” 

    And it was like a light went off…this is what I could do with my life. I could bring the practice of yoga to children. I saw myself gain a connection with my body, mind and heart that I would never have gotten without yoga. I thought what a gift this would be to bring to children…to give them the tools I wish I had growing up.

    In 2008, I started my teacher training with Little Flower Yoga and have not looked back since.  In 2009, I was introduced to Gina Pachkowski who was opening Alluem Yoga in Cranford, NJ (www.alluemyoga.com). She was looking for a Kid’s Yoga Teacher and I had just finished my training.  She had faith in me as a new teacher and I had faith in this studio, the teachers and the students. I had a found a home away from home in this historical mill on the river and was absolutely thrilled to be teaching the amazing kids in the community every weekend.

    The classes eventually started growing, allowing me to take the hugest leap I’ve taken in my life…I traded in my 8’x8’ cube on 5th Ave for a 24”x72” yoga mat by the river. By 2010, I was running the Alluem Kid’s program, teaching 8 kids’ classes a week and managing the studio.

    I am grateful that my life has fallen into place and that I have found the path that I am meant to be on. I am grateful for every child that rolls out their mat to practice in the studio or in the classrooms I visit. I am grateful to Gina and the community of Alluem that has made such an impact on my life.

     

    What is your favorite activity to teach?

    Hard to pick just one! My favorite activity to teach is anything that is going to EMPOWER my kids.

    - For the little ones during the summer, I run a Yoga Superhero Camp. We talk about being strong not only in our bodies, but also in our hearts and our minds as well. We look at what values are important to have in order to take our yoga off the mat and save the world before bedtime! It includes all our favorite yoga games, obstacle courses, mindfulness activities, stories, crafts…and of course, includes a cape.

    - For the older ones each summer, I run an Off the Mat Kids Camp. Off the Mat Into the World has been an influential part of my yoga path since participating in the Yoga, Purpose & Action weeklong intensive with Seane Corn, Suzanne Sterling & Hala Khouri in 2011. After co-leading a 7 week Yoga In Action Intensive with Gina for our own community, I decided to take this curriculum and make it “kid friendly”. I wanted kids to see that no matter their age, they too can make a huge impact in this world. We take time to look at the world as it is today and recognize the things that bring us joy, right along with the things that may break our heart. Then we step back and take a look at what we’ve learned about ourselves on the mat and see how we can apply it off the mat. I feel it’s important for kids to know that yoga is more than just the asana. 

    It’s about finding peace and filling our hearts so much that we have no choice but to share it with the world to make a difference every day, even in the smallest ways. This camp usually ends with a “Peace, Love & Lemonade Stand” where we raise money for an organization that we collectively decide on.  

    - Another favorite workshop to hold is the Inner Beauty Shop, which stems from the Embody Love Movement, an integrative treatment approach combining psychotherapy, yoga and nutrition in the treatment and prevention of eating disorders and body image issues. I recently completed training with Dr. Melody Moore at the Embody Love Center in Texas that not only hit close to home, but also was definitely a huge piece of the mind body connection that I wanted to bring to my classes. Inner Beauty Shops take young girls on a journey into self-acceptance. This interactive workshop gives girls the opportunity to engage in exercises where they explore their internalized beliefs about beauty and their bodies, and are given the tools to understand that negative beliefs have a detrimental impact on the way they view themselves. Combining body image awareness, media literacy, reflective group exercises and yoga, we begin to establish a sense of worthiness and purpose in the world. The transformation I have seen in the girls who take these workshops is huge and inspirational. I love it.

     

    What makes teaching a challenge, and how do you work to overcome it?

    As a yoga teacher, I want to bring as much as I can to the kids in my class within the hour they are with me. I want to make sure I’m connecting with them and I want to make sure they are connecting with themselves. I want to make sure they are finding comfort in how they move and breathe and that they are finding peace in their bodies, minds and hearts. I want them to observe their strengths and their limits without judgment. Most importantly, I want them to enjoy themselves and have fun along the way. This does not always happen in every class, and as a teacher, I have to be okay with that. Every class plan is not always going to go as intended. With experience, I’ve learned to roll with it and change it up mid-class to meet their needs that day. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve had classes or have gone on school visits where I’ve felt off, or the class was just filled with super high energy and…it happens! I like to think that within each class, there is at least one kid that is able to walk away with a small piece of what I have to offer each time I step onto my mat to teach…and if I only impact one child that day, then that’s okay.

    I recently did a 5th grade school visit on a snowy Valentine’s Day. There was a delayed opening and after moving through an intro to yoga with a focus on love, gratitude and some heart opening poses, they had their Valentine’s Day party. The energy was high and the cupcakes and snacks lined the perimeter of the room. I wasn’t quite sure where the focus was for each of the 25 children and by the end I wasn’t sure what they walked away with, if anything at all. I told myself it was okay. Some classes are on, some aren’t. All good.

    The following week, their teacher had them write a letter and reflect on what they learned through yoga. When the letters finally came my way, I was floored. As I read each letter, my heart got fuller and fuller. It was like they heard my every word and were able to pull their own thoughts, feelings and experiences into their own words. It is still such a gift for me. You just never know. 

    And this is why I do what I do.

    Before we end we would like to wish Karen's father a very Happy Birthday!  Karen recently posted a beautiful blog of her dad and we'd like to share it with you here.  http://alluemkids.blogspot.com/2013/06/my-dad-my-hero.html


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Little Flower Yoga is based in New York and provides classes in all five boroughs of New York City and Westchester County.

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