NYC-based Jaclyn Rock knows kids—and how to help them breathe, align and flow. Originally from Chicago, she went to college in Arizona for elementary education. When she moved to NYC, she became a teacher, working in elementary schools for seven years.
While teaching, she saw her students squirm and wiggle, unable to concentrate from extra energy. Since she had been taking yoga herself, she had an idea: offer the calming, strengthening modality to her kids. Her hunch was spot-on, and when her kids needed “body breaks” or a post-lunch release, she would use yoga exercises to help her students focus again. They loved it.
Eventually parents were begging Rock to teach yoga classes to their little ones outside of school, and she started doing so in 2017. Now she’s focusing on these sessions full-time. With a Mary Poppins-like vibe—loving, cheerful and fun, but also firm, clear and intent on education—Rock’s classes are packed with children gobbling up yoga. Read on to learn more about Rock’s rocking youngster yoga classes.
SBS: How did you prepare for your current kids’ yoga classes?
Jaclyn Rock: Now I’m teaching kids’ yoga full-time, and I have different age groups: a class for three and four-year-olds, then seven/eights and eight to 10. I got certified in kids yoga at Yoga Vida, which was a 36-hour training. We had tons of different material, including how to manage kids (which I already had a good hold of after being a teacher for so long!).
SBS: What encouraged you to teach yoga to kids?
JR: I absolutely love working with children. No matter how my day is going or how tired I, I instantly smile and feel full of energy the second kids walk into the room. They’re adorable, and they say the cutest things. They truly light up my life. Kids think I’m there to teach them but really, they teach me. We learn from one another.
SBS: How can yoga benefit kids? What makes it a great activity for kids?
JR: The thing I love about kids yoga is they don’t have to be an expert in it. Kids of all ages can do it. Anyone can do a tree pose: There’s a very easy version with your foot on the ground. Whether age three or eight, kids can focus on a point and balance. Or, there’s a harder variation with the foot higher.
It also really benefits kids to help them focus and release their energy, so I try to focus on breathing techniques. I’ve heard kids in my class say, ‘Oh, I can do this before I take a test.’ If they’re nervous, we talk about breathing techniques they can use, especially ones that aren’t obvious to other people.
SBS: What are the challenges of teaching yoga to kids?
JR: Keeping them engaged for 45 minutes is challenging, but it really depends on the dynamics of the kids in the class. So, I come up with creative lessons, and each class is focused around a particular theme. The kids love coming in to class and finding out what the theme is (like the zoo, warriors, a garden, winter sports and birds). Then, the poses, breathing activity, partner and group poses are all related. For example my bird theme lesson incorporates four bird poses and uses feathers to practice breathing.
Also, breathing: I’ve realized it’s a lot harder to teach than it sounds. It works better for them with props, and I’ve used feathers, straws and cotton so they can visually see it. They won’t want to just sit there like adults will. As soon as there were props, they’ve started asking me for more types of breathing exercises.
Finally, shavasana is hard. A lot of kids don’t want to stop moving. The way I calm them down is having them roll themselves up in a mat—like sushi or a burrito. They have that comforting feeling, and usually, I can get them to calm their bodies for three minutes or so.
SBS: What are important things to look for in a kids’ yoga teacher?
JR: Make sure the teacher is engaging the kids and teaching to the kids’ needs and wants, especially for different ages. The teacher needs to be able to create a more playful lesson plan. Maybe most importantly, the teacher must know how to manage the class, whether the kids are five or 15.
SBS: How do you manage children when dealing with a modality that requires so much patience and focus?
JR: A lot has to do with to with experience. I was an elementary school teacher for seven years, so I can tell when they have a lot of energy and need to get their wiggles out. Or, I can tell when they’re bored. My goal is always to teach a class that when they get to the end, they don’t want to leave.
I also I bring in a lot of props, like pictures they can refer to. Or for breathing exercises, I bring in physical props like feathers and cotton balls.
SBS: What are your favorite yoga poses for kids?
JR: I really like doing the wheel pose; kids love bridges. They’re able to hold themselves for a while, so the feel successful. They also like lining up in a row and crawling under: a pose plus a fun activity with all kids engaged.
Then, Warrior Three: It’s a challenging pose, and some kids can hold it for a few seconds, while others can hold it a lot longer. They can also use a barre to hold on to.
There are lots of different variations for tree pose, and any age can do it, so I love that one. You can also do that with a partner.
SBS: How would you describe a yoga class you yourself love to take?
JR: My favorite class to take is challenging and fast enough that it lets me focus primarily on the class and nothing else. I like to take that time to zone in and focus. If the class is too slow, then I will think about everything else going on in my life.
Now when I teach kids, I know it needs to be challenging and fun to help them focus.
Jaclyn’s NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: My kitchen!
Splurge Restaurant: Lure Fishbar, Sugarfish
Fitness Studio: The outdoors!
Yoga Studio: Yoga Vida
Nightlife Spot: Rooftop bars
Fun Activity: Movies in the park in the summer and ice skating at Bryant Park in the winter
Calming Activity: Watching sunsets
Athleticwear: Beyond Yoga
Athletic Shoes: APL or Nike
Online Resources: Thrillist NYC
Books: How I Built This (podcast)
Jaclyn’s SBS Mantra: Be happy! If you’re happy, you’ll make others around you feel happy as well!
The best, zaniest part of being Jaclyn: My positivity and constant energy: My friends would say I’m small but mighty and I live my life in puns.