Lara Hocheiser Helps Kids Blossom Through Yoga
Massachusetts native Lara Hocheiser was an active kid, hiking 4000-footers in New Hampshire, trailing behind her dad. But, it wasn’t until she was almost an adult and her asthma subsided that she was able to investigate yoga. But, once she started, she never stopped.
Now, through a swath of content and courses, she’s bringing that long-standing passion to kids, as well as the educators everywhere guiding them. Her materials cover everything from how to engage children in ideas about morality to training teachers on how to instruct kids’ yoga. With a seemingly endless well of inspiration and a knack for codifying and clarifying a staggering amount of information, Hocheiser chats with SBS about how she hopes kids and adults can integrate yoga for healthier and happier lives all around.
SBS: What jobs led you to yoga?
Lara Hocheiser: I have been working in early childhood education since high school. I graduated with a degree in Spanish with a minor in sociology. I landed a job as a lead teacher at a Spanish immersion school in Newton, MA.
I had been doing yoga steadily for four years at that point and began to take yoga teacher trainings in 2008. While I was teaching at the school, I began to integrate yoga into the classroom. Then I took more yoga teacher trainings.
When I completed my 200-hour course with Inner Strength Studios in Watertown, MA., they asked me to join the team as a Vinyasa instructor and to begin a kids’ yoga program.
I launched that in 2012, the year after I left the classroom on my official yoga journey. I taught power yoga, prenatal yoga, children’s after school and early childhood daycare programming. I became a full-time yoga teacher for nearly four years before my program morphed into what it is today.
SBS: What was your original focus as a yoga teacher?
LH: Originally, I was focused on what was popular back then. Remember that the yoga craze in the North East was all power all the time. I realized that the heat and quick movements weren’t my things. After a few months of teaching these classes, I was given the Slow Flow title. I really like to move intelligently. I had my little following of regulars every Monday and Wednesday night. I loved that class. It was hot, deep and had tons of dharma talks integrated into the long holds. This was also before yin and restorative were in my consciousness, but I was tapping into a need to explore the body deliberately.
At the same time, I was also working as an early childhood yoga specialist. I was doing three hours of teaching per day to this age group minimum. I perfected my early teaching style to the point of being asked to train others. That was a special moment for me. That was the reason my teacher training was born.
SBS: How did you start investigating and writing about mindfulness and yoga for kids?
LH: I started writing about children’s mindfulness and yoga almost by accident. My friend was working for Gaia, a large yoga streaming and content media organization, and she reached out for an article about how to teach kids yoga. I poured over that for hours and hours. I had already been leading trainings on how to teach kids yoga for several years, so I had many thoughts and my teaching philosophy was concretized. I felt that the reception of the article was so overwhelmingly positive that I needed to expand and continue to develop content.
I hired Nafeeza Hassan to illustrate all my ideas in 2015. She and I began to create the early work for Flow and Grow Kids Yoga together. I did all the writing. She brought it to life. We started emulating what we saw out there, like yoga for the seasons, etc.
But what was truly my calling was to be seen. It turns out that my calling is distilling down the magic of children’s yoga and mindfulness through a succinct methodology that can be reproduced easily by others. I formalized all my lesson plans into units and launched my e-commerce shop making yoga cards, lesson plans and lesson plan units, and other content to support educators, parents, and yoga teachers. It has totally spiraled since then, and I am now sitting on a mountain on content that I am about ready to disseminate! We are learning now how to sell these items through Facebook marketing. It’s a journey!
SBS: What is the array of your different projects now?
LH: I am working on so many amazing projects that it astounds me, and I am constantly driven by solving the problems that I see in schools. I have been doing school programming for so many years, and as I spend time with the communities, I see opportunities to support them through the content I teach. I offer kids’ yoga teacher training once a month in different cities across the Northeast and also privately online. I am looking for a place to host this in NYC!
My other projects include:
My Yoga Workbook: Mindful Bedtime Habits: I wrote this book to help parents help their kids put the device down and get a good night’s sleep!
My Body and Caring For Myself is a complete how-to guide for yoga and mindfulness with students for elementary and secondary teachers. It comes with a teacher guide, glossary of terms, student workbook and SMARTBOARD slideshow.
Through school assemblies and other student programming I help entire communities launch wellness initiatives that zero in on yoga and mindfulness, SEL, and balanced living. We can do special visits or regular visits. We have worked in dozens of schools in MA and NYC.
How to Integrate Mindfulness Into the School Day is content and accompanying professional development workshops, the answer to the problem teachers have. They want to be more mindful and to teach it to their students, but they don’t have time to sit for 20 minutes per day. This is a way to get started together, systematically.
The Yamas and Niyamas Yoga Philosophy for Kids is how we teach morals, values and how to be a good person to children in a secular world. It’s totally needed in a world or social media, bullying, overstimulation and constant pressure to conform. We are launching a training for this in 2020. It has been our most popular product ever!
Mindful Beginnings relates to how to teach yoga and mindfulness to children ages infant to five. It’s possibly my life’s work culminated, and this new textbook is my offering to the early childhood educators and parents wanting to live differently from the start. This is my brainchild and can be learned by anyone with zero experience up to experts, like my mentors who have purchased it after reading it for feedback. My heart is so happy because this is going to become an online course in 2020!
SBS: Why is yoga/mindfulness so important for kids? What's your unique approach in teaching yoga and to kids specifically?
LH: Kids need a way to look inside. They are constantly pulled toward external validation and stimuli. Our inner world is more important than ever as our outer world becomes increasingly busy, complex and loud. My approach to teaching kids is to meet them on their level, to always look for their greatness and reflect it back authentically, and to embody presence and loving-kindness. I don’t think I am alone in this, but I continue to model it everywhere I go and for every child and adult, I work with.
Kids yoga and mindfulness can’t be a silent thing because children need to process aloud. I think giving them the mic is important. Everyone should be heard and everyone should practice full-body listening. We drop into quiet moments, but its not all silence and calm. It’s also embodying hard emotions and naming them and then using breath and movement to release them. It’s super powerful to hear a child scream, ‘I am powerful. I can handle anything!’ I love this work. It drives me.
SBS: What inspired you to write yoga materials?
LH: I am a writing machine. I honestly cannot stop writing. I have been writing as a daily practice for more than half of my life. If you told me at age 22 I’d have written three books and a mountain of educational content by now, I would have thought you were crazy. But doing yoga and knowing myself kept leading me back to my journal. My journal taught me how to look inside. And I have taken those messages and figured out how to help other teachers and children do so. When I feel tired I wish I could stop, but I know I need to do this work now. I know the world needs it.
Mindful Beginnings, my early childhood yoga and mindfulness textbook was reviewed by two of my mentors who said they were incredibly impressed by the simple way I convey a synthesis of information. I am the one that needs to do this so people can pick up this work where I left it off. They need to go into every home and classroom to change the world, not me. I used to teach every child and ended up exhausted. Now I want to guide the grownups guiding the kids.
My Yoga Workbook: Mindful Bedtime Habits had to be written. I saw children struggling with screen time addictions and exhaustion, and I put all the tools and tips I could into a personal journey for them to explore. I want people to look forward to resting, children and adults alike. This book is for kids but can be done with an entire family. I think creating bedtime rituals makes it special and makes rest something we can look forward to.
SBS: How would you describe Flow and Grow?
LH: I think of Flow and Grow Kids Yoga (legally called Flow and Grow Education, Inc.) as an education company for children, educators, parents, clinicians and yogis. We are here to provide the resources, training, lesson plans, mentorship and support that people need to create their own daily practices and to support children in doing so. We do this for early childhood, elementary and secondary aged children, and the grownups who love them.
We care about inclusion, representation, loving-kindness, generosity, leadership, mental, spiritual and physical wellness, and education.
We offer an array of trainings, workshops, classes, assemblies, products, books, lesson plans, you name it to bring yoga to the home, school, yoga studio and to every person no matter their age.
SBS: How can parents help children best understand yoga? What should they look for in yoga teachers for their kids?
LH: Kids yoga is not adult yoga. But there are similarities. Do not tell them someone tells them what to do in silence for an hour.
In kids’ yoga, children explore their minds and bodies in a safe space. They can become stronger, more balanced, and learn to handle challenges with grace and ease. It will take time, so help them expect a learning curve and invoke patience and self-love through the process. If someone else makes it look easy, they have a lot of practice. It doesn’t mean they are better or worse.
As for instructors: Look for someone that understands childhood. Look for someone that connects with your child. Look for strong communication. Look for the ideas conveyed to be tangible and not esoteric or strange. We need grounded, educated individuals leading our children.
SBS: How has yoga helped your own child?
LH: My daughter loves to chant, breathe and sit on a cushion (for 30 second intervals!). She is two and a half and has been exposed to my practice since day one. She did yoga in my womb and seems to be the most present, boundaried, loving person I can imagine creating. We love to lay our mats side by side, breathe and do our own thing. She recognizes all my branded materials, so she pulls out my yoga cards and says, 'Mommy, it’s your yoga.' It’s super sweet to connect this way.
We do short, regular intervals of practice, self-care rituals, or chanting/mediation. It is not like it would be on an ashram, but it’s special to us and age-appropriate for her! I love showing her through modeling rather than attempting to teach her yoga classes. I will send her to yoga soon, though!
SBS: What’s your approach to nutrition?
LH: I became a vegetarian at 10 years old because I was so concerned with animals. I have been a vegetarian for much of my life. I do sometimes wonder if this is the optimal diet for myself now that I am a mom because I am increasingly tired. I still struggle with the moral compass issue of non-harm, which is one of the yogic principles I have lived by since before I knew what yoga was.
Lara's SBS Mantra: Be Mindful. It's the most encompassing of human emotions...the distinct need to go slow, be present, and practice loving-kindness.
The best, zaniest part of being Lara: I am always writing. I write more than 99% of Grammarly users every week.
Lara's NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Sumi Sushi
Splurge Restaurant: G-Spot
Nightlife Spot: House of Yes
Fun Activity: Prospect Park
Calming Activity: Lie in the grass in Washington Square Park
Yoga Studio: Modo Yoga
Books: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer; everything by Kurt Vonnegut
Athleticwear: Teeki bell bottoms