Growing Up with Yoga & Nature: Advice for Parents & Children
Our newest yoga hiking guide Meghan Letts has loved nature since she was a little girl thanks to the mindful parents that raised her in Pennsylvania.
She first started doing yoga with her mom at age 14 and has taught yoga since 2007 when she was a student athlete at Appalachian State and later earned a Masters Degree in Eastern Religions from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
She has studied yoga with Sreedevi Bringi, a student of Amma the hugging saint, and Kirsten Warner, founder of Devi Yoga for women. She currently works with troubled teens in a wilderness therapy program in Western North Carolina.
I can’t wait for you to read more of her story which I hope inspires you to share yoga and nature with your kids. Creating fond memories during childhood can lead to strong bonds throughout adulthood.
Namaste & Have A Great Day!
^photo credit: Angie Barnes Photography & @jewelandlotus
What are some of your earliest memories of spending time in nature with your family?
Nature was an understood natural part of life. I grew up in Lancaster, PA, surrounded by endless country, woods, and Amish farms. Every day after morning cartoons I would leave the house and play outside with my friends, come in for lunch, and go out again. We were a huge group of kids running through the neighborhoods and forests.
Though this is not one of my earliest memories, it is my favorite:
I was lucky enough to grow up with horses. I would spend every day outside with my horses and exploring the woods and swimming holes with the other girls my age who rode. We would stay outside all day and pretend we were horses galloping through the fields and riding ring. When we got bored of that we would enter the woods next to the barn where there was a small swimming hole of still water. Looking back it was actually pretty gross water. We didn’t care though. There was a strong vine over the water that we would hang on, and a rock the we do a small jump into the water. The water hole was big enough to fit two of us in. There were leaves as the bottom of the water and if you stirred the water too much the leaves would bubble to the surface. They smelled horrible! This always brought lots of laughter. It became a game to see how still we could keep the water
How did this affect your childhood?
It was a creative, happy, independent, and innocent childhood full of laughter and adventure. The games I played led to very big imaginations and sense of magic in the world that I still have today.
How/when would you recommend parents encourage their kids to explore and appreciate nature?
ASAP. There is no age too young to begin a connection with nature. From birth, children already have an innate connection to nature. We are born with it! We lose that connection once we are conditioned by social structures to disconnect from nature, especially in the age of technology.
What did you first thing about yoga when your mom started taking you to classes at age 14?
My mother had her own home practice. I was used to seeing her do yoga and didn’t think much of it. I was more concerned with my horses and at that point, I had also began running. She got me onto the mat by showing me how yoga would be beneficial for running.
How/when would you recommend parents introduce their kids to yoga?
If the child is showing curiosity and interest in yoga then it is a great time to start yoga! I recommend not pushing a child into yoga is they are showing resistance. I think my mother did it very well. She noticed what else I was interested in and showed me how yoga would benefit my interests. There are also plenty of kids yoga classes in many towns that are a great place to start.
How do you think starting yoga at a young age shaped your adolescence?
I don’t think yoga shaped my adolescence. It wasn’t until my late teenage years and adult years that I began feeling the emotional, physical, and mental benefits of having started yoga so early. Starting at a yoga age imprinted a life pattern for me. It secured the fact that yoga is an innate everyday part of my life.
Tell me a little bit about your education/journey:
Whew, I could write a novel on this one. I began teaching yoga at App State. I ran for the women’s Cross Country and Track team at the time. I felt teaching yoga would be a good balance with my constantly active lifestyle. I taught weekly campus yoga and pilates classes. During undergrad I studied broadcast journalism with hopes to be an international war correspondent. I minored in Religious Studies so that I could have access to Arabic Language classes. I felt an immediate resonance with the classes I took in the religious studies department and switched my major.
This eventually led me to Naropa University where I completed my master’s degree in Eastern Religions. Naropa University was founded by a tibetan buddhist monk in the 70s. It is heavily influenced by meditation, which is required. I met a teacher there named Sreedevi Bringi. She is a beautiful Indian woman from Calcutta who moved here for many reasons, one being from instruction from her teacher Amma. Amma is a famous guru also known as the hugging saint. I recommend looking her up! I attended every class of Sreedevi’s that I could; Hindu Tantra Yoga, Yoga History, theory and philosophy, and Sanskrit. This got me into deeper aspects of yoga that included weekly kirtan ecstatic chanting and a very tight knit group of other practitioners. I heavily studied the mythology and symbolism of each wisdom goddess and god of the yoga religion. My studies led me to live in an ashram called the Haidakhandi Ashram and also a buddhist monastery called Vajra Vidya.
Years after graduation from Naropa, I met another teacher named Kirsten Warner, who is also a graduate of Naropa’s Religious Studies department. She created a training program called Devi Yoga for Women. I met her by chance at a grocery store and had an immediate connection. I would soon become her apprentice. Devi Yoga for Women was by far the most in-depth, beautiful training I have ever attended. We were 14 women who met at Kirsten’s home studio for two weeks straight, then with a break, and another two weeks straight. Everyday we dove deep into our feminine emotional bodies, related ourselves to the archetypal wisdom goddesses of yoga, we cried, we laughed, we danced, we became very strong in our dharma to teach. After training, Kirsten invited me back to the prenatal yoga teacher training and I got to do it all over again! It didn’t stop there. I followed Kristen to India as her assistant for a women’s yoga pilgrimage to India. We were 22 women traveling through the holy lands, prayers, connecting, and discovering the indigenous cultural roots of yoga.
What did you learn from your pilgrimage to India?
What I learned in India is that there is no such thing as certainty. That there is no promise for another day. In this realization, comes freedom to live a life of joy, love, and compassion. It comes with permission to live a life with an openness to allow whatever needs to unfold, to unfold. In India there is no such thing as control, no such thing as a plan. What I discovered is the ability to simply allow life to happen, and in that, comes magic and beauty.
I remember sitting in the temple before sunrise surrounded by the other women I was traveling with. We were in silent meditation. I felt like my heart was expanding out of my chest. I felt the sensation of being utterly in love. What struck me is that for the first time I didn’t need to think of a loved one in order to feel like I was in love. The love was just there, radiating out, expanding, pulsating, growing bigger. I took that feeling and brought it to me- to feel in love with myself. For so long before that I only knew to love the other and in that moment, I learned to create it within myself. I feel that this directly corresponds with the openness of allowing life to happen without the need to control, without the fear of uncertainty.
My favorite part about India is the innate connection they have with nature. Every evening at 5pm in Rishikesh, everyone wears their most beautiful sarees and walks to the Ganges river. All are singing chants to the river and placing leaves and flowers into the river to symbolize their prayers and gratitude for the flowing, life giving scared waters. It’s a beautiful site. Very different from our 5pm happy hours.
What brought you to Asheville?
I was intending to move to India to volunteer with an orphanage called Ramana’s Garden. I drove through North Carolina to my parent’s house where I would store all my belongings. During my week with them I was reminded about how much I love my family and could not bare the idea of leaving them again for a long period of time. The day of that realization I applied to a job in Asheville working with troubled teens. The next day I heard back from the position and moved to Asheville. I am grateful everyday to have had the opportunity to choose to stay close to my beloved family.
How did you find out about wilderness therapy?
A best friend of mine was attending a school called the Earth Based Institute. I witnessed her own growth and enrolled in the program as well. The school connects western psychology and earth based awareness practices to assist in holistic healing of trauma, PTSD, grief/loss, and life transitions. In this program we learn the theories and are also full engaged in our own healing process.
What is the purpose of wilderness therapy?
Wilderness Therapy is a treatment modality for behavioral and mental health. It takes the client to the remote outdoors away from what they know, and away from negative distractions. It is proven and known that being in the spacious outdoors shows almost immediate results in progression of healing. I also personally believe that wilderness therapy results in our care for the earth. We create a relationship with nature by finding a sense of healing and therefore, begin to connect with the earth in a way that is healing for her too.
What are some issues children are struggling with and how does being immersed in nature help?
Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined in 2005 to describe what is happening with children and nature connection. It relates to the fact that humans, especially children, are spending less time outdoors. This causes a wide range of behavioral problems. Nature is proven to reduce sadness and negative emotions. To add to this, we know have technical devices that are addictive and keep children away from playing in nature. I am so thankful I grew up in a time that there were only landlines and that I spent everyday outside playing.
Being immersed in nature gives children a chance to move their bodies, to use their imaginations, to problem solve in a natural environment, and to seek an understanding of our earth.
• Notice what else your kids are interested in and show them how yoga benefits their interests
• Kids yoga classes are becoming more popular and accessible
• Playing outdoors encourages healthy movement, active imaginations, problem solving skills and appreciation for nature
• Nature can reduce sadness & negative emotions
• Avoid Nature Deficit Disorder by letting kids play outdoors
Children & Nature Network
Non-profit leading a global movement to increase equitable access to nature so that children– and natural places–can thrive. We do this by investing in leadership and communities through sharing evidence-based resources, scaling innovative solutions and driving policy change.
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Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder has spurred a national dialogue among educators, health professionals, parents, developers and conservationists. This is a book that will change the way you think about your future and the future of your children.
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