Light on Kids’ Sangha – Build a Community this Holiday Season

What is sangha? What is a sangha and how can we bring this element into kids’ yoga classes? Sangha is a community, specifically a spiritual community. The term began in the Buddhist tradition to refer to monastic communities and it is also used to refer to communities of yoga practitioners. Since kids classes are so social and interactive they are the perfect place to create a sangha. It’s easy to include kids from all cultural and religious backgrounds if you focus on the universal aspects of the holiday season.

         

Some things to consider: Swami Satchidananda taught that ‘Truth is one, paths are many.”  During the holiday season, we can explore the common ground of various traditions. For example, in the months of November and December, the theme of light prevails in holidays around the world.

Before I get into the details of how to incorporate this in class, it is essential to think of the demographics of your class.  In a diverse setting with kids from different backgrounds, kids can share some aspects of their own tradition with the group. In a setting where most or all of the kids have similar backgrounds, then it can either be a time of linking that common ground to yoga or of diving deeper into the shared link between their tradition and those of others. You might not know kids’ backgrounds, so you will have to ask the week before what kinds of holidays kids celebrate in December before using holidays and sangha as a topic.

 

Unity through diversity: As kids get to know each other through their similarities and differences, it is helpful to emphasize that sangha is inclusive and serves to expand both the individual mind and the community. In other words, it’s very possible for kids to first hear about sangha and think of some type of clique that only includes a certain type of person. Explain that a sangha is a group of people that practices yoga and agrees to support one another by finding a common ground, even when it seems there are more differences than similarities.

This brings us back to the theme of light: how can we use this idea to help kids realize that sameness is not necessarily better, and that variety can make for a stronger sangha? Here is where we can touch upon the true meaning of namaste and one of my favorite kids’ yoga songs, My Little Light by Kidding Around Yoga. Other songs you might include: This Little Light of Mine, The Light in You, or any other song that you feel will suit your group! Have a short chat about light and what it makes them think of or how it makes them feel. Depending on your group, this can bring up a lot of different ideas, so be open and don’t structure the conversation too much. After a bit, bring the discussion around to how light is related to yoga and the idea of namaste.

Light it up! Once the idea is introduced, here is crafty activity for showing things can look different even though the same light is illuminating them. Get ready to make paper lanterns for a yoga game! If class time is short, you can make them ahead of class for kids to choose and use. For older kids, origami lanterns are a fun, visual way to celebrate unity through diversity. An easier version of this is to make paper bag lanterns. You’ll need a single light to illuminate the lanterns. A flashlight is an easy light source to bring to class; other options include a lamp with the shade removed or an artificial candle. The light you choose should fit with the size of the lanterns you plan to use.

First, arrange the kids in a circle with the light source in the center if possible. If it’s easier to have the light source at the front of the room and the kids all lined up facing it, that’s also fine. Each kid has their lantern to place on the light. Here’s where it gets physical (I know, you probably were wondering, “But where are the postures? And all the fun games where kids can use their bodies and do yoga yoga?”).

Next, turn out the lights so the lanterns can really show up. Turn on some music that fits the theme, such as the songs mentioned above. As the music plays, designate one kid to go first. They start by getting into CRAB pose and putting their lantern on their belly as they crabwalk to the light. Then they place their lantern on the light for three seconds (they count silently, or the whole class counts to three. The latter is usually a more popular option!). Then they come back to the group and choose the next kid, and so on until everyone has had a turn.

Some variations:

  1. Instead of crab walking to the light, designate another way to get there such as walking in cat pose, a walking version of warrior 2, or hopping on one foot
  2. For larger classes, you can have them go in pairs
  3. Do the activity at the end of class during the closing circle and pass a flashlight around for kids to light up their lantern.

 

Keep the sangha alive I recently read an article about sanghas by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk. He mentions that he includes non-humans in a sangha (a meditation cushion, a tree, a rock). I love this idea as young kids are very imaginative and naturally give life to objects around them. This idea also paves the way for kids to find their sangha wherever they are and to practice at home.

The lanterns from the activity described here can become part of the sangha as they sit perched around the room or when kids bring them home. Remind kids that any objects that bring them peace or remind them of that common light in everyone can be part of their sangha. You can even bring this into the Secret Garden (guided meditation) portion of the class as you help them picture their garden and all the things about it that help them relax.

These are just some basic ideas to warm the kids up to the idea of sangha before they get more into how sangha helps them take actions and make choices in the group and in the community beyond yoga class (stay tuned for more)!

Kid Santa!

One of the best ways to teach kids kindness and to encourage a grateful spirit during the winter holidays is to let them give. Encourage your kids to share! Or better yet, invite them to play Santa for kids who may otherwise not get a visit from the jolly old man.

Trust your kid

Trust that your kid knows how to think like a kid and knows what other kids would want. Let them choose what to get, within budget of course. If it doesn’t seem like something that makes a good gift, get them thinking by asking the following questions:

  • What does this gift do? How can it make the recipient’s life better?
  • How do you think they will feel when they open this gift?
  • Why did you choose this gift?

Research places together that welcome gifts from Santa

There are wonderful organizations who take unopened gifts, such as the USMC’s Toys for Tots. There are other organizations who work directly with children in the community. Not only is this a good exercise in learning about your local demographics, it’s an opportunity for your child to see how he/she can help in a way that feels tangible. It also is a reminder that suffering isn’t something that happens from afar-it happens close.

Play Secret Santa

Get everybody in your playgroup, neighborhood, or school together to play Secret Santa. Rather than purchasing gifts though, encourage the kids to make something or write a letter. Then, meet together for food and fun to exchange the gifts. Each kid essentially gets to play Santa. Oh what fun! Gifts don’t have to be super fancy or cost any money. After all, the point is to learn how to think about others, share, and give from the heart.

Drop off essentials

Play Santa almost for real, by dressing up and creating care baskets. In the baskets, make sure to include essential items such as toiletries, snacks/food (preferably non-allergenic), socks, and something special, like a gift card to a store. Drop off these care packages to nursing homes, apartment complexes, daycares, children’s homes, or anywhere people might not always get gifts or visitors. Maybe even have your child write a letter or draw a picture that would lift up others.

Think of all the ways that your child could recreate the magic that is Santa, or rather, the spirit of Santa in their ability to give and share kindness. Watch as your child comes up with unique ideas and as their heart, and your heart, just swells in kindness and compassion. Both are worthy gifts year round!

A Cozy Day

The winter makes a lot of people feel reclusive, cold, and sluggish.  Even kids sometimes just want to stay in, drink hot cocoa, and watch movies all day.  There is just something about lounging in comfy clothes with a snuggly blanket! The darker days and the cooler temps just do that to us.  As any parent knows, this becomes a smidge of a problem if you need to get the kiddos out. Yoga can be anything you want. Voila! You can have a cozy day with a themed class.

 Find a venue that has large windows and a fireplace.  Live in a warm climate?  To recreate a wintry scene, you could decorate with snowflakes all around.  Set up flameless tea-light candles, an essential oil diffuser with cinnamon and apples in the scent (make sure no one is allergic, of course!), and dim the lights for a wintry scene.  Invite kids to come to class in their PJs beforehand and to bring a favorite lovey.

To introduce meditation and why we meditate, practice “crazy monkey” .  Our minds are always going and are fuzzy.  Our thoughts are like the dancing fire-it is hard to become still, so we meditate.  When we don’t, our mind is like a crazy monkey! Instruct them to sit criss-cross applesause and close their eyes. Sit down for a minute with them, then suddenly jump up and BE a crazy monkey. Do this a total of three times, until they are tired out, THEN begin meditating by reciting “Peace Begins With Me”, over and over.   Ask them to notice how it was easier for their minds to settle. 

Use songs to get the kids running, jumping, and dancing as well as practicing asana.  In keeping with the theme, include poses such as star, crescent moon, turtle, child’s,  bridge, and happy baby.  Try to avoid too many energizing backbends and stick with balance poses and forward folds.  Partner poses are great too! Whether you have older kids who can pair up or child/parent combos, partner poses are nurturing to the spirit and a good way to make a class cozy.

A fun craft to do is to “make” hot chocolate or tea.  Using pre-cut foam sheets in the shape of a mug, have the kids decorate their mug with various embellishments such as glitter, markers, and white pom-poms for marshmallows.  Encourage them to share their cup of cocoa or tea and have them explain what their favorite part is.  Listen when they inevitably describe it as warm, sweet, or happy. Explain how yoga is like a cup of cocoa/tea.  How it warms our bodies and our hearts!

After the craft, do a fun activity such as the massage train.  Since this is the perfect time for snuggles with their lovey, make sure you bring one too and tell show them how to do it!  Read a story to them after massage train. “Goodnight Moon” is great for little ones while their caregiver holds them.  “The King Who Wouldn’t Sleep” and “Sweet Dreams” are great for kids who are a little older.  As you head into savasana or the secret garden, make sure that you encourage the tiny yogis to get really cozy by grabbing their lovey and blanket.  Have bolsters and pillows ready for them too! Let them relax and drift while the (flameless) candlelight flickers, the room is filled with the smell of comforting cinnamon apple, and their hearts grow in peace and warmth.

Yoga and the Bad Day

I picked up a children’s book before I even had children called Alicia Has a Bad Day by Lisa Jahn-Clough. I bought it because my sister’s name is Alicia. And she had many a bad day when we were growing up. It’s one of those times in life, where you look up to see if there’s a camera on you. How did someone know?

It’s a cute book. Goodreads gives it a 3.46, but friends, it’s absolutely adorable. I’ve read it to my kids, and my three-year-old especially got real hung up on the name of Alicia’s dog, Neptune. It became a game for us, and a discussion point.

When you think about using this book to form a class outline for kids’ yoga, I believe the book offers a couple of really good options.

The heart of the story is the word ‘lugubrious’. It’s my favorite part of the book: the idea of teaching a young mind a big word for a rather normal, universal, every day feeling. Lugubrious sounds amazing and dark and BIG. Yoga and words most definitely go together so this little book offers a lovely starting point for a discussion of words and emotions, and labeling our feelings appropriately so that we can communicate with each other effectively. Tie in a creative mini story with yoga poses paired to certain words for emotions, and BAM, your littles yoga class has a framework. An example of pairing an emotion to a yoga pose could be the lion with anger. Or forward fold with being tired, happy baby with feelings of excitement.

Pranayama instruction and practice fits in as well. Nothing works better to diffuse a bad mood like the art of breath.

I also see the conversation about how Alicia deals with her bad day and bad feelings as an important one. It’s definitely an opening for a guided meditation. What decisions can we make when we know we are in a bad mood? Where can we go for help? Does quiet help a bad mood, or loud noises and lots of chaos? The meditation time can offer words of positivity when we have negative thoughts and feelings. Seriously, I use this every day in my own life, and I believe wholeheartedly that a large portion of developing a balanced yoga practice is the language we use inside of our minds. Self-worth, hope, perseverance, love, choice. These words should be tied into the end of class savasana.

Have you heard of mood meters? This would be a very appropriate craft to offer at the end. You could even have them pick a spot on the mood meter where lugubrious would fit, and add the word onto their meter!

Get the book, and be inspired. The class will come together.

Finding My Truth Through Meditation

As I travel further along my path as a children’s yoga teacher, I’d like to share my journey.  I am going to be as honest and transparent with you as possible. Being afraid of sharing my story and speaking my truth is something I’m still getting over.

Across all nations some fundamental values and morals are the same. One of these values is honesty. Speaking truth at all times. In modern times, this reality is often drowned out in the abyss of simulation. Through social media we have lost our human connection. We no longer sit around campfires and share our stories. Our life stories have become Facebook walls and Snapchat stories. Through this social medium, our truths get blurry. We forgot where we have come from and we forget who we truly are. One antidote to this modern problem is the ancient practice of meditation.

When I was 14, I got a phone call saying that my dad had a heart attack and died. Initially I was very shocked, and I didn’t know what to do. I still remember that Sunday vividly. I would not and have not talked to my family much about my father’s death. I was depressed and suicidal and for some reason I decided to give meditation a try. I’m not sure where this thought originated, but I had heard that meditation is good for depression. I remember Googling how to meditate and then sitting cross-legged in my room. For a brief moment, I found a state of peace, then I thought “I’m doing it!” and immediately snapped out of my meditation. I knew that everything was going to be okay.

I wish that I could say from that day on I meditated everyday. However, that was not the case. It took my about 7 years until I reached college to get back into my meditation practice. I am studying civil engineering with a huge focus on sustainability. This summer I was fortunate enough to have an internship in the Florida Keys. I would take the paddleboard out and spend a lot of time thinking about how to create a more sustainable world. One day during sunrise while mediating on the paddle board I had an epiphany. One holistic solution to saving the world is by fixing our education system, specifically by incorporating mediation/yoga practices into all classrooms (K-College). Meditation has been used for thousands of years, and people have seen the benefits of meditation for thousands of years. There are now numerous studies coming out from the scientific community proving the benefits of meditation. I like how western science is finally catching up to what the yogis have known for generations.

In looking on our past, especially our past mistakes, it is easy to judge ourselves. One of the 8-limbs of yoga is non-judgement. Yoga and meditation are tools that help you let go of your past and be mindful and experience bliss in the present moment. I encourage everyone to mediate for a few minutes a day. I have never regretted meditating. Try it out. There are tons of different techniques. Try to find one that works for you. Start with a guided mediation; you can find these all over the internet. Thoughts will arise when you mediate. The mantra to follow during meditation is this: Acknowledge, Accept, Let go.

My challenge for you is to meditate every single day. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes. You’ll be giving yourself a much needed break from always going going going, and I would make the argument that you are making the world a better, more sustainable place by meditating.

Om Shanti

Gratitude – More Than a Feeling

If you spend any time on the internet, you might notice a common theme said to describe the younger generation. I often laugh when I see young adults and kids categorized as innately entitled and ungrateful as that has not been my experience working with children. That said, there are incredibly important traits that make for a healthy, happy, and helpful character and that need help and encouragement in building them. Gratitude is one of those traits. Sometimes, kids are the best inadvertent teachers in the lesson of gratitude!

To have gratitude means to be grateful or thankful for what one has, physically and metaphorically. You can be grateful for a brand-new set of Shopkins or have gratitude that you are able to put food on the table with relative ease. Part of being grateful is realizing that not everyone has the same privilege as you. What? What I mean is that you realize how fortunate you are by becoming aware of the ease with which you can survive by having access to necessities and by your ability to obtain and enjoy everyday luxuries that other people may not have. Kids get this so quickly once exposed to the realities, it is unbelievable! They recognize that they feel gratitude for what they have and are able to do because they can look around and discern that, unfortunately, life can be unfair to others.

Gratefulness must go beyond a mere feeling though. Gratitude is thankfulness in action. It is the part of us that goes out and seeks to make the playing field more equal. It shares. It helps. It listens. It seeks to eradicate inequality and make someone’s life better, in the best way it can. Easy ways to build this in kids is by helping them to recognize their privilege and encouraging them to empathize with others. Ask them questions about how they would feel if it were difficult for them to get around town because of a disability. Ask them what people could do to make it less difficult to move about town.

Take it a step further and act on the suggestions! When clearing your closet, get them thinking about the others who may need a warm jacket during the winter. Where could your too-small coat go instead of the garbage? When their best friend is sad, encourage them to be good listeners. After dinner each night, go around the table and name one thing you are thankful for that day. You don’t have to wait until once a year to do this activity.


You don’t have to solve everyone’s problems in the world, but the first step to gratitude is to put yourself in the place of others. Long discussions, games, and activities are great ways to begin the process. One game I use in my kids’ yoga classes is called “Orange You Grateful“. Sitting in a circle, we pass an orange (or an orange ball) around the circle, using only our feet. As we take possession of the orange, we share what we are grateful for and then pass the orange. Pinterest is full of ideas, too.

But the best teacher in this case is the self. A guide is all that is needed. It can be an uncomfortable topic because it means we must recognize that unfairness exists even with our best efforts. However, part of gratitude means we are always trying to make the world a little bit brighter for our fellow humans so that they can enjoy it too.

Five Reasons to Be Thankful for Yoga

There are many reasons to be thankful for yoga! Among them? Increased health, decreased stress, and a chance to unwind. Yes, this all applies to kids too! But there are much cooler reasons kids (and adults) should be grateful for yoga. So, in honor of Thanksgiving, here are 5 reasons to be thankful for yoga, kid style!

Making yogi friends

Yoga class is a time to meet new people and get to know one another. After practicing together and learning new poses, people become friends in no time. Your yogi friends remind you when to breathe if you’re feeling upset and they stand by your side to let you know that friendship is worth it. Your yoga friends listen to you, help you, and always offer a smile. ‘Cuz that’s what yogis do!

Seeing the world differently

As soon as you step inside your yoga class and put your yoga goggles on, the world is just different. Yoga allows you to see the good in everyone and everything. Yoga changes your perspective in and out of class and for that, you are ever grateful. Being able to walk through a crowded store and seeing all the people shop for food to nourish their family rather than seeing people “get in your way” is a special gift that allows you to remain calm and connected.

Helps us feel good about our bodies

When you master a new pose or master another minute in complete stillness and silence, you feel like a king or queen of the world! It is hard work, yoga is. It requires a ton of focus to be able to meditate to more than a millisecond and it takes a ton of balance to become a big, tall tree. Yoga helps you realize what your growing body is capable of, and you know that it’s amazing things. In and out of your practice, you listen to your body and what is says. This ability gives you confidence to walk in your body with pride.

We get an hour with no pressure

Yoga class may be the only time of day that you get a few seconds to just breathe and be with no expectations or demands of you. All day, you do schoolwork, then teams, then chores. It can be really tough to have to go, go, go even as a spring chicken (that’s what we old people call young people!). When you come to yoga class, you finally get to lie down and imagine your favorite place in the universe in complete quiet. Ahhhh.

Games and cool music

Yoga is awesome because it’s more than just poses, breathing, and meditating. All are awesome, but you also love the cool games that get your brain and mind in gear and prepare your body for relaxing.  Playing fun games while listening to your favorite music makes you smile from ear to ear! It’s part of the bigger deal, and without it, just wouldn’t feel complete.

You could probably list a dozen more reasons why you are thankful for yoga! We have so many reasons to show our gratitude to this ancient, tried-and-true practice. Namaste yogis!