All of us are bombarded with advertisements, pressured to always gather more, and rarely satisfied by simply being. This is especially true for our children, as they may not yet have the ability to filter through the materialistic messages; instead, their “need” for the newest, fastest, coolest products is intensified and often rewarded.
As a Yoga teacher, classroom teacher, and mom, I feel particularly responsible for raising grateful children. Aparigraha is a Sanskrit term meaning “greedlessness” or “gratitude”, and it is one of the basic teachings of Yoga. This doesn’t mean simply saying “Thank you”, although manners are very important. My goal for my kids it to encourage and inspire genuine gratitude to the people and situations that allow them to be who they are and enjoy what they have. To that end, here are a few of my favorite Yoga activities that promote gratitude.
Sun Salutations: A staple in many Yoga classes, Sun Salutations are a physical way to say “Thank You” to our sun, the primary source of life. In the sequence, we literally bow to the sun, as well as open our hearts to its light. There are several variations to the Sun Salutation, but two of my favorites are the energetic Sargeant Salutations and the creative Animal Sound Salutations.
Dedicated Practice: Start the Yoga class with a dedication. Each child receives a piece of paper (Post-It notes work well) and a pencil or marker. Children choose a person they’d like to dedicate their practice to and write that person’s name on the paper. If “dedicate” is too confusing for your younger kids, direct them to choose somebody that they would like to do yoga with that can’t be her with them. Their practices can be dedicated to friends, a far away relative, even someone they saw at the store. Encourage the kids to choose someone that they’d like to thank for being special. Then, they hold the note in their hands, hold their hands at their heart, and take 3 long breaths, in and out. With each breath, children picture their person and send them peace and joy. Finally, they can either put the slip of paper on top of their mat as a visual reminder, or slip it underneath the mat to keep it private. Remind them during class to think about their special person and send them the good feelings they are getting from Yoga.
Orange You Grateful: This game requires an orange or an orange ball (or 2 if it is a large group) and some tummy muscles! The goal of the game is to pass the orange around the circle, only using your feet. Everyone sits in a circle, in cobbler pose, about knee-to-knee. One person holds the orange in her feet and shares one thing she is grateful for: “Orange you grateful for ____?” Then, without allowing the orange to touch the ground and using only their feet, the orange is passed on to the next child. He then shares what he is thankful for and passes the orange. Kidding Around Yoga wrote a fun song to go along with the orange passing.
Gratitude Mandala: Every child needs a piece of paper and access to crayons or markers. Starting at the center of the paper, kids draw something they are grateful for about themselves (smart brain, kind heart, curly hair, fast legs, etc). This picture should be pretty small, because around that small picture, they draw something they are grateful for in their family (a home to live in, their pets, healthy food, kind parents and siblings, etc.). Around that picture, children draw something they are grateful for in their community, then their world around that. In this way, the children have created a mandala of gratitude. For older kids, they could list what they are grateful for as a spiral, starting small and getting larger toward the outer edges.
“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” –Mahatma Gandhi