Poses to Ease Children’s Emotional Pain

In Buddhism, there are Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. And this isn’t just for adults. While we might look back at our childhoods wistfully, conjuring up images of ice cream cones, fireworks, and sleepovers, the truth is that growing up is hard. There is suffering. Family situations, peer interactions, physical challenges, and societal pressures all weigh on children no matter how intensely the adults in their lives try to intercede. And this suffering manifests itself in their little bodies, just as it does in ours. Fortunately, we can give them the tools to ease the discomfort and fatigue that negative emotions and stress create in the body through yoga postures.

Grief resides in the lungs: When we cry really hard, we often have to gasp for breath. When we grieve a loss, we physically feel the pain and tightness in our chest.

  • Backbends open your chest, allowing more oxygen to enter the lungs and releases tension in the neck: cobra, camel, bridge, fish
  • Long, mindful breaths move the diaphragm, create more space in the lungs, and bring the mind back to the present moment: dirgha pranayama, bunny breath

Anger builds up in the liver: You’ve heard of being so angry that your “blood boils”? Your blood is cleaned in the liver and the liver is in the belly which, in chakra philosophy, is the seat of power. When you’re angry, you may feel powerless.

  • Twists wring out the spine and internal organs, flushing them with freshly oxygenated blood and releasing spinal and belly tension: pretzel twist, reclined twist, fish twist
  • Core strengthening poses build fire in the belly; boat, crow, any balance posture

Fear is felt in the hamstrings: When our bodies kick into “fight-or-flight” mode, our legs get ready to go. You often feel a bit wobbly or weak after a frightening situation has passed. Constant small stressors can lead to chronic tight hamstrings, and thereby back pain.

  • Forward folds are soothing to the nervous system and stretch the hamstrings: ragdoll, pyramid, seated forward fold, wide angle fold (seated and standing)
  • Passive leg stretches encourage us to slow down and draw the blood back to the heart: legs up-the-wall

Hips are like an emotional “junk drawer”: If you have an emotion that you haven’t processed (or haven’t even recognized), it resides in your hips. Our second chakra is the seat of emotions and it resides in the center of our hip bowl.

  • Hip openers release sadness: cobbler, pigeon, goddess, lunges
  • Hip circles move the joints in all directions, polishing them: hula hoops, dancing, hip circles

Shoulders hold stress: This one is usually the most obvious for children to notice. Ask them to show you what a nervous person looks like. Chances are they’ll squeeze their eyebrows together, tighten their jaw, make fists, and bring their shoulders up to their ears.

  • Shoulder circles gently get movement started: shoulder rolls, arm swinging
  • Shoulder blade movements release tension while opening the chest: puppyeagle

Jaws control tension release: The old phrase “bite you tongue” comes to mind here. Rather than speaking or yelling, we often hold our emotions in through clamped jaws. This tension effects our tooth health and the tightness trickles down into our shoulders.

  • Release the jaw through large, mindful movement: lion, yawning, neck rolls
  • Remind yourself and your students to keep the teeth from touching during meditation, breath work, and throughout practice

Our minds are powerful and our bodies are stubborn. What we perceive as danger or stress may just be that – a perception or belief. But our bodies think it is real and react accordingly. Help your students (and yourself) work through big emotions with yoga postures, breathing, meditation, and lots of positive affirmations.

Love what you are reading? Check out the Kidding Around Yoga website, or better yet, sign up for a KAY teacher training and spread the love of kids yoga in YOUR town!


Balance – Body, Mind, and Spirit

When you think of balance, what do you think of? A ballerina delicately perched on toe point? A tightrope walker? Maybe a waiter carrying a platter of dishes? Being able to physically balance is a vital part of functioning as a human. If you can’t balance, you can’t walk, run, bike, or even sit upright! But, of course, having balance is more than avoiding a fall. There is a more abstract definition of balance.

The word yoga originates in Sanskrit from the word yoke, as in union or connection. In yoga we bring together strength and flexibility, the inhale and exhale, reaching up and rooting down, the light and dark. Yoga is a balance between two seemingly opposite forces. When we immerse in our yoga practice, we are ultimately practicing balance in all of its forms. Children often easily recognize the physical balancing postures (and love the challenge of them), but explaining the more nuanced balance ideas is sometimes more difficult.

So start with what they know! Practice fun balance poses with them. Some favorites are:

Encourage them to start by using the wall or a chair (or a friend) to help them stay upright until they have the confidence to perform the postures all by themselves.

Learning balance also requires concentration. Do an experiment: have kids come into tree pose while following you with their eyes as you wander through the room. Then have them try it again with their eyes on you while you stand perfectly still. Which was easier? To help kids find focus on their own, have them place a pompom or coin about 2 feet in front of them on the floor. This is now their drishti, their focal point. Their gaze should only be at their drishti. After they practice their balance posture using the drishti, ask your students how their mind felt. Chances are, they will answer that they can’t feel their mind or their mind feels still. Exactly! Mentally focusing on a drishti while physically working to stay balanced gives your monkey mind a brief respite. (This works for adults, too! Try it – you’ll probably get a break from thinking about your grocery list or those music lyrics that have been bugging you all day).

Want more balancing fun? Play Yoga Jenga! Using a Jenga game (if you don’t already have one, make a trip to a thrift shop). On about 2/3 of the blocks, write the name of a balance pose. Then stack up the blocks and start playing. Each player takes a turn pulling out a block. If it is blank, they simply place it on top, just like the original game. But, if there is a pose written on the block, they must first perform the pose (on both sides, if applicable) before placing the block back on top.

Now it’s time to explore the other side of balance – balancing busy-ness and calm, balancing emotions, and balancing time. A cool way to introduce this is to invite the kids (and you, too) to play KooKoo Head. When you say “go”, everyone loudly lists everything, everything, that they’ve done all day, that they’ve thought all day, and that they’re planning to do all day. If they run out of things to say, just repeat “blah blah blah” over and over until you call time, usually about 1-2 minutes is plenty. How did that feel? Was your mind racing? Were you inundated with noise and stimuli? This is the busy-ness your mind has to tread in nearly all day, everyday. To balance out this chaos, spend some time settling the mind through mindful breathing practices and through meditation. You can also encourage your kids to strike a balance between being a “couch potato” watching YouTube videos and playing video games and racing from activity to activity, lesson to lesson. Both activity and stillness are important to our mental health, but we must find that sweet spot that keeps us energized yet calm.

Finally, before you can expect your children to have a balanced life, you must walk-the-walk yourself. Take some time and examine your daily schedule. Is it balanced? Does just looking at it make you stressed? Has your to-do list taken over your life? Time to take a moment, take a breath, and find balance.

Love what you are reading? Check out the Kidding Around Yoga website, or better yet, sign up for a KAY teacher training and spread the love of kids yoga in YOUR town!

Play Ball!

Leading a fun and focused kids’ yoga class can be an easy task if you simply use a ball! An old-school, readily-accessible, ever-popular ball. A collection of various sized balls can create a collection of yoga-based games and activities ready to play in no time at all.

Plank Pinball: Players come into plank pose in a circle. Roll a beach ball or two (or more) into the middle of the circle. Players hit the ball with their arms/hands, keeping it within the circle. Add to the challenge if you have a big class by having a couple kids come into poses (like warrior or dog) in the middle of the circle acting as bumpers and deflecting the ball as it moves past. If kids get tired, have some switch to reverse table and whack the ball with their feet instead.

Plow Pass: This is a fun relay race. Divide the class into teams and have them line up on their backs, head-to-feet. The first player on each team hold the ball with their hands, lift it above their chest and grab it with their feet. Keeping the ball in their feet, they carefully lower it to the next player’s hands. That player then grabs the ball with their hands, lifts it above their chest and passes it to their feet. The feet lower and pass it to the next person’s waiting hands. Continue until everyone has handled the ball.

Over Under: Again, divide the class into teams. Each team stands in a line. The front of the line holds a ball. When you say, “Go” the player with the ball passes it between their legs to the person behind them. The second player lifts the ball up and passes it over their head (in a backbend) to the third person. That player passes it under their legs, and so on. You could do this in a circle as a whole-group activity and include several balls of different sizes in the race.

Warrior Catch: Either as a whole group in a circle, in teams or pairs, kids come into a warrior pose. Announce which warrior pose everyone should come into (warrior 1, 2, or 3). Then the warrior play catch with the ball, holding the posture while both throwing and catching. After a couple of tosses, switch which warrior pose they hold. Repeat. You could really kick up the challenge by using other poses, like boat, dog, or happy baby.

Orange You Grateful: Kids sit in a tight circle, knee-to-knee. The first child holds a ball in their feet and says, “Orange you grateful for ________”. Then they pass the ball to the next player using only their feet. That child then shares what they are grateful for.

Silly Story Ball: On a big beach ball, write the names of various poses all over it. To play, kids stand in a circle and toss the ball to one another. When a child catches the ball, he looks at his right thumb. Whatever pose his thumb is touching is the pose the class does and the player starts a story with that pose. If his thumb landed on “boat“, then everyone would do boat pose and he’d start a story, “Once upon a time, a boat was floating on a stormy sea”. Then he’d throw the ball to someone else and wherever their thumb lands is the next pose to do and incorporate into the story. Encourage imagination and silliness! Continue until everyone has had a turn.

Love what you are reading? Check out the Kidding Around Yoga website, or better yet, sign up for a KAY teacher training and spread the love of kids yoga in YOUR town!

Sound: More Than Meets the Ear

When you hear a bell ringing, you are listening to energy making a journey. -Sarah Schain

Sound is an important part of the human experience. Just think about how music makes you feel! Songs, their melodies and rhythm, their patterns and harmonies can make us get up and dance joyfully or sit quietly and feel pain.

An article by Sarah Schain describes sound like this: “Everything that exists in the universe is energy.  We are all forms of energy. Sound is created by “sound energy” or additionally thought of as “mechanical energy”.  The thoughts and feelings we have vibrate at specific frequencies.  Frequencies can best be thought of in terms of musical notes. So, simply speaking; we are each individual energy forms vibrating at various and uniquely personalized frequencies.  Imagine that the feeling of happiness vibrates at a higher frequency than the feeling of sadness.  Envision each note on a piano scale correlating with a different feeling…..  You could answer the question “How are you feeling?” with a musical tune instead of a word! ”

As far back as the 17th century, scientists noticed that objects tend to begin synchronistic movements based on sound. Two pendulums placed next to each other eventually start swinging at the same tempo. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of 32 pendulums syncing up all on their own. Amazing, right?

So obviously sound waves have power. And water is an ideal carrier of sound vibrations. When you strike a chime or a gong, the air surrounding the chime also vibrates. The vibrations  spread quickly through our bodies, which are more than 80% water and this results in a very delicate massage of internal organs and even cells. Your body is literally bathed in the sound waves.

Harness that power, that universal energy, and use it to create an experience that will resonate with your kids long after the sound disappears.

  • Tibetan singing bowls are said to recreate the universal original harmonic frequency and stimulate the body to rediscover its own organic vibration. When exposed to the powerful vibrations of a singing bowl, the body is able to retune itself to its original, healthy frequency. This makes us feel more settled and calm. Tibetan singing bowls are easily purchased online and come in a variety of sizes and corresponding tones. You can also purchase singing bowl songs to use in class. Invite children to listen for the sound that seems furthest away and follow that tone until it disappears. When their chosen sound is gone, they choose another tone to follow. This keeps them focused, with their thoughts filtered out by the sound. Play the bowls (or the recorded bowl sounds) fairly loudly to recreate the strong vibrations. You can even place the bowls and the children’s bellies when you play them for an immediate recognition of the vibrations.
  • If you have access to a gong, your kids are in for a beautiful, relaxing treat. There’s something magical about a gong’s vibrations that just wash over and through your body. Have children come into Corpse Pose (simply lying flat on their backs, eyes closed) and begin to gently play the gong. At first, the sound may be overwhelming or strange to them. But eventually, the vibrations help the children calm down and even drift to sleep. If you don’t have a gong, you can find gong sounds on YouTube. Like the Tibetan singing bowls, you’ll want the volume to be fairly loud to create strong sound waves.
  • Try a walking meditation with little jingle bells! Give each child a jingle bell (or 2 if you have enough) to hold with their “monkey toes”. Then, very slowly, begin to walk. You want to be so careful, so mindful and smooth, that you don’t hear any jingles at all. I like to tell my kids to pretend they are walking in slow-motion on the moon. Make it a partner activity by having one child walk silently with a bell to their partner across the room. When they arrive, they jingle the bell and pass it to their partner to walk back without noise.
  • A great way to practice mindful listening is to use tingsha bells18402888735_434c64bd9a_z. Tingsha bells are like tiny cymbals joined by a leather strap that, when struck, produce a lovely lingering tone. Have children sit up tall on the floor (or in their chairs if practicing at school), eyes closed, palms up on their laps. Tell them their palms are going to act as extra ears, sensitive to sound waves (a science lesson, too!). Ring the tingsha once and as long as they hear the sound, their palms remain up. When they no longer hear the tone, they turn their palms down. Try this a couple of times. Then, you can use it to quiet the kids throughout the school day. When they hear the chime, they turn on their super-sensitive ears and listen for the end of the chime. Don’t have a tingsha bell? Any chime or bell can work.

Little Notes of Love

My obsession with hiding little notes started when, as children, my sister and I would spend summers at my grandparents’ house in Florida. Spending lazy days walking the beach, reading, watching MTV (a luxury we didn’t have in my small hometown), and generally being spoiled by my grandparents were blessings I was able to recognize  even as a child. “How cool is this?” I’d whisper to my sister as my Grandma let us do her makeup and my (nearly bald) Grandpa let us “fix” his hair. And our parents had raised us right – we definitely said, “Thank you” when appropriate. But I wanted to do more, something really special that would make my grandparents smile the whole year, even when we went back home to Colorado.

So, my sister and I came up with the idea of hiding little notes all over their condo. Slips of paper with little tidbits of love written on them. Things like, “Someone in Colorado loves you” or “HUG” written in our finest penmanship filled dozens of little papers. Then, when our grandparents were in another room, we’d tuck the notes away in obvious and obscure places: between plates in the cupboard, in winter coat pockets, in the toes of dress shoes, inside medicine bottles, and inside books. We wanted to be sure that the notes wouldn’t be lost, but still wanted them to be discovered over the 10 months we were back home.

And it worked. It REALLY worked. Whenever my grandparents would find a note, they’d call us and tell us where they found it. We’d giggle and give them hints where they’d find more. In the days before email and texting, it was a very special event to get a quick written message from someone far away. And even better than digital writing, the slip of paper was something they could hold onto, could collect to revisit when lonely or sad.

I continued this when I left home to go to college. I left notes sprinkled around the house to say hi to my parents (or to long-distance tease my sister). And sometimes, my mom left notes for me, too, inside care packages and suitcases. When I found one, it was like a warm hug from my family. And now, whenever I stay at a friend’s house, I try to leave a few little notes here and there. I especially enjoy hiding them in places that aren’t usually fun (in the dryer sheet box, at the bottom of the kitchen towel drawer, under the toothbrush holder in the bathroom). And it works every time. People find the notes and call (or, these days, snap a pic and text me). And boom! Just like that, we know we are thinking of each other, that we are important to someone and someone is important to us. Powerful stuff.

I’ve left notes on the napkins of my kids’ lunches. For a while, they preferred for me to write a joke on the napkin that they could share at lunch (a great ice breaker for quiet kids). My kids leave notes for their grandparents and cousins when we visit. And even now, I’ve been known to tuck notes into my teen’s car, my husband’s wallet, and my son’s backpack. Nothing embarrassing, just a little note to say, “Hey! Have a great day!”. They don’t often tell me when they find my notes, but I know they see them. And that’s enough for me.

Restorative Yoga for Kids

11453645624_0aeac7d586_zYou know what I think kids today need? Not more lessons or learning opportunities. Not more toys, gadgets, or electronics. And certainly not more pressure and stress. Our children need time to unwind, all on their own. Just like us grown-ups, they need time to decompress and regroup after a long day of learning, playing, socializing, and growing. And the kids who seem to be wired for constant high energy are the ones that often have the toughest time settling down for bed so they can rest and recharge for the next day. I suggest you try some Restorative Yoga with them.

Restorative Yoga is mistakenly thought of as Yoga for the elderly and frail, for people with injuries or conditions that prevent a full movement-based Yoga class. This is far from the truth. Restorative Yoga should be practiced at least once a week, as the benefits are tremendous both physically and mentally. This is true for children, too. Restorative Yoga reduces over-stimulation and has immediate calming effects on the mind and body.

Roger Cole, a relaxation physiologist out of Stanford University and the University of California, and a world-renowned Iyengar Yoga instructor, says that “relaxation is an inborn, integrated physiological process that you can easily trigger just by setting up the right conditions.” In other words, we all can relax! So, start by getting your children and your environment ready for Restorative Yoga. Be sure it is warm enough (provide blankets) and dark (eye pillows or hand towels to cover the 9202224233_7e2e531ec8_zeyes). Children need to be comfortable, mentally and physically, and the room must be quiet – on phones, TV, or interruptions. And most importantly, kids need permission to just rest and be still. No one is going to poke them or nag them. They should feel perfectly safe and allowed to do nothing, truly nothing, for as long as you have time.

Because, here’s the thing: relaxation takes time and practice. Everyone can relax, but not everyone knows how. Take a look at relaxation through a scientist’s eyes. What happens when you are in danger? Your brain automatically prepares your body for action by triggering a domino-effect system: your heart speeds up, you tense your muscles, your blood pressure rises, your breath quickens, your eyes open wider, and your mind starts racing. This is often called the “fight-or-flight” response,  and it happens in a split-second without you having to do anything at all.

The opposite side of the same coin is relaxation. The “rest-and-digest” response (your parasympathetic nervous system is a part of this) is also a set of pre-programmed physiological changes that move you toward rest and recovery. As you practice Restorative Yoga, systems in the body relax your muscles, slow down your breathing, settle your mind, and lower your blood pressure. Again, this happens on its own. And once the relaxation response is triggered in the body, it inhibits the fight-or-flight response and you are able to go deeper into relaxation. This is why setting up the proper conditions for relaxation and Restorative Yoga is critical. You want your body to run a “loop” of relaxation responses over and over, getting you 13093362565_2af7e67d39_zdeeper and deeper into it. To learn more about how physical and psychological conditions affect relaxation or to find out more about the physiology of sleep and relaxation, please look into Roger Cole’s work.

Once the conditions for relaxation are established, it’s time for you and the kids to settle in for a Restorative Yoga practice. Here are three fantastic poses to try, remembering to make your kids as comfortable as you can and leave them in the pose as long as is possible.

Child’s Pose: Have your child kneel on a blanket with their knees against the edge of a firm cushion. The child sits back on her heels and rests her head on the cushion, chest and head supported by the cushion. Her arms can rest on either side of the cushion or along her sides near her legs. Her head can turn to either side. Now just let her settle. Tell her to melt like an ice cube in a cup of hot tea. To make this extra yummy, place both of your hands on her back and ask her to inhale deeply. Then, as she exhales, apply a gentle pressure and slide your hands in opposite directions, stretching her spine gently. You can even leave your hand resting on her back if that helps her settle. Eyes can be covered with a hand towel to make it darker.
Reclined Cobbler: Your child sits on the floor with his back against a firm cushion and leans back, lying onto the cushion with his head on a pillow or rolled towel/blanket. His low back should be supported by the cushion. The soles of his feet come together, with knees out wide. Roll towels or blankets and place them under his ness for soft support. Now cover his eyes and place something heavy (like a heavy pillow or rice bag) on his feet to make him feel more grounded and calm. This pose provides a gentle backbend, which opens the chest for deeper breathing and better digestion.
Legs-Up-the-Wall: Your child scoots close to the wall (so his bottom is right on it) and swings his legs up the wall, at about 90 degrees. A small folded blanket can be placed under his hips for cushioning and elevation. Place a small pillow or towel under his head. Your child’s arms are out to the side of his body. Cover his eyes and place a heavy blanket on his pelvis. If his legs tend to slide off the wall or out wide, fold a towel around his feet (along the wall behind his heels, over his feet, onto the shins) to stabilize them. Breathe deeply. This pose is very effective to help your child fall asleep.image

Give these poses a try – if you set up the proper conditions and get really comfy, both you and your child will be relaxing in no time. It’s a great family practice!

Yoga + Math = Fun!

According to Dr. Roger Sperry, 1981 Nobel prize winner for brain research, “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.” If this is the case, why in the world are we making kids sit still to learn? To that end, I’ve come up with some easy ways to incorporate movement, specifically Yoga, into a math class.

Measure a Mountain: In pairs or teams, children take Mountain Pose and are measured (inches, centimeters, hands, paperclips, whatever you’d like) from head to heel. Then, measure the child in Extended Mountain Pose using the same units. With this data, you can do tons of math. Find the height difference in M23724590566_673b3b71ba_zountain and Extended Mountain. Find the mean, median, mode, and range of the class’ data. How many children in Mountain Pose would it take to be as tall as Mt. Everest? As deep as the Marianas Trench? Graph your findings. You could do the same with Tree Pose and compare the child’s height with Redwood trees.

Tree Topple: Again in teams or pairs, one child takes Tree Pose and the other times how long he/she can stay balancing in the pose. Try it on both sides. Use the data as described in Measure a Mountain. You could also try other balance poses and compare results.

PomPom Poppers: Each child gets a pompom and holds it in outstretched hands. Pop the pompom lightly into the air and catch it in the backs of the hands. Then pop it again, flipping the h23128584401_1bee4fe914_zands to be palms up. Once kids get the hang of it, they can practice skip counting while popping the pompoms.

Ratio Breath: This is a great activity to settle energy and focus concentration. Kids start by noticing their breath. They should try to have their inhales match their exhales. For example, if they inhale to a count of 5, they should exhale to a count of 5. Even proportions, in and out. Then change the ratio. Have them breathe in a count of 5, but exhale a count of 10 (1:2 ratio). You can change this up by adding pauses at the top and bottom of the breath (1:1:2:1), too.

Breathing Counts: Have kids notice their breath and count the seconds in one round (in and out). This is sometimes better done with partners watching each other’s breath. Then, use this number to calculate the number of breaths they take in a minute, hour, day, etc. You could graph this information, too. It may be interesting to find breathing rates for other animals to compare with their own.

Shape Shifters: Once kids are ready for geometry, Yoga poses are a goldmine! Pick any pose and measure the angles you find – complementary, right, obtuse, acute. Do the same with lines you find in the pose – parallel, perpendicular, etc. Protractors could even be used!

Sun Salutation: Teach kids to do a Sun Salutation and record how long it takes to do one full series. As before, use the data to create graphs and predict how many you could perform in an hour, a day, or a year!

Feet on the Floor: For younger students, simply counting hands on the floor or toes in the air can be a fun challenge. For instance, a child in Downward Facing Dog has 2 feet on the floor and 2 hands. How many fingers is this? How many toes? What if she picks up one foot? How many toes are on the floor in the whole class? This works with any pose!22698484337_c6b28258ae_z

Make learning math kinesthetic, creative, and fun! Yoga is a perfect addition to your classroom. For more ideas, check out KAY in the Classroom. Kidding Around Yoga has developed a curriculum specifically to incorporate Yoga into the classroom, not just in math but throughout the day!