Hibernation Hatha

The darker days and colder temperatures of winter make us all want to hibernate, right? Well, maybe. Sometimes when kids have less outdoor time during the winter months, they get restless! One way to deal with this is to let them get their energy out so they are ready for their Secret Garden (which we can call our Hibernation Haven/Cave/Station). Another way is to create a relaxing ambience since kids often respond so well to their environment: set the lights low or bring in artificial candles, nightlights, paper lanterns, or glow-in-the dark star stickers to light up the room.

But wait! If they aren’t quite ready to plop down and unwind, a little pre-hibernation prep is in order. Explain to your yogis that some animals fatten up by eating a lot before winter comes. Then play a version of Toe-ga with pom-poms  or some other small objects to represent nuts. Put on music and, using only your toes, see who brings the most nuts back to their cave (yoga mat). A variation on this activity can be done with kids walking around in downward dog and picking up the ‘nuts’ with one hand or toes. It makes for an even more challenging game!

Are they still bouncing off the walls? Ask them if they know what some animals do instead of hibernate. If you live in a place where there are particular animals that leave or nest there for the winter, you can use this as a clue. If they don’t know the word migrate, this is a great opportunity to teach it. Let them move across the floor in groups as birds, butterflies, whales, or some other animal that migrates; use traditional yoga poses or make up poses or moves for each animal. Dance teacher Kate Kuper has created a sweet little song for kids to practice ‘flying’ across the floor as birds. It’s a great way to teach spatial awareness and turn-taking. She doesn’t mention migration in it, but you can adapt it to the theme.

Are we ready to relax in our hibernation stations yet? Or are there some wiggles left in your yogis? The next idea you can spring on them is this: what are some ways to deal with the cold (besides fattening up, as mentioned above)? Move around to warm up! Curl up, seek shelter, blow into your hands. Maybe start with a dynamic song to help them get their body heat up. Some Kidding Around Yoga favorites of mine are: Every Little Cell, Here Comes a Little Yogi, and Yoga Slide, but any song that fits the mood should be good, even if you just do a game of Freeze Dance. Tell them that some animals adapt to winter rather than hibernate or migrate. Many adapt by growing thicker fur, seek shelter, or stay active; humans are animals too! They can use physical activity to stay warm in cold weather, too.

Next, a little hand-warming pranayama helps to wind down the mood. It’s simple: deep breath in followed by a slow exhale into cupped palms. Repeat a few times, then prepare for a short huddle. Do your yogis know about how penguins huddle together for heat? Do a group huddle, perhaps with each kid in a standing pose to add a little challenge and focus. Emphasize respect and gentle contact to prevent kids from crashing against one another or knocking others down. In light of that, it might not be the best activity for very young kids – use your judgement on that.

Finally, when all are ready to enter their Hibernation Haven (or cave, or station), have them lie down and imagine their warm, cozy lair where they can rest from the bright chaos of their day. Make it your own as you talk them through it…or rather, let them make it their own as they imagine what is most relaxing and restful for themselves. When they come out of hibernation, it might be nice to add Bear Breath; I use the guidance for this pranayama from Yoga Pretzels (cards) by Tara Guber and Leah Kalish.

If you’re able to, supplement the class with a book on hibernation and winter. I know that I love to curl up with a book on dark, cold winter days. And of course, as a yoga teacher, please remember to give yourself a moment to ‘hibernate’ on your own, even if it’s just a moment to rest, close your eyes, and let go of all effort from your body and mind. You deserve it – teaching kids yoga takes a lot of attention and vivacity!

A Sense of Belonging

A few years ago, I participated in a course called “The Happiness Program.” One of the activities we did was to go to every member of the group, look them in the eyes and say, “I belong to you.” The whole situation brought out awkwardness, shy smiles, and some giggles. After all, what does that really mean to ‘belong’ to everyone? At first it might sound like surrendering your power to other people, but as the course progressed, it became more clear that it was about acknowledging how profound power can be shared and activated in a communal way.

In a kids’ yoga class, I find it best to rephrase this idea.  In the age of smartphones, I thought it would be appropriate to take the word ‘selfie’ and recast it as the acronym S.E.L.F.I.E. and break it down to some facets of sangha: Sharing, Energy, Learning, Feelings, Inspiration, and Entertainment. How does this define a sense of belonging? All these aspects of sangha reflect how the yoga class is not just for isolated individuals, but for a group of kids that ‘belong’ to that class each time they come together.

Depending on your class and your own yoga practice, you might find your own creative ways to break down the concepts of S.E.L.F.I.E. Feel free to modify some of the ideas I mention here. All the ideas support one another. For instance, Sharing involves using your Energy perhaps to Inspire or Entertain. Sharing can also be about helping others in their own Learning. Working with Feelings can release stuck Energy or even Inspire someone to take action to Learn or Share something with a friend.

If you prefer not to mention smartphones in class, just use a few of the concepts and create your own acronym! Your yogis might be too young to have or care about smartphones; on the other hand, if they are older kids (and especially if they are teens), they probably know a lot about smartphones and selfies.  However you combine these concepts and put them into context, they are all about yoga as a communal, rather than a solitary practice. Here I’ll share just a few ways to combine these ideas in pairs.

Sharing and Learning: What better way for yogis to learn than by sharing what they know? Let them work in pairs or small groups so they can take turns leading one another in their own unique version of Sun Salutations. If they’re fairly new to yoga, wait a few classes until they are comfortable with the elements of a sun salutation. Otherwise, give them some time for free practice so they can create their own sequence, then allow enough time afterwards for each person in the pairs or groups to lead their fellow yogis.

For younger yogis, I find that partner poses work best to explore the concept of learning through sharing; this way, they can focus on one or a few poses, rather than a complicated sequence. If the kids are familiar with some kid-friendly partner poses, I let them choose. Otherwise, I usually use yoga cards that illustrate partner poses; pair the kids up and either show the entire class one card so everyone can do the pose at the same time, or pick out 3-5 cards to circulate around the class so that each pair has a chance to try each one.

Energy and Feelings:  A lot of people think of yoga as a tool for relaxation, but it can also be a tool to energize a tired body and mind. Yoga can also be a way to navigate the spectrum of human emotion as it affects a person’s energy. Kids know that when you’re sad, you’re usually tired and when you’re angry or excited, you seem to have more energy. The challenge is to help them identify these feelings or energetic states, then manage them in a constructive way.

Some of my favorite ways to help young yogis work with their emotions and energy are by adding these elements to the practice: sun salutations, pranayama, and laughing yoga. Sun salutations are not only a great warm up to use at the beginning of class, but also a great way to lift up tired yogis. Younger yogis especially love going a little faster with each round of sun salutation! The activity above also energizes a class as yogis talk and guide each other their own unique salutation.

Pranayama practiced can be included during the sun salutation if the kids know how to use ujjayi breath. Otherwise, there are so many creative ways to bring pranayama into the class. What does pranayama mean? And what does it have to do with emotions, energy, and sangha? You might know that the breath is linked to the mind and emotions; we can manage emotions and energy by changing our breathing and this can help kids relate to one another with clear minds and calm attitudes. A simple example: imagine a time when you were angry. Was it a time that it would have been easy to be friendly or to make a good decision? Probably not! The next time you find yourself in a similar situation, try some of these breathing techniques so that your anger or frustration don’t make you forget to be kind and gentle with others.

Inspiration and Entertainment: When I myself was just a teen, I found myself in a yoga class where the teacher led us into Scorpion pose (Vrishchikasana). My knees began to bend as I lowered my feet towards my head. The teacher came over and slowly guided my feet toward my head until soles rested on crown. What a feeling! When I was steady, he looked up at the others who stood watching and said in a half-joking tone, “Come on, let’s all work on it. Yoga is not a spectator sport!”

While some might be inspired by another student achieving a difficult pose, another might feel intimidated or discouraged. If you have the time and the means, allow for a yoga photo day so that your yogis get some time to take photos of each other doing favorite poses. If no cameras or phones are available to do this, allow them to draw the poses by hand or let them find images of yoga poses online or in magazines.  It could be a posture that they simply enjoy, or one that they have worked on and are proud to be able to do; they could also choose poses they want to do but struggle with, or even poses that they dislike but want to try anyway. Find a way to display the photos, on a wall if they are printed or online if they are digital. Then go around the circle at the end of class and let students mention a pose that inspires them. Keep the photos on display for weeks or months if you can and refer back to them from time to time to help the kids reflect on whether or not their ‘pose of inspiration’ changes over time.

A more appropriate activity for young yogis involves sharing stories. Young children need inspiration from their peers as well as their mentors, role models and teachers; they also thrive on entertainment to keep that inspiration alive. Just as kids’ yoga has been on the rise, kids’ yoga literature has been riding that same wave. There are now many inspiring and entertaining yoga books for young people. If you have access to some, allow for time in class for yogis to form small groups and read the books to one another. At the end of class, each one can share something from the book that inspired them. Alternatively, reserve some class time for each yogi to create their own BLISS, a short yoga story that they tell with postures to accompany.

Interaction: If there’s one thing that I both enjoy and lament about yoga for adults is that it can be so solitary that it is often isolating. People show up to class, roll out their mats, silently follow the teacher’s guidance, then pack up and leave, often without saying much or making eye contact with anyone else. Sometimes that’s what I look forward to, while other times it feels lonely. Teaching kids yoga has inspired me to reflect on how sangha can be spontaneous, fun, and creative! I owe so many teaching ideas to kids I’ve taught–they aren’t just my yoga students, but I also belong to them as their teacher!



Yoga in a Winter Wonderland

It doesn’t get very cold here in the south, so we often have to play pretend or make-believe when it comes to the winter season.  Our imaginations are so vivid that I came up with a winter wonderland themed yoga class.  Kids and parents love it! I tend to get a little over-zealous decorating, but you can do this class as an impromptu break from the usual, or you can plan ahead and go overboard, too!  It is a great class to do near the holidays, as a birthday, or just because.  Take a couple of the following tips and run with it.

·       To prepare kids for one of the most important parts of their yoga practice, meditation, get them running around a little first so that their bodies have all the “jiggles” out and they are ready to sit for a few minutes.  Tell them to imagine a blizzard is coming and they are the snow! Snow flurries start to fall really softly but then they become heavier and heavier and the wind swirls them faster and faster.  The children ARE the snow flurries flying, swirling, and blustering about the room.  As you get ready to meditate, talk about how blizzards eventually end and the air becomes soft as the ground swells with beautiful twinkling snow. Everything is quiet.

·       A fun yoga game to play blends a race with yoga poses.  I call it Migrating Birds (you could even throw in a mini-lesson on seasonal migration!).  Have the children stand in a line side-by-side.  As you stand across the room, call to them “warm, cool, cold”.  The goal is to get to your side first.  Of course, the game is just for fun, so keep it light.  Anyway, when you say “warm”, the kids can crawl.  When you say “stop”, call a pose such as table, cat/cow, or tiger.  When you say “cool”, they walk.  As they stop from here, their poses should be standing such as mountain, tree, or star.  When you say “cold”, the children need to run to get south fast! Switch it up!

·       Show them a new pose, called penguin.  It is basically a duck walk. Start in a deep squat and tuck your elbows as you walk around the room.  This can easily be adapted into a partner pose where kids can hold each other hands in front of them to help maintain balance.

·       If you want to include story time, a classic, great book is Ezra jJck Keats, The Snowy Day.  It isn’t too long and it’s perfect for all ages.  If you want to do a craft, an inexpensive and not-too-messy one is snowflake making!  All you need is paper and scissors.  There are a ton of patterns online to teach you how to do different shapes. 

·       Lastly, a great activity to delve into raja yoga, and to get kids thinking about the “Big Picture” as well as philosophical ponderings such as the idea of change and permanency, is the Ice Cube Melt.  Startwith a piece/cube of ice and discuss what the ice cube actually is…it is water (remember your chemistry?).  Now, show them how things are always changing, yet their integrity is still the same. Use a hairdryer to melt the ice. Ask them what it is now. Laugh when they say “a mess!”.  Reiterate that it is water still, just different.  Ask them how that applies to them.  If they are older, this will be easier, however, even young kids will pick up more than we expect.

Add your own ideas, omit some listed, do your own thing.  Just make sure you share the magic of winter and create a cool yoga class!

Polar Bear Yoga

They are cute, fluffy, and super wintry, although you may not want to try to cuddle one! What are they? Polar bears, of course.  Kids love learning about animals, especially these unique bears.  A polar bear themed yoga class is the perfect opportunity to blend academic learning and fun activities. 

  • Start the adventure by greeting students as they enter the frigid arctic! You could decorate the space with icicles, snow mounds, pictures of Arctic animals, and streamers of green, pink, purple, and blue to mimic the Northern Lights. Make sure you still include a meditation, like Peace Begins with Me!


  • For a fun pranayama, or breathing exercise, have the kids pretend they are cold and “warm up” their hands with their breath! This will give them a chance to really feel their breath, its temperature, and how their belly inflates and deflates as they inhale and exhale. 


  • Before the class, let students know that they are to bring one of their favorite stuffed toys or their treasured pals.  During the class, children become mama/papa bear.  Tell them how mama/papa bears are very protective over their baby bears and that it is their job to keep their little bears safe, warm, and protected.  Pretend to feed and cuddle the little bears and show them how to do poses with their “baby”. They should be mindful of where their baby is, if they are warm, and keep them safe.


  • One of the best elements about this class is the ability to teach some environmental aspects in a way that happens organically and is relatable.  One of the ways scientists know our Earth is too warm is by the behavior and habitats of polar bears. (These guys are actually used in a ton of research pertaining to this topic).  You could show a quick video with real polar bear footage or even have a zoologist come to talk to the class about the bears and the challenges they face.  A game to play that helps kids understand how the bears’ habitats are diminishing is to lay out a humongous sheet of white paper that represents ice. Or, just have them place their mats side-by-side, like a giant chunk of ice. Have everybody practice their yoga poses with music on the sheet/ice.  As the music progresses, roll up the paper/mats, making less space.  As space becomes limited, the students (i.e. the bears) have to move off the ice sheet until there are only 1-3 students left.  Of course, really young students probably will not understand this analogy, but six years and up will.  It brings awareness and helps them to empathize with the bears.


  • Cotton balls, cardstock, yarn, and googly eyes are all that is needed to make some cute, little polar bears.  Have the students cut the paper in the shape of a bear or a circle, glue the ruffled (by pulling it out) cotton balls and the eyes to the cardstock, and add a scarf with the yarn.  If you have younger students, you could always pre-cut the bear shape.



  • As you are settling down and preparing for savasana, ask your students what bears do for a really long time.  They will most likely know about hibernation, but if they don’t, now is a great time to introduce the concept! Let them know that in their Secret Garden, they and their baby bears are going to hibernate over the long winter.  You could even write a guided meditation about snowy river banks, alpine trees, cozy bear caves, etc. 

Have fun with this class by using your imagination!

Celebrate ALL of the Winter Holidays!

One of the best ways to teach compassion and to build more empathetic kids is to reframe the world in the perspective of the viewer. Children are naturally curious, open-minded, and flexible in regards to integrating new information and differences among people. They generally make less a fuss about how things are “supposed” to be because their expectations are not the same as an adult’s.  Honestly, this is one of my favorite reasons for working with children.  They are ready, willing, and enthusiastic about learning. 

A lot of people do not realize that learning happens beyond the classroom in other settings and within various experiences. Again, this is one of the best “pros” to teaching kids yoga.  There is such a wealth of material and time to introduce a multitude of concepts to these young people.  With the holidays approaching, it is a most opportune time to present information about the season and how it houses many diverse holidays for people around the world.  The advantage?  With yoga, this information can be presented in a fun, unique way that lights up their imaginations and helps them see the similarities between all people, thus building compassion. This creates kids who want to be friends, not people who are fearful of others.

Christmas– The holiday that many of your children will celebrate in December and one that the United States really amplifies is both Christian and secular (to some extent).  Most kids are familiar with St. Nick (aka Santa Claus), gift-giving, and decadent meals with family. Most people agree that the key feature of Christmas is the idea of giving. To inspire generosity in your students, play a game of Secret Santa wherein the children pull names from a hat and they MAKE a gift for their yoga peer. If your students do not know each other ahead of time, ask the students and their parents to please purchase a gift (of less than $5) for a wonderful charity such as Toys for Tots and you all go together to donate.   (Click here for more blogs about Christmas, yoga-style) It’s also fun to take a well-known story, song, or poem and put a yoga spin on it, like this one about family meditation based on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas:

Twas the night before Christmas

When all through the house

Everyone was sitting

Even the mouse!

They sat by the fire

As it crackled and snapped,

Clearing their minds,

Not taking a nap.

The tree stood tall and

glowed in soft light,

the sky was inky

but stars shone bright.

Chests rose and fell

With each breath they took.

Their lungs expanding,

They had to look!

The room smelled of apples

And cinnamon, too.

All thoughts drifted

And a baby said “coo”.

Bodies were still.

Worry eased and sadness melt.

Minds were free!

They loved the way they felt!

Peace filled their hearts

And happiness the room.

They held hands

As they watched the moon.

The fire was in embers

Providing little light.

They looked at each other and said,

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Chanukah– Also known as the “The Jewish Festival of Lights”, this Jewish holiday is celebrated over eight days and nights.  The Menorah is a staple and each candle is lit on one of the nights. On the final night, the center one is lit.  A fun game/song to play is Yoga Nagila as it is based on a Jewish folk song and encourages people to come together for friendship and fun.  Make sure to include a holiday table display with a menorah! For more kids’ yoga with a Jewish twist, check out Yoga Yeladim

Kwanzaa -A holiday beginning in 1966, was created to celebrate and honor persons of African descent.  The core message is of family, community, and culture.  As many persons of color’s voices have oft been left off the table, this holiday is way for many African-Americans to honor their collective traditions and values.  The holiday speaks of unity and working together.  Partner poses and a good reading about social justice and family would be in order here! Karen Katz’s My First Kwanzaa is an excellent read.

Diwali – The original “Festival of Lights”, Diwali is celebrated in many areas of Southeast Asia and India.  As yoga’s purpose is to reach Nirvana, this holiday celebrates an old sage who is said to have reached enlightenment and peace.  The name itself means “lamps in rows”. One of the biggest themes of the holiday is goodness and how goodness always triumphs over evil.  Now would be a good time to discuss Namaste and practice saying it with your students! Click here for ways to include Diwali and the meaning of Namaste in your classes.

            Include crafts such as paper wreath making, activities that encourage friendship and family relationships such “gathering” around the “table” to share a feast, play games, and have St. Nick/Jack Frost lead the children in their sun salutations.  Have fun and remember that our differences make us special while simultaneously connecting us this holiday season!

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.

Yoga is More Than Poses

It’s very trendy to practice yoga these days. Like being “green”, it seems everywhere you turn, someone is selling yoga. There are clothing lines hocking $80 yoga tank tops, websites offering props, books, and DVDs of the “latest” yoga style, and even discount department stores featuring their own lines of yoga products. Celebrities with long, lithe bodies rave about their yoga mastery and classes are offered everywhere from local gyms and mom’s groups to high-end yoga studios. So it’s easy to get caught up in the hype. Who doesn’t want to be strong, flexible, and relaxed, right?

But the truth of the matter is that the practice of yoga is much deeper than these physical manifestations that have garnered such popularity. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” meaning work, coordination, and integration. Put those definitions together and yoga is defined as “union”. A union between the individual and the universe. a union between rooting down and growing taller, a union of our dark and our light.

About 4000 years ago, Patanjali wrote The Yoga Sutras, the definitive yogic text. He defined yoga as, “Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah” or “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. In other words, the practice of yoga was not designed to help you stand on your head, touch the floor in a forward fold, or twist up like a human pretzel. The purpose of yoga is to settle your mind and stop the self-talk and chatter that prevent us from being present for our lives. And doesn’t that awareness sound better than having nice biceps?

Granted, the physical movements (called asanas) in a yoga practice are designed to work your body -creating within you a union of strength and flexibility. These movements, when combined with breathing practices (pranayama) and meditation make up Hatha Yoga. And within Hatha Yoga you can find dozens of variations (Bikram, Iyengar, Anusara, Triyoga, Power, Viniyoga, Kripalu, Integral, etc). Yoga provides a fantastic work-out. You use muscles you didn’t even know you had. A regular practice builds strength, promotes flexibility, improves balance, coordination and posture, and is excellent for lung health. Yoga programs can even be tailored for specific conditions (asthma, liver disorders, cancer, PMS, etc). And best of all, rather than feeling tired and beat-up after exercise, you are likely to feel a quiet energy after even the most rigorous yoga practice.

Yoga is everybody, regardless of age, physical condition, or religion. The only equipment you may need is a sticky may (widely available, fairly inexpensive, and often available for use that the gym or studio you attend). And the only requirement during a yoga practice is that you breathe. no worrying about to-do lists. No rehashing your day. No thinking about what to make for dinner. You only breathe, and if movement feels good, then start moving. I like to think there is a little yogi inside each of us, letting us know what our body needs.

So tap into your inner-self and try yoga. Not because it is “cool” to do yoga, but because it can profoundly change your life – from your mental state and physical appearance, to your diet and daily habits. Better yet, join your kids on the mat and be part of the magic!