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!

 

 

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!

Winter Obstacle Course

The Holiday Season is almost here! I previously did a Halloween obstacle course class that my classes adored! It was challenging, fun, and relevant to yoga. These are my favorite ideas for a Winter & Holiday themed obstacle course! Feel free to print them out, glue them onto cardboard paper, and laminate them for easier use!

Polar Bear Crawl: Walk in your Downward Dog like an Arctic polar bear!1

Snowflake Breathing: Practice snowflake breathing with pretend snowflakes. Try to breathe all the snowflakes into a bucket!

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 Snow Angels: Spread your arms and legs out wide and make a snow angel with your body!

 

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 Balance Snowball: Put a white pom pom ball on a spoon. See if you can balance the snowball on the spoon from one end of a yoga strap to the other!

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Ice Skating: Move and slide your feet across the floor like an ice skater on felt pieces. See if you can be strong and still in Dancer’s pose!

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 Hot Chocolate Breathing: Holding a paper cup, pretend like you have steaming hot chocolate in it. Breathe in the nice chocolate smell and breathe out to cool your hot chocolate down.

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Ski Jump: The ski jumper makes turns around yoga blocks and lands in chair pose. 7

 Snowy Tree: Balance a foam snowflake on top of your head while balancing in tree pose.

 

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Holiday Lights Meditation: Focus on a tea light candle and practice deep breathing.9

 Sledding: Pretend to go sledding in your seated forward fold. Watch out for those bumps!

 

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Freezing Toega: Pick up the little snowballs with your toes and put them on a plate!11

 Penguin Waddle: Walk slowly and waddle across a yoga strap like a penguin!12

I hope you enjoy this obstacle course with your family and students!

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.

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!