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!

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!

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)!

Teaching Gratitude Through Yoga

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.

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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 y15483952031_74710694fd_zour 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.

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“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”Mahatma Gandhi

 

Yoga Class Theme: Transportation

Are your little yogis fans of Tomas the Tank Engine? How about the movie Cars? Do they dream of flying planes or exploring the ocean in a submarine? Capture their imaginations and attention with a whole yoga class based on transportation!

Feet: Our basic mode of transportation is our feet! But they get trapped in shoes and get a bit stinky by the end of the day. So when it is time to release the tootsies, refresh them and make the room smell great with Really Stinky Feet spray. The spray can be made with water and a few drops of essential oils (lavender, tea tree, citrus, eucalyptus, mint, etc). Mix up a batch, put it in a spray bottle and the invite children to come into a gentle shoulderstand – or, to be even safer, just have them lie down and extend their legs (and bare feet) to the ceiling. Then make a big fuss about how stinky their feet are while spraying their feet lightly. Kidding Around Yoga has a song about Really Stinky Feet and even sells a premade spray

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Trains: All aboard! Begin your train exploration with Train Breath – inhale and exhale through your nose with a slightly forceful sound. Start slowly and then build up speed. You’ll hear the train coming down the track, getting closer and closer. Then allow your breath to slow down again, eventually coming back to a normal breathing pattern. Then climb aboard the train and travel with Tushy Walking. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. “Walk” forward (and backward) by just shuffling your bottom forward, one side at a time. You could have races or sit side-by-side and move as a group. Finally, sit cross-legged, one person in front of the other in a line. You’ll need to be very close so your hands can reach the person in front of you. Now you have a Massage Train! Gently give the person in front of you a back massage. After a few minutes, turn around and give the person behind you a massage, too! Again, Kidding Around Yoga has a fun song for the Massage Train.

 

Boats: Start with the basic boat pose. Sit on your mat and lift your legs and arms so you look like a ‘V’. Keep your belly pulled in tightly to protect your back. What do you see while cruising in your boat?  Can you make a kayak? Keep your ‘V’ position, but now “row” your kayak side-to-side with your arms. You can make a canoe, too. Instead of side-to-side rowing, with your legs up reach forward and pull back, like you are pulling oars through the water. How about a motor boat? Just make a regular boat but this time kick your feet rapidly and make a motor boat sound. If you have a scarf, you can make a sailboat, too! For more fun, try A Yogi Went to Sea:

 

Airplanes: Begin with the basic airplane pose (called locust in adult classes). Lying on your belly, extend your legs long behind you and arms long in front. Soar through the air, leaning left and right. Where are you going? What do you see underneath you? If you see a camel, do a camel pose and then get back on the plane and fly more. Maybe you’ll see a dolphin, a bridge, or a tree? Your imagination can fly free! In the song below, you fly all around the world sampling food from different cultures. The song is called “Yummy Yoga” and is by Kidding Around Yoga.

 

Halloween Yoga

Halloween is often a very exciting time of year for children . Between the spooky decorations, the piles of candy, and the pressure of choosing the perfect costume, kids 21304223858_45452b009d_zcan get pretty wound up. These Yoga activities don’t just settle the excess energy, but also add to the Halloween celebration.

I like to start my kids’ Yoga classes with a story, and this one is about Trick-or-Treating. (As you use it, change the children’s names to those in your class and add in any costumes you’d like to include):

One of my favorite things to do at Halloween is to carve Jack-o-Lanterns, and the bigger the better! First I pick out a bright orange pumpkin from the pumpkin patch (pumpkin roll, roll like a ball). Then I scrape out the pumpkin, really digging out the sides (Mula Bandha rolls: cross-legged and circle the rib cage in big circles left and right). Finally, I carve a face – sometimes scary and sometimes funny. What kind of face do you like on your pumpkin (show face)? Then I get to put a candle (shoulderstand) in it and display it on my front porch.
Once my pumpkin is ready, it’s time to go trick-or-treating! This year I’m dressing up as a witch with a point hat (triangle pose). Plus I’m riding a broom (chair pose, leaning left and right like you are riding through the sky)! Wouldn’t it be funny if the broom were very fat (goddess pose)?

I get to walk through the neighborhood with my friends this year, and you’ll never guess what their costumes are! Ben is dressing up as a troll, you know th9238518689_1b5e862f1c_ze little creature that lives under the bridge (bridge pose). Whitney is going to be a spider (spider pose). I wonder if she can spin a web? Ethan and Aly are dressing up as werewolves (up dog and down dog). Abby and Avery are both going as cats (cat pose). Cierra is a bat (eagle pose) and Loga is dressed as a lion (lion pose)…add more costumese/names…

It’s time to go! Remember, we are just going to keep a few pieces of candy, like the Tootsie Rolls (lie across the mat and roll it up around you). The rest we are going to give to the homeless shelter and send to the troops overseas. That way, everyone can share in the Halloween fun!
There are two different breaths I like to teach in a Halloween class. First is pumpkin breath. Inhale to fill your chest and round out the belly. Exhale and imagine that you are pulling out seeds from deep inside. These seeds are for things you don’t want to grow, like anger and sadness. The second breath is ghost breath. It’s a normal inhale through the nose, and then make a “Booooooo” sound on the exhale. You can be quiet ghosts, silly ghosts, opera ghosts, any kind you’d like.

Other activities for your Halloween themed class:
• Get a big bag of pompoms and “Bob for Apples”, but this time using your toes to pick up the pompoms and put them into an empty bucket (like one used for trick-or-treating). Kidding Around Yoga calls this game Toe-Ga and even has a song for it!

• Turn the lights off and practice candle gazing (tratak)
• Play Freeze Float – turn on some spooky music (like Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter) and float around the room, just as a ghost would float. When the music stops, you freeze and try to balance in whatever position you’re in. Then the music starts again and you go back to floating.
• Play The Ghosts All Fly – This game is also called, “The Big Wind Blows”. Everyone stands on a mat in a big circle, the farther away the better. The leader takes away her mat and stands in the center. She announces a command like, “The ghosts all fly if they like candy corn” or “The ghosts all fly if they eat pumpkin seeds”. Then anyone who does the activity the leader described runs to a new mat and holds a Yoga pose (can be their choice or one they’ve been instructed to do), but not the one on either side of them. On19790307691_0400ddac58_ze person is always left without a mat. The person without a mat becomes the leader. Get really silly with the commands!

Happy haunting!

Glow Yoga Party – Light It Up!

Turn down the lights and turn up the fun! With a little planning and a lot of creativity, you can create a memorable yoga experience for the whole family.

Decorations: Of course, this means glow sticks! You can get them at most dollar stores, so load up. Some can be made into bracelets and necklaces, but others will be used during activities. Put glow sticks in helium balloons to really take the party higher! You’ll also want a black light to really pump up the glow factor. Make the room as dark as possible and encourage your yogis to wear white or neon colors. There’s even glow-in-the-dark face paint!

Mandalas: You can make glowing mandalas a couple of different ways. Highlighters glow under black light, so pass out paper and highlighter markers and watch the creativity unfold. Remember all those glow sticks? You can use them to make mandalas, too.

Hula Hoops: Again, a visit to the dollar store is probably required. Purchase a few hula hoops and some glow-in-the-dark duct tape. Wrap the hoop with the tape – either with a single color or in a pattern. Now you are ready for some hooping games! One favorite, especially good as an ice-breaker, is Pass the Hoop. Everyone comes into a circle, holding hands. The hoop starts between two people (still holding hands) and is passed around the circle. Kids will have to wriggle through the hoop to get it to their other hand and pass it on. Finally, the hula hoop could be used in the mandala making, as well, with glow sticks creating a pattern inside them.Don’t want to buy hula hoops? Use those glow sticks again! This time, create rings with the sticks and use them in a Ring Toss game. In partners, one person comes into a yoga pose (one with an arm or leg sticking out, like Warrior 1 or 3 Legged Dog). The partner gently tosses the ring, trying to loop the exposed hand or foot.

Music: What glow party would be complete without some dancing? Use Kidding Around Yoga’s version of This Little Light of Mine to get started. Emphasize that we all have a light within us, a light that makes us special and valuable. Everyone has one. Our job is to let it glow and spread through the world. Another fun song for a dance party is Yogi Shake, again by Kidding Around Yoga. Be sure that you are completely decked out in your finest glow gear for this song – it gets crazy and will look even more crazy if you are glowing while shaking!

 

Guided Meditation: At the end of the party, when everyone is worn out and ready to rest, kids lie down on their mats and close their eyes. Encourage them to be very still and very quiet. When everyone is settled, lead them on a journey through a glowing rainbow. Describe each color in vivid detail. Include leading questions using each of the five senses (What does blue sound like? Can you smell something green?) After a few minutes of description, let the children rest in silence. When it is time to “wake up”, gently encourage them to stretch and sit up. Invite them to share how the different colors made them feel and what they imagined.

There are so many ways to make a glow-in-the-dark yoga class memorable and meaningful. Get your creative juices flowing and let your own little light glow!