Explaining the Yamas and Niyamas

15348945554_cd67a6d837_zAs a kids’ yoga teacher we can have the amazing responsibility to introduce children to the ideas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. About 1600 years ago in India, Patanjali condensed two different traditions (Ashtanga Yoga and Karma Yoga) to compose the Yoga Sutras, the foundational text of Yoga. He divided Yoga into eight limbs. The idea of the Eight Limbs is to provide a structure for our lives so our poor habits will simply drop away from us. Two of the limbs I like to teach kids are the Yamas and Niyamas (the other limbs include postures, meditation, concentration, and breathing, as well as other practices). Yamas and Niyamas provide lists of behaviors to encourage and sustain for a fruitful, happy life. Far from being strictly religious practices, when explained and practiced within a kids’ Yoga class, the Yamas and Niyamas are basically rules, like the Golden Rule, to be present, mindful, and whole:
YAMAS– Restraints
Ahimsa- In thought word and deed, act with non – violence15630662808_3d149ee634_z
Satya- Be honest, truthfulness
Asteya- Be generous, do not steal
Brachmacharya – Be moderate in all areas of your life
Aparigraha –Have gratitude, be un-attached to expectations.
NIYAMAS– Observances
Saucha – Cleanliness of mind and body
Samtosha- Find contentment, trust in the bigger picture
Tapas- Acceptance of uncomfortable parts of life
Svadhyaya-Study and learn about yourself and the world around you
Ishvara Pranidhana- Trust the source in yourself and surrender to the will of the universe
There are countless interpretations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutras available. My favorite interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is The Secret Power of Yoga written by Nichala Joy Devi. This is a woman’s guide to the heart and spirit of the Yoga Sutras. I have found it helpful to spend a little time each day reading and thinking about the Sutras and have found this book helpful. I also encourage you to find a Satsang, or a group, to discuss the Sutras and how to implement them into our daily lives.
As a Sunday school teacher I enjoy teaching svadhyaya (study and learn about yourself and the world around you) by acting out Bible stories and incorporating Yoga postures. I also find teaching in schools or libraries that by using books and poems about nature, we can invite nature’s presence into our own lives. The recent gem I found in my local library is a book called The Happiest Tree by Uma Krishnaswami. This book is chock-full of Yogic wisdom for adults and children building a road to self-confidence.
To use this book in your Yoga class, find a spot to read this book under the shade of a tree. Ask the kids to sit in padmasana (lotus pose) pretending to grow roots into the earth, while they listen to the story. While18941373351_ea46a22d1b_z reading the story, or when the story is finished, spend some time practicing the poses in the story.
Cat – Marjaryasana helps massage the belly and spine. This pose warms the abdomen and stretches the back as well as the torso.
Cobra – Bhujangasana strengthens spine. It firms the buttocks, stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen. Cobra can Relieve sciatica and be therapeutic for asthma.
Frog – Mandukasana stretches the inner thighs, groin and hips. By allowing chest and shoulders to expand, it relieves stress, anxiety and depression. Offer the kids the idea that their Yoga mat is a lily pad.
Tree – Vrksasana increases balance, focus, memory and concentration. Tree also strengthens ankles and knees. When practicing tree it is fun to ask the kids to circle up and practice standing as a forest of trees. Allow the branches to rest gently on the neighboring tree and close their eyes. Make sure to do the tree on both sides!14752128015_56c0f0a520_z
Lotus– Padmasana increases mobility and releases tension. A common meditation pose, it steadies the body so the mind will follow.
Finish your class by asking the kids to share what their favorite part of the story was. I like to do this while enjoying a healthy snack. The following recipe is one of my favorites. It is nut-free, dairy-free, and fun to make because there is no need to bake!
Sunflower Sassies
2c GF whole rolled oats pulsed in food processor until fine
½ c coconut flour
1 c GF rice crisp cereal
½ c chia and flax blend
½ tsp salt
In a mixer with the paddle stir the first 4 ingredients, for about one minute.
½ c maple syrup
½ cup molasses( this is why they are sassy)
1 tsp vanilla
½ Tbsp. coconut oil
½ c sunflower seed butter
½ c chocolate chips
Add the 6 remaining ingredients. Stir until the mixture becomes crumbly and press into a 7×11 wax paper lined pan. Chill for ½ hour in the freezer. You can cut and individually wrap with yarn or serve family style.

Mango Mania!

In Florida, summertime means mango season and they are very plentiful at this time. Even if you don’t live in Florida, you can still enjoy a mango either fresh or frozen.

Mangoes have many health benefits. One cup of mango contains only 100 calories. Each serving is fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free! There are 20 different vitamins and minerals, making it a superfood. There are more than 13 varieties to mango-642957_1280choose from all with their own different taste. When selecting a mango don’t focus on the color but on how they feel instead. Just like a peach or an avocado, go for the soft feeling as they ripen. Ripe mangoes will sometimes have a fruity odor from their stem ends.
Summer and ice cream are synonymous, but what do you do when you’re lactose intolerant or just cutting out dairy products? Make coconut milk mango ice cream! The other great thing is that you don’t need an ice cream maker to make this ice cream! It’s easy and a fun project to do with the kiddos at about 3 pm when it’s too hot to venture outside. The kids can pretty much do the entire recipe under the guidance of an adult. Cooking teaches children many skills: reading, measuring, writing, math and communication. And, at the end you get a nice treat!

Coconut Milk Mango Ice Cream

  • Food processor or blender
  • cutting board
  • spoon
  • Knife
  • measuring cup
  • plastic container with lid
  • 5-6 ripe mangoes
  • raw local honey
  • 1 can Thai organic full fat coconut milk

You’ll need to select, cut and peel the mangoes the night before. There’s no easy way to cut and peel a mango. I’ve tried. The best I tip I can offer you is to peel it in your sink! There’s less mess to clean up this way. Use the ripest mangoes you can find. After you have them cut up, place in a container and freeze overnight. The next day, about 15 minutes before mixing up your ice cream, allow the mangoes to defrost a little. Once beverage-909517_1280they can break apart, place them in your food processor or blender along with the can of coconut milk and ¼ cup of your local honey. Blend up until smooth and creamy! Tasting is always encouraged! Then transfer the mixture to a container and freeze until ready to enjoy! It’s that simple. I’m thinking about trying with other seasonal fruits!

The one thing that I noticed when comparing our own ice cream to store- bought coconut ice cream is that you don’t really have that much of a coconut taste. It definitely is a very creamy ice cream. This ice cream is also paleo friendly, which in our house is a huge bonus!
While your ice cream we can even do a little mango- inspired yoga!25529846162_2e25cf3d3d_z
Begin in forward fold slowly make your way up bringing your hands up to the sky. Salute the sun! Thank the sun for helping everything grow. Go into mango tree pose. Do each side. Make your branches big and stretch them up to soak up all the rays from the sun. Forward fold. In forward fold, move your arms around signifying the rain that the tree needs to grow. Come down to mango pose (child’s pose). Take five breaths here. Then come to table top. This is the table where we enjoy our mango ice cream. Sit in chair pose with a big smile on your face! You can grow a mango tree, care for it, and then harvest your own fruit and turn into a delicious treat to share with others!

The Sneaky Baker

lump-sugar-549096_1280I’m the first to admit it – I have a wicked sweet-tooth. Always have, probably always will. And, it seems that it has been genetically passed down to my children, as well. So how do I find that yogic balance I’m always preaching about between what your body wants, and what your body needs?

Enter  the mighty legume! Beans are the answer to your dessert dilemma. No, seriously. Stop laughing and rolling your eyes. According to nutritionists, “As an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber, legumes are a highly satiating food. This means that for a relatively low amount of calories legumes make you feel fuller longer and, therefore, help prevent the hunger that can lead to unhealthy snacking and unwanted pounds.” Additionally, beans are very high in fiber, keeping bowel movements and blood-sugar regulated. They are an ideal meat substitute, high in protein and low in cholesterol. Plus, they have good amounts of folate, magnesium, thiamine, iron and potassium. And, happily, they are really inexpensive!

I have found a few delicious recipes that not only appeal to the sugar-seekers of the world, but also to the kale-loving vegans. My two little dessert-devils scarfed down these treats without even a second thought. Go ahead…give these desserts a try. You’ll be amazed what a few beans can do! Just click on the recipe title to connect to the recipe.beans-665055_1280

Black Bean Brownies: These were super-simple to make, using ingredients I already had in my cupboard. Plus, extra bonus, you mix them in  a food processor so there’s very little cleanup. I baked them in mini-muffin tins and added a chocolate chip or mint chocolate chip onto the top of each.

Chickpea Blondies with Chocolate Chips: I know the recipe says “blondies”, but these are actually peanut butter (or any other nut butter) chocolate chip bars. Chewy, creamy, and comforting, they are a great after-school snack.

Brownie Breakfast Bars: I always thought my mom was sooooo bad when she gave us leftover fruit cobbler or pie for breakfast. Dessert at 7 a.m.? Yes, please! Had she made these cookie bars for breakfast I probably would have cried tears of joy. There are a couple options in the recipe for cranking up (or down) the nutritional value, depending on your dietary restrictions. As for me, I think a scoop of coconut cashew ice cream would be a lovely addition.

Have a favorite bean-based sweet? I’d love to add to my repertoire, so please share your recipe in the comments. Bon (or should I say Bean?) Appetit!






Essential Oils for the Family

I’ve recently gotten interested in the benefits of essential oils.  It hasn’t happened yoga for children teacher trainingovernight and I’ve only slowly started to use them. The problem is the wealth of information out there concerning these oils can be really overwhelming.  I hope this blog helps to relieve some overwhelming feelings that others may have as well.  

What are essential oils and why even bother with them?  Essential oils are extracted from plants through steaming, distillation or cold pressed methods. This means they come straight from the source and they have been used for therapeutic means well before modern day medicine.  Note: When buying, make sure it is a therapeutic grade oil and NEVER synthetic.  Since they are a highly concentrated product, we only need to use a couple of drops at a time.  They can be breathed in, right through the nose or through a diffuser, used topically or even digested.  The latter two can get really tricky for young children, so please use caution and do your own research for your comfort level.  I have never had my children ingest any oil and I have only used essential oil that has been blended in a carrier oil on them. (A carrier oil is how we dilute essential oils for topical use and they come in a wide variety to choose from: sweet almond oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil are just a few of them).  I have read that since children respond very well to low amounts of essential oils, use only half of the amount recommended for adults.

This time of year when the seasons change, the range in temperatures and weather can breed a lot of sickness.  I fully believe that Vitamin D, Vitamin C and probiotics are wonderful as a first line of defense for the immune system (plenty of supported medical research out there). Essential oils can also be used as a line of defense due to their anti-viral, anti-bacteria, and/or their anti-microbial properties.  My husband recently came down with a nasty cold while we were stuck indoors due to snow.  I had either bergamot oil (an anti-viral) or lemon oil (an anti-bacterial with some anti-viral properties) running in a diffuser.  With the lemon, I also added peppermint oil as a mixture known to enhance memory and concentration since we still had to continue with school work.  I used 2 drops of peppermint and 3 drops of lemon with my diffuser, but you should always follow the directions that the manufacturer provides.  The bergamot went nicely with lavender oil in the diffuser at bedtime. I also made my own hand sanitizer spray with 3 tbsp. witch hazel (can use water), 2 tsp of almond oil, 10 drops melaleuca 18305816990_fb230c7d69_zoil, and 8 drops lemon oil in a fingertip sprayer from Walmart.  

Keep in mind that most essential oils have some anti-viral properties but the top four oils to start with are lavender, lemon, tea tree (or melaleuca) and peppermint.  This is because these four also have the widest range of uses then others.  If you want to get started with essential oils but are confused, as I was at first, these four are great ones to start with.  

Here are a just a few uses to wet your appetite: 

  • Diffusing lavender, lemon and peppermint can provide allergy and breathing relief.
  •  Peppermint diffused alone can help improve focus and energy.  
  • Peppermint oil is great on the bottoms of feet to comfort and cool someone with a fever. I used this recently on my 7 year but I did dilute it with almond oil.   
  • Applying a drop of lavender to a bug bite or sting can stop itching and reduce swelling. I’ve also seen it noted that lavender oil is the number 1 oil for healing burns, cuts, eczema, acne, along with treating bites/stings. 
  • Lice do not like tea tree or melaleuca oil.  A friend of mine mixes melaleuca and rosemary oil in her children’s shampoo once a week and she has avoided inviting these pesky critters during countless outbreaks in the schools.  

Note: Do not use lemon or tea tree topically on children under 2. Other sources say to use sweet orange oil instead of lemon oil for children under 10 due to the potential harshness on skin. Avoid using peppermint in all forms on children under 6.

I have just scratched the surface for the many uses of essential oils.  I am excited to continue my research to learn how to make my own environmentally safe cleaning yoga for kids trainingproducts, my own skin/beauty products (anti-aging, scarring, inflammation, sore muscles, even a hair thickening shampoo) and even find uses for brain health, cancer prevention and energy.  But now,please excuse me as I go find my mixture of lavender, peppermint and jojoba oil to apply to my temples and upper neck to avoid a migraine I feel is threatening me…

Healthy Treats – With a Few Tricks

marshmallowSchool is back in full swing, so days are packed and schedules are tight. The holiday season is coming on strong, too, with its own hectic fun. It all adds up to a recipe for junk food overload. To keep everyone satisfied and healthy, try these alternatives for after-school and party snacking.

Banana Ice Cream: Because bananas are very high in pectin, when they freeze they become creamy and a little gooey. This recipe makes about 1 cup, or 2 servings, of ice cream.
1 large ripe banana
(optional) Peanut butter, strawberries, cinnamon, cocoa powder, honey, Nutella, etc.

  • Peel the bananas and cut them into coins. Freeze them at least 2 hours, longer is better.
  • Blend the frozen banana pieces in a small food processor by pulsing. Keep blending.
  • The bananas start looking crumbly, then smashed. Scrape the walls of the food processor. The banana will start to look gooey. Scrape it again. The banana will start to smooth out but still have chunks. Scrape. Finally, the banana wil turn into soft-serve ice cream texture. Blend a bit longer to aerate the ice cream, adding any optional mix-ins at this stage.
  • Eat immediately or freeze it until solid.

Cookie Dough Dip: This doesn’t sound healthy, but take a look at the ingredients…no flour! No eggs! The dough is actually made from chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans). smileyProtein! Gluten-free! Happy dance!
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1/8 tsp plus 1/16 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup nut butter
Up to ¼ cup choice of milk, only if needed
Sweetener of choice: brown sugar (I used ½ cup), agave, maple, evaporated cane juice, etc.
1/3 cup chocolate chips, or similar
2 to 3 Tbsp oats or ground flax

  • Put all ingredients, except for the chocolate chips, into a food processor and process until very smooth.
  • Mix in the chocolate chips. It should be the consistency of real cookie dough. Add the milk a tiny bit at a time if needed.
  • Serve with apple and celery, graham crackers, or just spoons!

Roasted Chickpeas: My taste-testers (my teen and tween children) said these roasted chickpeas are a bit like CornNuts, which is high praise coming from them. But, no worries, these aren’t nearly the tooth-crushers CornNuts are. They are great by the handful, on top of salads, or added into a snack mix. Feel free to change up the spices. You could even make these sweet with sugar and cinnamon!
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp sea salt

  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl until evenly coated.
  • Spread the chickpeas in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crisp, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Let cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nighty Night, Little Yogi

imageJust like us, our children live in a very busy world.  From the moment they are born, kids are bombarded with ever-increasing pressures: innumerable lessons, academic expectations, competitive sports, socializing, and the business of just growing up! And we think adults are stressed? The white-knuckle pace of our children’s lives often leaves them too wound up to settle calmly into bed and drift to sleep.  My daughter has always had trouble shutting down her day and falling asleep.  Over the years, we’ve tried several methods to relax into sleep and, not surprisingly, a few “tricks” from yoga and Ayurveda have really helped her learn to surrender to rest.

First, we started doing “Happies” every night. Just as some families say prayers before bed, we list three things that made us happy during the day. For a while, my daughter listed “cookies” as her number one. But eventually, her list began growing to include family, friends, things she learned at school, and other big ideas. We found that the “Happies” helped her focus on positive feelings as she was tucked in, rather than worrying about the next day.

I also taught her a meditation practice suitable for her age (she was about 2 or 3, just having learned the alphabet). I gave her a topic to think about and she had to come up with something that matched the topic from each letter in the alphabet. So, for example, the topic may be animals. We would start the list together with Aardvark, Bear, Cat, Dog, etc. Then as I tucked her in, she would keep going. She knew if she got stuck to just skip that letter. This practice kept her mind focused on one topic, rather than racing around thinking about the details from the day and all the activities coming up tomorrow. She’s nearly 15 years old now, and still uses this technique! (Her favorite topic? Harry Potter).

imageLike many children (ok, adults too), my daughter enjoys a sweet after dinner.  For many years now, I have made Peaceful Sleep Spiced Milk. I was introduced to this through Denise O’Dunn of Balance & Bliss Ayurveda. The spices and milk proteins help settle the nervous system and build the Ojas  (Deepak Chopra defines ojas as “the pure and subtle substance that’s extracted from food…the vital nectar of life”).  The recipe is very flexible depending on your child’s taste (it’s great for adults who need to settle down, too):

  • 1 cup organic milk (cow, soy, almond, rice, cashew)
  • 1 spoonful Ghee (clarified butter) – you can make this yourself or buy it at some grocery stores
  • Maple syrup, to taste
  • A pinch or two of each spice, to taste:
  • Turmeric
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground cloves

Warm ghee until it is melted. Add the milk and spices and heat. When warm, sip slowly.

There are also several yoga poses that promote sleep for your child. Perhaps making these practices part of your little one’s bedtime routine will help both of you get a better night’s sleep.


Growing Roots

As a teacher and student of yoga I strive to live a life dedicated toward health and wellness. Properly fueling our bodies with whole unprocessed foods can be lead us toward a more sattvic state a huge investment of time and it is well worth the process. My children often look in the cupboard or fridge gazing at the ingredients and declare boldly, “There is nothing to eat”. Cooking with the kids is an adventure! Our latest experiment in the kitchen involved the following ingredients:

  • A bunch of kale
  • Roasted beets
  • Cannellini beans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Boiled eggs

Having roasted the beets in the oven a day ahead we peeled them and decided to use the peelings to dye our hard boiled eggs.

1 cup of vinegar soaked for a while with the beet scraps. We drained them and added some hot water.

Meanwhile we used some old crayons to decorate the eggs and then soaked the eggs on our vinegar beet solution.

Clean the kale then saute quickly with EVOO or your favorite oil of choice… Just enough to soften the kale and coat the leaves sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Depending on your planning you can use dried beans or canned.

Shaved cheese, sun flower seeds and beans can be tossed in to the kale. Slice beets and peeled colored hard boiled eggs can be arranged on top.

We adopted this recipe from one of our favorite local restaurants. I hope you enjoy your roots as much as we do!