Restorative Yoga for Kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga 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!

Mudras: How and Why?

Mudras, the elaborate hand and finger gestures used in many Yoga and Yoga in the ClassroomAyurvedic traditions, are effective and simple tools to employ for self-soothing, energizing, settling emotions, and focusing. Like little Yoga poses for your hands, mudras make use of the energy, the prana, flowing through your body.

Your fingers are like electric circuits, connecting and redirecting prana. Scientifically, it is known there are concentrations of free electrons surrounding each fingertip. Through mudras, energy is directed through the body’s channels (the nadis), the central nerve locations (chakras along the spinal cord), and the brain. By connecting and rerouting energy through the fingers, you can balance and heal the body. In Sanskrit, mudra translates to “sealing in the energy”. In mudra practice, each finger represents an element: thumb=fire, index=air, middle=space/ether, ring=earth, pinky=water.

You can easily teach children how to use mudras to feel better, calm down, and even energize. Here are six mudra practices suitable for all ages:

Finger Squeeze: Because each finger is connected separately to the energy channels of the body, by squeezing a finger with the opposite hand, you can affect your mental state. For each of these, hold the finger one at a time for three to five minutes. You may do only one hand, but if you have time, do both.
• Thumb: worry, digestive issues, headaches
• Index finger: fear, back pain, toothaches
• Middle finger: anger, mental fatigue, eye strain
• Ring finger: grief, breathing problems, dry cough
• Pinky: sore throat

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Jnana Mudra: The most common mudra in Yoga, the Jnana mudra helps you engage and focus. Place your hands on your knees, palms up and open your hands like a starfish. Bring your index fingers in to touch the tips of the thumbs (each hand should look like it is making the “OK” gesture). This gesture represents you and the universe connecting as one. Jnana mudra is commonly practiced while meditating and/or chanting “Om”. If you keep your palms up, you are sending the healing vibrations into the world. If you need a little extra help with something you are going through, try the mudra with your palms down.

Ganesh Mudra: Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, is the remover of obstacles and solver of problems. To do this mudra, place the back of your left hand in front of your heart with fingers crooked. Place your right hand in front of your left, palm facing your heart, and slot its crooked fingers into your left hand. Exhale and try to pull your hands apart, working your chest and arms. Inhale and release the tension, but keep fingers hooked. Repeat six times, pulling apart on exhale and relaxing on the inhale. Rest and feel the power, resolve, and inner strength in your body. Swap hands and repeat.

Hridaya Mudra: Also called Heart Mudra, this gesture is used to calm emotions. Sit tall and rest the back of your hands on your thighs. Bring the middle and ring fingers to the thumbs, keeping the pinky and index fingers outstretched. Focus on your breathing and in your heart area.

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Pushan Mudra: This mudra fill you with energy and opens you to give and receive joy. To do it, bring your index and middle fingers to your thumb on your right hand. On your left hand, bring your middle and ring fingers to your thumb. Hold the mudras and breathe for five minutes.

Pushpaputa Mudra: In Sanskrit, pushpaputa means “handful of flower”, so this mudra is supposed to bring inner spaciousness and abundance. Sit on your knees (hero pose) and bring the backs of the hands onto the thighs or knees, fingers pointed diagonally toward each other. Each palm should form a cup. Close your eyes and fill your cup with whatever it is you may need: patience, love, health, joy, wisdom, etc.

There are many, many more mudras to explore, each with its own symbolism and power.

What is Left When We Let Go?

The only constant is change. Change is inevitable. When one door closes, another opens. I’m sure you’ve heard many more quotes about change. What I know for sure is that with change comes the practice of, and the need for, letting go (like Elsa). Let’s explore the yogic perspective on letting go, while I share a little story with you.

In yoga we have ten ethical guidelines called the Yamas and Niyamas. They all have very practical applications, and as adults we have an opportunity to lead by example with the children in our lives. One of those Yamas is Aparigraha, often translated as non-possessiveness, non-attachment, non-greed, non-grasping, non-coveting. More simply, it is the ability to let go. How can we remain part of this commercial society, inundated with things to buy, roles to play, relationship expectations to hold onto, and practice aparigraha? I recently learned this lesson.

    Over the past three years, my little family has undergone much change. My son started Kindergarten, became a brother, moved from his childhood home, and changed schools. We also became a single-parent, one-income household. We are well-acquainted with change. We had to leave many physical things behind as well as emotional attachments to family dynamics. I began a journey of being unattached to a partner. I then worked through my personal attachment to the expectations of what our family life “should” look like. I “broke the frame” and decided not to build a new one, else it becomes an attachment of its own. Moving forward through this tremendous amount of change has been a practice of letting go, which involves a hefty dose of trust.

We practice yoga (almost) daily in my house, and I credit our resiliency largely to this along with our faith. In that practice, we do some partner and AcroYoga together. This has taught my children to find trust in me as their support, and also the ability to let go of their own gripping and holding in order to move from one shape to the next. There have been days I couldn’t see ahead to know how I would buy groceries, pay for childcare, keep the lights on, or buy clothing for my kids. I had to embrace the nourishment available in each moment rather than hoard it, and trust there would be nourishment in the next moment. In other words, surrender to the support that surrounds me. Just like in yoga postures, Krishna Das says we have to practice using our “letting go” muscles as much as we use our “holding on” muscles. There is always a release or a surrender that allows opening to occur, in my experience.

When we moved to our new (larger) home, it was bare bones living for about six months. I slowly unpacked things and observed how we lived in our space to determine what we truly needed. To do this, I had to pay attention. What I learned is how little we really need. My children learned that too as we lived without most of our belongings for a while. We learned to let go, and the gift we received was presence. We rarely felt a lack. In fact, I always felt like I had more room to live, more time to love, and more freedom to play.

Learning to pack lightly is freeing — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Deborah Adele writes in her book The Yamas & Niyamas, “A bird cannot hold its perch and fly. Neither can we grasp anything and be free.” In letting go and embracing change we can find freedom. But like the bird on its perch, we cannot experience freedom until we let go of the branch and trust.

Change is inevitable. I have learned to view it as a positive part of my journey to fulfilling my purpose in this world. I choose to teach my children to embrace change by teaching them to trust the process like they trust their breath, appreciate each moment for what it teaches, and to remember their own strength in times of transition.

Swami Jnaneshvara says this, and I agree, “Love is what is left when you’ve let go of all the things you love.”

Introducing Yoga to Children – Poses and Beyond

22679150833_b350bb59c6_zAlthough kids’ yoga has become much more popular in recent years, kids can always benefit from going deeper into the aspects of yoga beyond the physical postures. In other words, they need to ‘break the ice’ with yoga itself and this is a great opportunity for teachers to help them understand that yoga is more than just trying to bend their bodies into funny shapes!

For ways to ‘break the ice with yoga,’ it’s always important to first ask the kids if they have done yoga before and what they already know about it so you can present it in a way that makes sense to them and captures their interest. If you ask them, “What is yoga?” and no one knows what to say at all, you can begin by showing them a few postures. One of my favorite way to teach postures to first-time students is to play Simon Says. Kids usually feel happy doing something familiar while learning something new. There are innumerable other ways to introduce postures using games and songs most (American) kids know; use your imagination or see what other teachers are doing. Remember to check back with kids the following week to see what they remember, since getting to know the postures takes more than one class–getting acquainted with yoga is an ongoing process!

On the other hand, if some or all of the kids know what yoga is, but seem limited to the idea that yoga is only postures, then this is a great opportunity to open them up to the wider world of yoga by exploring the other aspects of yoga such as mindfulness and concentration. To begin with, you can incorporate activities that bring kids’ awareness to their senses so that they can more easily practice mindfulness. For instance, you can start with the sense of touch by bringing in different objects that have different textures. Each student can say what their object feels like (some examples can be furry like a cat, smooth like a stone, rough like cement). This type of exercise in a23117182645_af68cc28ec_zwareness can be a reference point when you ask kids what they notice while practicing postures. Remind them often that it’s important to not just do the postures, but to feel them: feel their feet pressing into the ground in TRIANGLE pose, their fingers stretching up to the sky in TREE pose, or their bellies and chests expanding like balloons in CAMEL pose.

We can also practice mindfulness by bringing awareness to the sense of sight (drishti and tratak are both important aspects of yoga as they are powerful tools for focusing the mind). Pom poms are generally a favorite for kids to focus their gaze on a colorful object. Sometimes to add variation or to share a different prop with them, I bring in a bag of plastic butterflies, which kids can use as a focal point for their eyes; I often do this when I do a class with butterflies as a theme, which is nice since we have BUTTERFLY pose to work with.

The sense of hearing is also very important in yoga as we work with mantras and aural cues. I frequently link breathing practices to sound. You can ask kids what their breath sounds like when they breathe through their mouths or noses; when they breathe very slow or very fast; or when they breathe through pursed lips or through teeth. You can also bring some vibration into the practice and have them hum or chant OM. Whenever I ask kids where they felt the vibration in their body, they come up with all kinds of answers, such as: “In my tummy!” “In my teeth!” and “In my butt!” (this last answer is bound to come up some time!).

22256470400_d555b6e587_zThe sky is the limit when bringing awareness to the senses. The overarching idea is to get kids to not just appreciate how varied the practice of yoga is, but also to appreciate how they can use their minds by noticing how postures feel in their bodies. (Read more about including sensory awareness here). In this way, they ‘break the ice’ with yoga as well as with their own bodies.

Yoga and Blood Circulation in Children

*Today’s guest blogger is Vineetha Reddy, a writer, yogi, and healthy food advocate. Follow her on Twitter (@rk_vin) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/vineetha.reddy.988)

Parents always try to get their children the best of everything. For growing children, a balanced diet along with regular exercise is essential for reaching their full physical 25648634665_015397d48d_zpotential. And, with extra pressure from schools and more and more time being devoted to getting good grades, studies have shown that children are more stressed now than they had been over the past few decades. Add to that their over-reliance on technology! Yoga has been shown to calm the mind and regulate the bodily functions. Therefore, you can see why yoga makes sense for your child.

 Yoga, the ancient Indian practice, has a legion of followers. Some practice it for its spiritual roots and believe that it helps bring them closer to God. Others love it because it helps them discover themselves. Meditation, a part of yoga, helps them work on what they can control rather than focusing their energy on things that are beyond their control. They swear by its relaxing, soothing effect on both mind and body. There are others who choose yoga as their preferred weight loss tool. Yoga is quite rigorous, and if done with enough intensity helps reduce fat. It is also great for improving flexibility.

 For a growing child, all these benefits are very useful. However, the biggest benefit it provides is improving the blood circulation. Increased blood flow is good for your heart, muscles, and arteries. It ensures that blood infused with oxygen reaches the most critical areas right on time. For example, this is important if you’re in a sprint race. Your legs will move faster with the increased blood flow.

25529846162_2e25cf3d3d_zThere is also increased blood flow to vital organs. Yoga has a massaging effect on your abdomen, where most of your vital organs are located. These factors ensure the better functioning of your body.

 Improved blood circulation through yoga also has the added benefit of boosting the immune system. Some children tend to fall sick more often than others. A weak immune system contributes to this as their body can’t defend itself against common viruses. No parent wants to see their child sick. Practicing yoga for 30 minutes three to four times a week is all it takes to boost your child’s immunity.

 Through its asanas, yoga helps your cardiovascular system by pumping more blood to vital areas. For a child, this means increased energy levels and better concentration, which will also help them with their studies. It is also great for their skin. The healthier their skin is, the more resistant it is to bacteria and other viral infections that they may come across. Finally, yoga ensures that your child’s body is free of harmful toxins. Improved blood circulation helps flush out pollutants and chemicals. With all the junk that children eat21912549735_3306f8a7e5_z nowadays and the amount of processed sugars and fats they consume, it’s important for them to detox to stay in top physical condition.

 Wow! Did you know just how beneficial yoga was for your child? Its impact on blood circulation is really remarkable. So, enroll your child in classes or make it a family activity. Happy Parenting!

 

Moving Beyond “Me” with Meditation

21289923953_400910a28f_zKids are naturally egocentric, and I say this as an educator without judgement and malice. The revolutionary child psychologist Jean Piaget described “Egocentrism” in 1951 as a natural part of a child’s development. He said that until the age of about 7, children are unable (UNABLE, not unwilling) to infer and understand the perspectives, views, and  feelings of other people. Their world view is simply their own perspective, and they have no way to process other people’s viewpoints. At about six or seven, most children begin to move out of this egocentric phase and become more empathetic. When the mental shift begins, you have the unique opportunity to guide their growth in this important social skill.

I like to use variations of the classic Metta Meditation. This beautiful set of thoughts has been scientifically proven to improve happiness by 10%. At its most basic, the repeated phrases are: “May I be well. May I be happy. May I be at peace.” Then you repeat the phrase, substituting someone you care about: “May _____ be well. May ____ be happy. May ____ be at peace.” You can then add in someone you may not be so fond of. And finally, send  the meditation to the whole world: “May the entire universe be well…”.

In my variations, I try to make the meditation more visual and thereby easier for children22574108122_084ebdf36e_z to relate to. Here are two guided visualization scripts based on  the Metta Meditation. For each one, simply have your child lie down comfortably in a quiet room. They can close their eyes and listen as you calmly read the words.

Sunshine: Imagine you are lying on the beach and you feel the sun warming you. You aren’t too hot, but you feel the warm sun filling your whole body. You feel its wonderful golden warmth on your feet and legs. You feel the sun’s light on your hips, stomach, and chest. The sun fills you up to your head where your lips, jaw, cheeks, eyes, and forehead begin to feel soft and warm. Doesn’t it feel wonderful to be still? You are relaxed, glowing and happy. Now imagine somebody you love, somebody that makes you happy, lying in the sun  with you. Give them a smile. Then picture someone that gives you trouble and smile at them, too, and invite them  to rest in the sunshine with you. Now take their hands and the three of you rest together in the warm, golden sun. Each of you are filling with light. Just be still and feel yourself and the other people with you filling up with light. Isn’t it nice to share this warmth with someone else?

The Growing Heart: Become very still, so still you can feel your heart beating in your chest. Picture yourself inside your heart center and tell yourself: “I am loved. I am love. I am peaceful. I am peace. ” Then picture someone you love in your heart center, surrounded by your heart’s energy and send them love saying, “___ is loved. ___ is love. ___ is peaceful. ___ is peace.” Then start feeling your heart and heartbeat grow past your chest, beyond your body, filling up the room. Send your heart energy to yoga for kids teaching trainingpeople in the room, and feel them sending  their love back to you. Breathe in  the love, breathe out and grow your heart to fill the school/house/library/etc. with love. Breathe in and feel the love coming back to you, filling you up. With each exhale, the heart grows until the whole city, the whole state, the whole country, even  the whole earth and universe are filled with your heart’s energy and love. And then as you breathe in, your receive that love back to yourself. “I am loved. I am love. I am peaceful. I am peace.”