Teaching Ahimsa

The first time your child rolls out her mat in a Yoga class, she is exposed to many new words, which shouldn’t be surprising, really. The practice of Yoga is from ancient times, 9201914481_c1e11a2e60_zfrom a foreign culture, and utilizes a relatively obscure language (Sanskrit). And while kids can have a beautiful, effective practice without exposure to the vocabulary of Yoga, I believe having a basic understanding of Yogic terms and philosophy can take your child’s practice to whole new level. One of the first words I expose my Yoga kids to is ahimsa, or non-violence.

About 400 CE, Patanjali compiled 196 aphorisms about Yoga from older traditions, added his own explanations and wrote it all in the Yoga Sutras. In it, he described the eight limbs of Yoga (interestingly, none of these “rules” involve the physical practice of Yoga postures). The Yamas and Niyamas constitute a set of principles for ancient Yogis to live by for an enriching, joyful life. And the very first Yama is ahimsa.

Ahimsa requires a compassion for all living things: the self, other people, animals, and all of nature. To me, it is a guiding principle for my life, and one I continually share with my own children and Yoga students.

One way to demonstrate the meaning of ahimsa is through books. The Recess Queen is a picture book about a bully that is eventually shown compassion and learns how to be a friend. This energetic book leads naturally to discussions about fairness and inclusion. After reading it to your stu12446672144_5714ee087b_zdents, I encourage you to brainstorm some Yoga games that would include everyone, and then play it! For example, a game of Orange You Grateful is perfect. Players sit in a circle and pass an orange (or a ball) using only their feet. When a player has the orange in their feet, they share something they’re grateful for by saying, “Orange you grateful for _____?”.
The Great Kapok Tree is a beautiful introduction to caring for our natural environment. In the tale, jungle animals take turns explaining why the great kapok tree should be saved. As you read the book aloud, act out the story using Yoga poses. Of course, not every animal in the story has a corresponding pose. That’s when you get to be creative and silly, making up your own poses. Finish up with a round of Jogging Through the Jungle to keep with the rainforest theme.

The idea of nonviolence toward yourself and others can also be taught through partner poses. When doing Yoga (or anything!) you don’t want to hurt yourself or your friends. So, you practice ahimsa! Remind kids to move slowly and listen to their bodies, and their partner’s voice and breathing. Some of my favorite partner and group poses are:
Double Boat: sitting feet-to-feet, children hold hands, press their feet together and sit up, each in a ‘V’ shape
Dog House – One child does downward facing dog while the other crawls underneath to rest in the doghouse. Switch roles.18285395899_c52aeeb977_z
Bunk Bed – One child comes into reverse table. The next child (usually a smaller one) does the same pose on top of the first child, with their feet on the bottom one’s knees and their hands on the bottom’s shoulders. This can go three high, too!
Meditation is another way to teach ahimsa. “Peace Begins With Me” (or PBWM) is a simple meditation. Begin seated and bring both index fingers to the thumb pads (like the OK sign). Say “Peace”. Then bring the middle fingers to the thumbs and say, “begins”. The ring fingers are next saying, “with”. And the pinkies finish with “me”. Repeat the words and gestures several times out loud, and then become quieter, and quieter, until you are whispering. Eventually, the words are only spoken in your head, but your fingers still move. I would also suggest introducing the Loving-Kindess meditation. (There is an article about the meditation and how to teach it here.)
Lastly, I encourage you to teach ahimsa through song. A favorite song among Yogis is May the Longtime Sun. It is a simple, lovely song to wish yourself and others wellness and joy.

Laugh to Relax

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine”. Turns out, it isn’t just an old-wives’-tale. Scientist have found that laughter has the exact opposite effect on the26218514900_4aac83d0e0_z body and mind as stress! When you laugh you:

  • Lower your blood pressure by 6% (laughing relieves physical tension, so your muscles relax for up to 45 minutes after)
  • Strengthen your immune system (laughter increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies)
  • Protect your heart (blood vessel function is improved and blood flow is increased)
  • Elevate your mood (your body releases endorphins, the “feel-good” chemical, reducing stress by 28%)
  • Strengthen relationships, improve teamwork, reduce conflict and promote bonding

This is the premise behind Laughter Yoga, a complete well-being workout developed by medical doctor Madan Kataria. What starts out as forced or fake laughter soon evolves into full body laughs, tears streaming, sore smile muscles, and a great exercise for your core! The beauty of Laughter Yoga is that your body can’t differentiate between real laughter and fake laughter, so it’s all good!

Want to start your own laughter “exercise” program. Start with a game of “Pass A Laugh”. This simple game is guaranteed to get silly and warm up your laughter muscles. As you can watch in  the video below, you sit in a circle and  one child does a silly laugh “passing” it to the person sitting next to them. That 2nd person then repeats the laugh back to the 1st child and then he/she passes a different laugh to his/her neighbor. Continue until everyone has had a chance to create a laugh and  repeat a laugh.

After that warm-up, try a Laughing Meditation practice. Everyone is on the floor, stretched out and comfy. Tell your family, “On the count of 3, I want you to make your loudest, longest laugh (or witch cackle, or belly laughs like Santa, etc.)”. Then, everyone participates in the crazy laughing for about a minute. When you give the sign (maybe by saying , “Ommmm”), everyone stops, is silent, and notices what they feel throughout their bodies and minds for several breaths. Share your observations.

Make laughing a regular event at home with Joke Night.  One night a week (Fridays are good because everyone can use some relaxation after a week of work and school), set aside time after dinner for each person to tell a joke. It doesn’t take much time, but it is so valuable, and fun! Need new jokes? Check the library or online at www.azkidsnet.com or www.jokesbykids.com. It’s also a nice family activity to keep a journal of your family’s jokes. It’s a beautiful reminder of these Joke Nights, and smaller children can practice their reading skills by looking through the book.  Besides 25889019143_184de3de6a_zthe benefits of laughing, memorizing, speaking aloud, taking turns, and polite listening are all wonderful skills to encourage and strengthen.

As I learned to sing in Girl Scouts (with a small modification), “I’ve got something in my pocket. It belongs across my face. I keep it very close to me in a most convenient place. I’m sure you couldn’t guess it, if you guessed a long, long while. So I’ll take it out and put it on. It’s a great big Yogi smile!”


Salutations to the Sun – Serious Fun

NAMASTE! When I took my kids’ yoga teacher training with Kidding Around Yoga, the fun and energetic Sargeant Saluations  (their version of Sun Salutations) quickly became a favorite part of the curriculum. And then I attended my first weekend of 200-hour yoga certification, and the Surya Namaskar was introduced.  What?!  I remember during my yoga for kids trainingkids’ training that the Sergeant Salutation was linked to the Sun Salutation, but I didn’t realize that there was a serious history behind the sequence of yoga poses. 

History:  First, let’s break down the name: Surya is the Hindu name for the sun, and Namaskar stems from namas which can be translated as “to bow to” or “to adore”. The fact that the sequence begins and ends with hands together at the heart is not without purpose.  Ultimately, we know truth in our heart, and the sun’s centrality in the human existence can be likened to the heart’s centrality in each human’s personal journey.  The exact age of Surya Namaskar is disputed, and there are many variations, but the basic poses include:

  • Prayer Pose
  • Upward Salute
  • Standing Forward Bend
  • Low Lunge
  • Plank Pose
  • Four-Limbed Staff Pose
  • Upward-Facing Dog Pose
  • Downward-Facing Dog Pose

The inhale/exhale breath that corresponds with the movement from pose to pose is another thoughtful aspect of the sequence. We all know the importance of pranayama in our yoga practice.  It’s essential! 

My understanding of Surya Namaskar is that it was developed by the original postural yogis as a sequence that could be practiced every morning, as a warm up to the day.  Mantra and Chakra prabest childrens yoga certificationctice can be incorporated with the Asana and Pranayama practice as well.  An evening version developed over time, as a warm down to the day. The sequence is practiced facing either the rising or the setting of the sun, depending on the time of day.

 The purpose of the sequence in a child’s yoga class: If we analyze the placement of Sun Salutations in a child’s yoga class, we understand that it’s a sequence that warms us up.  It readies our bodies for deeper movements and more energetic activities. 

Creative ideas for Classes : In my kids’ teacher training, we practiced our Sun Salutations in a call-and-response way. The teacher announces the pose and the children loudly repeat the pose name as they get into the posture. We called it Sargeant Salutations and it works well for class-management, posture recognition, and for building strength, stamina, and flexibility.


Here are some other ways to use Sargeant Salutations in your class:

·        Let each child lead a round of the salutation. What better way to impress the poses into their growing brains?  Great idea for a class that you may be under the weather for, too!

·       Relay the honoring of the sun that occurs during a Surya Namaskar sequence to a larger discussion of how important the sun is to our existence.  We cannot live without the sun! And yet we need to be mindful of the sun’s power as well. 

·       Tie the idea of the sun being a star to self-confidence.  While in savasana, guide your kids through a journey to the stars, and how each is unique and brings his/her own light to the world. This part of the class allows us to plant our seeds of wisdom with the kiddos. 

·       Prepare a sun craft.  Give the kids an image of the sun with twelve rays (the number of poses that are performed in an official Surya Namaskar sequence), and have them write twelve things about themselves that they love!  I might just do this with my children this week as an exercise in self-love. 

STEM: Yoga and Movement

After teaching yoga at a public school, I was asked to integrate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) into my school’s curriculum. I was excited for the challenge and interested in how the children would interact with the lessons. After planning my classes, I realized Yoga & Movement is a perfect complement to a STEM curriculum! The movement helps children remember terminology in a fun and interactive way. I prefer having the children get out of their chairs and move during the introduction of each lesson. The three main challenges I taught were the Ultimate Tower Challenge, Strong and Sturdy Bridge Challenge, and Aerodynamic Paper Airplanes.

Ultimate Tower Challenge

Supplies Needed:

  • 10 pipe cleaners
  • 10 craft sticks
  • 6 clothespins


Instructions: Students work in teams to build the tallest and strongest tower using the limited materials. First they will draw out a plan for their tower. Then they test out the pipe cleaner tower, noticing the limitations and strengths of the material. Next, they compare their tower with a tower made out of craft sticks and clothespins. Hint:  Each clothespin fits more than one craft stick! Test the strength of the tower by balancing books or other supplies on it. Measure the height of the tower! In the end, discuss what worked and didn’t work. Then have the children brainstorm for the future!

Sturdy Bridge Challenge

Supplies Needed:

  • Lego Bricks
  • crayons (use as weights to check stability)

Instructions: Show the class the video with the various types of bridges including truss, suspension, arch, and beam. You can also show pictures of various bridges. First they will draw out a plan for a strong and sturdy bridge. The children will build the strongest bridge using their Legos. The expectations are that the bridge is strong, stable, and people/cars can go above and below the structure, The children can test out the strength and stability of their bridge by balancing books, crayons, and other items on the bridge. Discuss and plan for next time.

Aerodynamic Paper Airplanes

Supplies Needed:

  • Paper Airplane Draft with dotted line folds (for K-2nd graders)
  • Extra Paper

Instructions: Show the class the video about aerodynamics introducing thrust, drag, lift, and stability. Ask them if they have ever been on a plane and if they know why a plane can fly straight and far. After they color the airplane, have them try to fold the airplane. If the airplane doesn’t fly the way they want it to, ask them to see what happens if they fold it differently. Discuss attributes of a plane that can fly far and fast and plan for the future!

There are so many fun ways to integrate Yoga & Movement with STEM! The children enjoy moving and learning in an interesting and interactive way.

Imagination Sets Sail with Boat Pose

Ship’s ahoy! Boat Pose (navasana) is a simple –yet challenging – yoga p22826337620_ee0b65a748_zose that builds abdominal, hip, and lower spinal strength. Practicing Boat Pose also enhances digestion, stimulates the thyroid, and aids in kidney, prostate, and intestinal function. Plus for kids, Boat Pose provides opportunity to play in their imaginations.

Boat Parade: Teach poses for different kinds of boats. Start by demonstrating Boat Pose. Once everyone has tried it, add these variations (all starting from the basic Boat Pose):
Kayak: twist side-to-side, arms and legs going opposite directions, like you are paddling
Rowboat: bring arms and legs closer, then extend them longer, hovering over the floor. Repeat like you are rowing oars.
Sailboat: instead of arms reaching toward feet, lift the arms overhead like sails
Motorboat: traditional Boat Pose, but feet flutter kick like the motor
Dinghy: make the tiniest Boat Pose you can
Cruise ship: make the biggest, most spread out Boat Pose you can
Once everyone has tried all the variations, add some music and play a Freeze Dance type game. While the music plays, everyone walks in a circle (or pretends to swim, surf, or float) along the mats. When the music pauses, drop to a mat and do one of the Boat Poses. Then the music plays again. Make the activity more challenging by taking away a mat every time (like Musical Chairs) or not allowing two of the same boats to anchor next to each other.

A Yogi Went to Sea: Kidding Around Yoga took a beloved kids’ song and Yoga-fied it. As a group, try this song – it wears kids out!

Ride the Waves: It’s not always smooth sailing. Sometimes rough weather creates waves we have to float over. Starting from Boat Pose (any variation), imagine a wave approaches. As you go up and over the wave, rock back (still in Boat Pose) toward a Plow Pose with legs either in the air or over your head behind you. When you get over the wave, your boat rights itself as you roll back into Boat Pose. The challenge is to do this without using your hands or letting your feet touch the ground!

Partner Poses: Sit facing your partner with bent knees and soles of the feet touching. Hold hands with your partner, arms on the outside. Press your feet together and begin to straighten them. Alternately, instead of holding hands, each partner could hold a strap and loop it over their partner’s feet. This can be a house boat, with people crawling underneath the lifted legs. It could also be a glass bottom boat with animals (kids can be fish, eels,25889288993_a027479239_z crocodiles, etc.) swimming underneath. When you’re finished with your boat trip, be sure to put the boats away properly with a partner forward fold. Lower down from the Double Boat Pose. Keep your feet touching and let your legs begin to straighten. Reach for each other’s hands and forward fold. Talk to your partner and make sure that you both are feeling a nice stretch.

Burn Off Some Energy!

youth-570881_1280Admit it – there are days when your kids are wild with energy. Maybe they’ve been stuck inside, hiding from nasty weather. Or, they spent their entire school day having to sit still. And all you want them to do is calm down before they destroy your house! Tap into Yoga’s magical union between energy and calm, wearing your kids out and restoring peace to your world – even if temporarily.

Jogging Through the Jungle: Go for a jungle hike, meeting creatures like crocodiles and lions on your adventure. Kidding Around Yoga’s song is fast-paced to burn off excess energy and full of imaginative play. If you have a large group of kids, they can jog in a circle, or if you are limited for space, keep the jogging stationary.

Popcorn: Do you really need to get kids moving? This song is a surefire way to get heart rates up because it’s all about jumping. Start as popcorn kernels, squatting low and and hugging your knees. As the pan heats up, start bouncing, just a little at first. Then, when the music really kicks in, POP! You burst and begin popping all over the room. Challenge kids to jump higher, faster, and sillier. Spin and flail arms around. Keep popping and jumping until the song ends. Have children notice their heart beating and their heavy breathing. After a brief rest, check in again – how are they feeling?

Races: Most kids love to race, and you can make them as competitive or cooperative as your group’s age, goals, and space allows.

  • Crab Crawl – crawl on feet and hands (belly up), either forward or backward. For added challenge, balance something on your belly (a stuffed animal or ball)
  • Inchworm – start standing, then forward fold. Walk your hands into plank pose, walk your feet forward to a forward fold again. Then walk hands to plank and feet to fold, over and over, inchworming across the room.
  • Crocodile – start in plank, lower down and leap forward, landing in plank again
  • Wheelbarrow – In partners, one person starts in plank and her partner holds her legs while she walks on her hands. Switch roles on the next turn.

The Yogi Shake:  Another song to get the energy out and the calm in! According to Ayurveda, intentional shaking increases the circulation of blood and prana (energy). Scientifically, shaking also increases levels of oxytocin (the “love” hormone) which provides a sense of happiness. To read more about shaking, check out Sharon Gannon’s work in Jivamukti Yoga.

Sun Salutations: If all else fails, work through a few Sun Salutations. Kidding Around Yoga also has a song that playfully guides you through several variations of the classic Yoga sequence. Try changing up the series by moving through it quickly, or in in super-slow-motion. Do the movements as a wave, or as mirrors to each other.


Yoga Makes Me Strong

Our blog a12970118_10207510576433987_1720806144_outhor today is Kaden, an 11 year old Yogi.

Whether physically or mentally, doing yoga can make you and your family members strong and healthy. When my mother first began yoga I was doing sports such as football and soccer. I gradually increased in these sports as my mother taught me how to do yoga. Later I found out this was because yoga can help you in many ways. When I was first starting football I was quite clumsy and my mom would say not very coordinated.  After doing yoga my flexibility and coordination increased. Your flexibility can increase in yoga because whether a pose is done standing, sitting, or lying down, each one challenges various muscle groups while helping to become aware of your body and how it functions. Coordination also improves as you learn to focus on a pose as you would focus on kicking a goal. Yoga can also boost self-esteem and confidence so your focus remains on the game and you don’t let your team down just because the other team scored a goal. Yoga also strengthens the mind-body connection so that you are more aware of your surroundings. So when you’re jumping for that ball, you are able to do it with more coordination. From my experience, all of these benefits have come from through my yoga practice.

Doing yoga helps strengthen your joints and muscles and sometimes can even be more of a workout than going to a gym. I have become stronger by doing yoga and much better at sports now that I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut 25555945971_9cf6afc818_zoff. Literally, they have no mind-body connections. Like when I first started to play soccer, I would always fall down or trip over the ball (and every time it really hurt). Or when I first started to play football, I would scramble and just run around. Don’t get me started on baseball; trust me it just wasn’t pretty. But with yoga I managed to kick that ball into the goal, and catch that ball and make a touchdown (from opposing 10-yard line!!…ok, my Mom just typed that…yes, I’m proud of how far he has come).

Practicing yoga in your everyday life can help your body a great deal. Everybody who I have seen practicing yoga improves their mind and body. Practicing yoga also reduces stress so that your mind can be clear. One of the best yoga practices for clearing your mind is the crazy monkey bitten by a scorpion example. To do this exercise you must find a quiet place to sit. Then act like you are a crazy monkey! Then settle down. Then act like you’re a crazy monkey bitten by a scorpion! Then settle down and relax. Meditation is always a good way to clear your mind. 

One of my family’s favorite yoga exercise that helps your body and mood is a game called Pass-A-Laugh.

This game starts by somebody laughing and the person next to them has to repeat that laugh. But then they also have to create a new laugh for the person next to them to repeat. Then the next person repeats it and so on! This game is designed to relieve tension (and always shakes my Dad’s grumpy “home from work” mood). Another fun exercise is a game called Zip-Zap-Zop. This game challenges you to have complete focus. The game starts by somebody saying, “zip”  while pointing to another person. Then that person has to zap another person (by pointing at the person and saying, “zap”) and then that person has to “zop” somebody. This process repeats as the game continues,  but you must increase the speed of how fast you zip, zap, or zop.  I truly believe that YOGA makes me STRONG!