What Kind of Garden Do You Want to Grow?

When I go into my kid’s yoga class, I tell them meditating is the most important thing they will ever learn in their whole life.  Yoga makes our bodies strong and also our minds.  We work on the muscles through the poses and I ask them to show me their muscles.

“But what about this muscle that lives inside our head?”  I point to my head and ask, “What is this called?”

“OUR BRAIN!”  they shout out.

“Do you think this muscle that lives inside our heads is important?” 

“YES”

“Can your body live without your brain?” 

“No.”

“Can your brain live without your body?” 

“No, then you would just be a head” one kid said. “Wouldn’t that be weird?”  

“Do you know how we can make our brain muscle stronger? Our brain lifts weights through sitting still and being quiet.” 

They looked confused.  I put my hand on my forehead and say, “This part of our brain is…repeat after me…the PRE…Frontal…Cortex.”  They repeat it.  “This part of our brain is responsible for making us kind, more focused, this is where love comes from and being rational. Do you know what rational means?” 

They say “NO!” (of course) 

“Rational means the opposite of emotional.”

I go on to repeat things that I have heard my kids in Title One schools say that are emotional and the opposite of rational. They say things like, stop touching me, get your hands off of me, stop playing, don’t make me come over there.    (Now mind you, my Title One school kids live in the toughest neighborhoods in St Pete, FL.  There are fights constantly, gangs, drug dealers, etc. in their neighborhoods.)  This parroting of lines comes directly from their immediate surroundings.  They all laugh because they know they have all said these things.

I put my hand on the back of my head just above my neck and say, “The emotional part of our brain lives back here.”  I bring my hand back onto my forehead.  “This prefrontal cortex helps us to focus and stay calm and be kind and helps us make good choices.”  

I ask, “Do you make good choices when you are mad?”

“NO.”  

“So we make this part of our brain stronger through meditating.  It makes this part of your brain bigger and stronger so it beats out the emotional part of our brain and you can make better choices.  Ok so now I will teach you one way to meditate.”

We touch our fingers to our thumbs and repeat these words PEACE BEGINS WITH ME.  We say it a couple of times

Then I stop to ask everyone, “What do you get when you plant a strawberry seed?” 

“Strawberries!” 

“What do you get when you plant a blueberry seed?” 

“Blueberries!” 

“So if you say I hate myself, I am ugly, fat or stupid, what kind of seeds do you plant in your mind?” 

“Hateful.” 

“Ok so if you plant the seeds of repeating PEACE BEGINS WITH ME over and over again what kind of mind do you get?”

“PEACEFUL!”

“This is how we make our brains stronger! This is how we learn to make ourselves calm.  Do you think you make good choices when you’re calm?”

“YES!”

“Ok so let’s do it! Let’s learn how to make our minds calm.”

We repeat PEACE BEGINS WITH ME.  We say it all together out loud, then whisper and then silently in our minds.  I leave them to meditate as long as they can.  While they are still silent I ask them to listen to me while I ask them a few more questions.

“Now how does your mind feel?”

“Calm, peaceful, happy, sleepy.” 

“Is there any anger in there?” 

Most say “NO” (and if they say yes then I tell them they need to meditate longer! LOL.) 

“If you did this every day, how do you think your mind would feel?  What kind of garden do you want to grow in your mind?”

Winter Obstacle Course

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Yoga + Math = Fun!

According to Dr. Roger Sperry, 1981 Nobel prize winner for brain research, “90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.” If this is the case, why in the world are we making kids sit still to learn? To that end, I’ve come up with some easy ways to incorporate movement, specifically Yoga, into a math class.

Measure a Mountain: In pairs or teams, children take Mountain Pose and are measured (inches, centimeters, hands, paperclips, whatever you’d like) from head to heel. Then, measure the child in Extended Mountain Pose using the same units. With this data, you can do tons of math. Find the height difference in M23724590566_673b3b71ba_zountain and Extended Mountain. Find the mean, median, mode, and range of the class’ data. How many children in Mountain Pose would it take to be as tall as Mt. Everest? As deep as the Marianas Trench? Graph your findings. You could do the same with Tree Pose and compare the child’s height with Redwood trees.

Tree Topple: Again in teams or pairs, one child takes Tree Pose and the other times how long he/she can stay balancing in the pose. Try it on both sides. Use the data as described in Measure a Mountain. You could also try other balance poses and compare results.

PomPom Poppers: Each child gets a pompom and holds it in outstretched hands. Pop the pompom lightly into the air and catch it in the backs of the hands. Then pop it again, flipping the h23128584401_1bee4fe914_zands to be palms up. Once kids get the hang of it, they can practice skip counting while popping the pompoms.

Ratio Breath: This is a great activity to settle energy and focus concentration. Kids start by noticing their breath. They should try to have their inhales match their exhales. For example, if they inhale to a count of 5, they should exhale to a count of 5. Even proportions, in and out. Then change the ratio. Have them breathe in a count of 5, but exhale a count of 10 (1:2 ratio). You can change this up by adding pauses at the top and bottom of the breath (1:1:2:1), too.

Breathing Counts: Have kids notice their breath and count the seconds in one round (in and out). This is sometimes better done with partners watching each other’s breath. Then, use this number to calculate the number of breaths they take in a minute, hour, day, etc. You could graph this information, too. It may be interesting to find breathing rates for other animals to compare with their own.

Shape Shifters: Once kids are ready for geometry, Yoga poses are a goldmine! Pick any pose and measure the angles you find – complementary, right, obtuse, acute. Do the same with lines you find in the pose – parallel, perpendicular, etc. Protractors could even be used!

Sun Salutation: Teach kids to do a Sun Salutation and record how long it takes to do one full series. As before, use the data to create graphs and predict how many you could perform in an hour, a day, or a year!

Feet on the Floor: For younger students, simply counting hands on the floor or toes in the air can be a fun challenge. For instance, a child in Downward Facing Dog has 2 feet on the floor and 2 hands. How many fingers is this? How many toes? What if she picks up one foot? How many toes are on the floor in the whole class? This works with any pose!22698484337_c6b28258ae_z

Make learning math kinesthetic, creative, and fun! Yoga is a perfect addition to your classroom. For more ideas, check out KAY in the Classroom. Kidding Around Yoga has developed a curriculum specifically to incorporate Yoga into the classroom, not just in math but throughout the day!

Beyond Thank You

How do we teach kids about giving and being gracious?
What behaviors demonstrate gratitude?

From a young age we tell kids they need to say thank you when ever they receive something. Kids lea21964882533_51eccae459_zrn that the response to being given something whether a physical thing or a service is to say thank you. So they say thank you. Adults tell them they have good manners. But what if kids learned the meaning of thank you? Ask a child why we should be nice to friends or why we thank people when they do something nice for us and you will probably hear everything from “I don’t know” to “because it’s a good thing to do.” Mostly kids have learned to say thank you without connecting the words and actions to emotions.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the United States, here are some ways to teach kids to connect the words ‘thank you’ with the action being performed and the feelings experienced by the people involved in the exchange. Remember to follow the activity with a discussion about how it made the kids feel!

Here are four activities to help kids learn to express and receive gratitude:

1. Growing Wall of Gratitude: This activity is great for right before or right after ‘The Secret Garden’ (this is what I call savasana in my kids’ yoga classes) or any quiet time. Take a huge poster board or long roll of craft paper and tack it up to a wall at a height all of the kids can reach. The bigger the better! Before class, cut out different shapes and colors of construction paper. Make sure they are large enough to write a sentence on. Give one piece of paper and a marker to each child either while they are in their Secret Garden or just at a quiet transition. Ask them to write down one thing that made them happy either in class that day or since the last class. Then have the kids attach their shape of happiness/gratitude to the poster using two-sided tape or adhesive s22560482756_245378db78_zquares. Each class, the kids can watch their gratitude for happy things grow.

2. The Compliment Train: This requires no supplies at all and is a great activity for when kids are gathered in a circle already. Ask the kids, one at a time, to give a genuine compliment to the person sitting to their right. I go clockwise just to make it easy for me to remember where we started. The kid receiving the compliment gets to practice being gracious and receiving compliments as well. The first child says “Joy, I like your shirt today with the butterfly,” and Joy responds with something like “Thanks for noticing the butterfly. Butterflies make me happy because of their colors.” Every child should have a chance to both give and receive a genuine compliment. Sometimes the receiving is harder than the giving!

3. Yoga Thank You Card: Have kids decorate or create a thank you card for the person who brings them to Yoga class. Have them keep the card Yoga themed. Maybe they draw pictures of what they do at Yoga class. Maybe they write a story about how class makes them feel. Of course, if you don’t teach Yoga, you could use the class theme of your choice. Each child delivers their thank you card to the provider of their ride when that person picks them up from class. This teaches kids that little things, like driving them places, are things that other people do for them and how to show appreciation for the act. If your child doesn’t take Yoga (yet), she can theme the card to whatever activity to which she regularly needs a ride. Maybe it’s a card for her school bus driver!22560305636_0ff0d2479a_z

4. “How Would You Feel Without It” Game: This game can be played any time during the day. It is super fun if everyone is in a goofy, silly mood as you can come up with all kinds of wild things to fill in the blank! No supplies needed! Just ask the kids “what would you feel like without ___?” and fill in the blank with various everyday items or people. They will be surprised how different life would be without some of the things they consider “essential”. You may want to end with a discussion about how other people live without the items you all joked about and live with those feelings every day.

These activities can be adapted for almost any age. Even teenagers and adults love to know their efforts are appreciated. Sometimes receiving gratitude takes more practice than being thankful. Remember to always practice both!

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.

 

Give Your Kids a Break: Yoga Stretches for the Classroom

Imagine this job description: Large institution looking for workers able to stay focused and still for long periods of time. Proper penmanship, reading skills, and math knowledge are  required, as are excellent listening skills and the ability to work well in a group of coworkers. Successful applicants will receive a desk and solid chair to remain seated in for the duration of the day, thirty minutes for lunch (again, seated on a chair), and a brief period of exercise either in a structured sport or in a competitive athletic event. If selected for this position, you will be expected to be quiet for approximately six hours a day. Expect extra work to be completed at home, again seated in silence.

Would you apply for this job? Nope. I wouldn’t either. But, we ask our kids to do this everyday at school. Their little bodies weren’t meant to be still for hours at a time. Their little minds aren’t ready to stay focused on a single topic for long periods of time, either. They are meant to be children – to explore their bodies and their worlds through movement, through experimentation, through art, and through sound. As parents and teachers, we can provide our kids the opportunity to move and stretch, to breathe and relax throughout the day through simple yoga practices that can be done right at their desks. (And if your job description sounds like the one described above – you should take advantage of these breaks, too!)

Kids can try these yoga practices right at their desks:

Bunny Breath: Taking big breaths will re-energize the body and wake up the brain. Inhale 3 sips of air through your nose and exhale 1 long breath through your mouth. Repeat a few times.

Flying Breath: Add movement to your breath to stretch the whole body. Start with your arms dangling at your sides. Inhale through your nose and raise your arms. Get tall and take up space. Breathe out through your nose and let your arms float back to your sides. Repeat a few times.

Neck Circles: We hold tension in our neck – let it go! Pretend you have a witch’s hat on and draw circles on the ceiling with the tip of the hat. Go both directions. Now do the same thing with your long, pointy witch’s nose. Draw a circle with the tip of your nose, both directions.

Shoulder Circles: Relieve stress stored in the shoulders. Roll shoulders forward and backward, using fluid movements, several times in each direction.

Wrist Stretches: Especially important when doing a lot of writing or typing. Extend the right arm in front with the pam flexed (like the “stop” gesture). Interlace the fingers with the left hand and gently pull the right fingers back. Release and point the right fingers down. Grasp the fingers with the left hand, and gently pull again. Repeat on the other side.

Cat Stretches: Re-energize your spine (which wakes up your mind). Grasp the back of the chair’s seat with both hands. Roll the shoulders back to extend the collarbones and open the chest. Pull as much as is comfortable with your hands to initiate a mini-backbend. Then, reverse the curve by grasping the front of the seat with your hands between your thighs. Keeping the arms straight, curl the chest toward the pelvis, the spine to the sky. Repeat with the breath – inhaling hands behind and exhaling hands front.

Half Moon: Raise both arms to the ceiling, keeping shoulders down. Grasp the right wrist with the left hand. Now lean to the left, feeling  the ribs open on the right side, being sure to keep the heart facing the front. Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Pretzel: Cross the right leg over the left so the knees are very close togethere. Place the left hand on  the right outer thigh, the right hand on the back of the seat or chair back. Inhale, sit up tall, and twist to the right. Start the twist with the belly button and let it creep up the spine, finally ending with the neck. Hold several breaths. Slowly rlease. Switch sides.

Ragdoll: Scoot to the very front edge of the chair. Open the knees wide, feet flat on the floor. Keeping a flat back,fold forward into the space between the legs. Let go of the head – shake it ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Dangle for several breaths. When ready, inhale and roll up one vertebra at a time.

Want more classroom yoga breaks? Try these blogs:

Spooky Brew Halloween Yoga

I always begin my classes by having the kids lay face down on their mats in crocodile with their foreheads resting on their hands. Whenever your forehead touches something, it automatically sends a signal to your brain to calm down. I find that most children can benefit from a moment or two to be still (or at least to try to be still) at the end of the school day, before we begin class. I am a classroom teacher, so, I myself LOVE to join them in this pose! My body absolutely craves this pose while I am watching and waiting for them to get settled down. After racing around all day, it feels great to lay there and do nothing, even if it is only for 30 seconds.

Once everyone is lying quietly with their eyes closed, I put on a quick costume. We love costumes and accessories at my house (and in my classroom), so I have lots to choose from. If you need to start your own collection, thrift shops are a great place to pick up a few fun items! I keep my eyes open throughout the year for that special something that I simply can’t do without. And now with the fabulous Kidding Around Yoga song, the Yogi Shake, I have a great excuse to add to my stash.  I picked up a few new things at the half-price day at Goodwill over the weekend. You can’t beat that deal!

For my class earlier in the week, I had put on a black cape and purple witch’s hat, so today I will wear my silver cape and wizard hat. The children who were in class earlier in the week all think they know what I am doing when I ask them to be sure their eyes are closed. But even they are surprised when I say it’s time to sit up in criss-cross applesauce, and I am wearing something new. I loved surprises when I was a kid, so I try to recreate that wonderful feeling of anticipation and excitement for my students.

I have a small cauldron filled with little Halloween trinkets that are hidden under several plastic grocery bags partly shredded into strips. Even though we use reusable bags for all of our shopping, we still end up with some plastic bags occasionally. I wanted the cauldron to have a bubbling, smoky feel, so repurposing some unwanted bags was the perfect answer! Some of Halloween creatures in the pot are from Party City, but some of the things I had around the house or I made them. The gate is from craft sticks hot-glued together and the eyeball is made out of a ping pong ball. You can buy the eyes at Party City, but I really didn’t need a whole dozen of them! I had a spare pong-pong ball, so it was free.

The first year I did this activity, I had to spend a little extra money to get the cauldron set up since all of the things from Party City came in a pack with 8-12 items. I put the extras in a plastic pumpkin. At the end of class, I had the child close their eyes and pick out one thing to take home – kids just love little things they can fiddle around with! After that first year, my cauldron is stocked up and ready to go year after year.

I have a small, rubbery, bendy skeleton that I came across a few years ago. He sits in Lotus while we do our poses. The kids get a big kick out of him! I play Monster Mash, the original version from way back, for a few minutes.

So now, on to the real fun . . . for this class, the children take turns reaching into the cauldron and pulling out something. We then do a pose to match the item. Some of the items lend themselves to be real yoga poses and for others we have to use our imaginations and get creative! The children are much better at that than I am, which is one of the reasons I love working with children so much! They never cease to amaze me!

You might come up with different things, but here is what I have in my cauldron:

  • OWL – reach across body to grab the back of shoulder, look at shoulder. Pranayama: Inhale through nose and exhale to make hooting sounds (Do the other shoulder)
  • Halloween Cat – hiss, arch back, meow and snarl loudly!
  • Ghost – wavy, floating arms – Pranayama: inhale through nose, exhale ghost sounds! Repeat several times.
  • Mummy – walk stiff legged like a mummy all wrapped up
  • Pumpkin – Squat and point their face toward the ground, putting their hands in Namaste/prayer on the back of their head to be the stem – If they are quiet enough to hear me, I ask them if they know what the stem is for? I want to make sure they understand that pumpkins grow in a field on a giant crawling vine AND can be made into pumpkin pie, helping them to understand where food comes from
  • Frankenstein – walk stiff legged with arms extended out 
  • Tree Pose – Pretend it’s a windy night and make some creaking noises,
  • Witch Finger – How do witches sound? Pranayama: Inhale through nose and exhale a cackle! Repeat several times. Triangle Pose for the witch’s hat
  • Gate Pose & Reverse Gate – with lots of Squeaks & Creaks
  • Bat- because I have less children on Thursdays, we are able to do “legs up the wall” to pretend we are bats hanging/sleeping upside down – they love it!
  • Spider – Partner Pose (back to back, move arms & legs)
  • Shark’s Tooth – Shark Pose – on belly with hands clasped behind back
  • Snake – Cobra Pose
  • Frog – Squat at the back of the mat and hop to the other end, do several times
  • Vampire Teeth – let them decide what to do for this
  • Dracula – Let them decide what to do for this
  • Skeleton – Let them decide what to do for this
  • Fly/Bug – Dead Bug (Happy Baby)
  • Eyeball – Eyes Around the Clock – rub hands together to create friction and heat, hold them over your eyes, then move your eyes up and down, down and up, left to right, right to left and diagonally. I have heard different things regarding eye exercises for kids, so I contacted Dr. Sorkin, OD, FAAO, FCOVD Board Certified in Visual Therapy and Child Development. He is a Behavioral Optometrist and is located in St. Petersburg, Florida. I asked him about eye movements for children and he assured me, it is fine for children to do these movements.

Make sure you have enough to be sure there are at least two things still in the cauldron when the last person takes his/her turn. Depending on the size of your class, you might have time to have the kids help you rearrange the items they pulled out into an order that would make a good “flow.” Explain to them that a flow is one that does all the standing poses first and then all of the poses of the floor or all of the floor poses first, followed by the standing poses. Then have the group test their order by redoing the poses to see if they really do “flow.”

If you have more time, here’s a fun game to play. Have everyone sit in criss-cross applesauce and scoot closer together, so they are just about knee-to-knee.  I have several soft-sculpture, stuffed Halloween decorations (like stuffed animals): a witch, a ghost, and a pumpkin. They’re either still around from my kids or from a thrift shop. We all lean back on our hands and lift our legs similar to your legs in boat pose. Then, I start the game by passing one of the stuffed toys to my neighbor using my feet. They have to take it using only their feet, no hands allowed. Depending on the size of the group, you can start passing another toy. At some point, you can say “reverse” and they have to change the direction of the passing. You can discuss the meaning of clockwise and counter-clockwise. I always tell the kids clockwise is the direction a clock usually moves and that the only time a clock might go the other way (counter- clockwise) is if it is a haunted clock at Halloween. The kids have to pay close attention to pass the items without dropping them, while also being ready to receive another toy from their other neighbor.

Happy Halloween!