The lotus has long been a symbol of purity; as a flower that grows in muddy water, it is an example of how a living thing can maintain a pure, beautiful state even in a dirty place. In yogic tradition, it is also a posture that has been claimed as the best seated pose for meditation.
First, it is always worth asking if kids know what a lotus is; just as with anything, if there is a kid in the class that knows something about it, they will often be bursting to share their knowledge. They might just say something as simple as, “It’s a flower,” and if there is no other specific explanation, you can build on that.
For many younger children, it comes easily, while older kids and teens might find their hips have already tightened up enough to make it challenging. Some alternatives to full lotus are: HALF LOTUS, BUTTERFLY, FLOWER POSE, EASY POSE, and CRISS-CROSS APPLESAUCE. Invite the kids to choose one of these, demonstrating them or asking one of the kids to demonstrate as needed. This is a perfect transition into a short meditation: as each child chooses a seated pose, have them place their hands on their knees or thighs, palms facing up. With eyes opened or closed, they can imagine that their hands are lotus flowers. Start with hands closed; exhale all the way. Then on the inhale, all the lotus-hands open slowly, for as long as the inhale lasts. On a slow exhale, close the lotus-hands (emphasize slow to keep the mood calm–many kids will probably want to breathe and open/close their hands as fast as they can!). You can use the exhale to encourage them to let go of negative emotions or ideas/events that bring stress to their lives. Repeat as many times as is suitable for the group. Tell them that even though lotuses grow in muddy water, they stay clean and beautiful; this way, you can help them see how this meditation can keep their minds ‘clean’ even with the stress and negative emotions that come with daily life.
Kids don’t always want to just sit and reflect on something, though. They want to do something fun, too! For classes where there is time for arts and crafts, it is nice to bring in a picture or drawing so that there is an immediate visual connection. Of course, the symbol of the lotus can take on various forms and this is a chance to introduce or review mandalas. You can find some for kids to color, or they can draw their own. Another way to use the idea of the lotus is to hand out drawings of a 5-petaled lotus, or have kids draw their own. On each petal, children can write one thing that helps them get over difficult situations (just as the lotus flower grows out of the mud, but stays pure). If they have a hard time coming up with ideas, you can give examples, or ask others to share examples.
For older kids you might work with the another idea symbolized by the lotus: staying grounded while reaching toward the heavens. In a class, this can take form in an activity where kids think of one thing that helps them focus on the present moment (staying grounded), and another thing that helps them feel ambitious or helps them plan for the future (another way of reaching up or forward). This can be done while they are holding one of the seated poses mentioned above, feeling their legs grounded and their heads stretching upward.
Finally, the lotus carries potential to put a spin on savasana (in my kids’ classes, we call this the Secret Garden). Even though lotuses don’t grow in a typical ‘garden,’ remind kids that their Secret Garden is just a place they imagine that helps them to feel relaxed. Tell them to imagine that they are floating on the water like beautiful lotuses. Before the Secret Garden you might even show them a picture of a lotus growing on water so they can visualize when they are resting with their eyes closed. Encourage them to think about what makes them feel strong, beautiful, or optimistic. At the end of the Secret Garden, tell them to close their petals (curl up into a ball, knees to chest). Let them know that as they lay there with knees to chest, you will go around with a magic wand and tap each kid lightly to let them know they can quietly find a seated position (any of the ones mentioned above) to join the closing circle.