Paul Bunyan, the legendary giant lumberjack, is a folkloric hero of North America. Tales of his great strength and success spread wide across the continent; with rumors of his beginnings varying from the Pacific Northwest to Maine and just about anywhere in between! At seven feet tall with a seven-foot stride, supported by his equally larger-than-life Blue Ox named Babe, Paul’s heroic stature was built by the loggers of ages passed. As they traveled from campsite to campsite, they exchanged stories of the mythological being, claiming to have seen his feats with their own two eyes. Whether you’re in a school setting studying your own state’s industrial history or in a studio looking for a new theme to explore, there’s rich discoveries aplenty in the lumberyard!
While National Paul Bunyan Day is on June 28th, you can celebrate his legendary feats of strength with these mighty yet mindful suggestions anytime!
Yoga Story: Sit around the campfire (sit in easy pose, sukhasana, on mat in a large group circle) and let’s exchange tales as tall and old as time. Let’s put some firewood in our fire (firelog pose, agnistambhasana – pick up one foot and rock, then the other). Say, do you know how we got this firewood? That’s right! A tree! (Deep inhale) Ahhh, I just love trees. Let’s all breathe in this fresh air that the trees give us (circle arms up over head, urdhva hastasana, bring hands together and down through heart center 3x). Ooh, now feel the heat of the fire (rub hands together to create friction, hold out in front of the “fire”). I betcha I know the exact lumberjack who gave us this firewood. His name is Paul Bunyan (hero pose, virasana). Paul is a lumberjack, someone who cuts trees. He uses a big tool, called an axe (arrow pose (right side), modified vashistasana) to cut them down. But sometimes, when he has a really, really big tree, he uses a massive saw (arrow pose (left side)). Now Paul doesn’t do all this work on his own. He has the help of many lumberjack friends, as well as his pet, a big, blue ox named Babe (table pose). Heavier and bigger than any other cow, Babe lets out a deep and bellowing MOOO (cow pose, bitilasana) when she’s proud of the work they do together. Let’s all do that. “MOOO”. When she’s really, really proud, she even kicks her back legs in the air! (Downward facing dog, adho mukha svanasana, to donkey kicks, then rest in garland pose, malasana.) The day at the lumberyard begins really, really early. Most lumberjacks are so sleepy from the work of the day before (rag doll pose, uttanasana), but Paul Bunyan is up and at’em (rise up, arms circle overhead, urdhva hastasana), ready to greet the sun! (Option to add in a Sun Salutation or two here!) He searches far, far out into the forest, looking for the tallest tree (tree pose, vrksasana), ready to begin his work.
- Make-A-Morning: Paul was always the first one up in the morning, because much like our elders in the tradition of yoga, he knew how potent the early hours can be! We can easily pass this idea along to our students with a simple activity of creating a morning schedule. Create several flashcards of potential activities for self nourishment in the morning. These can include basics such as brushing your teeth, drinking water and getting dressed, but they should also include mindful choices: stretching your body, practicing three part breath, reciting mantra (Peace Begins With Me), etc. Allow students to choose 3-5 cards that they’d like to include as part of their morning routine. After collecting their choices, invite them to return to their mat and put them in their ideal order. Allow students to share their schedules with the group, and take their cards home! Invite them to place the cards in a spot where they’ll see them right away in the morning, to encourage both accountability and responsibility. Just like peace, self nourishment begins with us! And we can set ourselves up for success first thing with a simple 10-minute routine.
- Logger’s Run Obstacle Course: Set up this active and engaging activity to recreate the rush of days in rows filled with pines. Set up the stations using common yoga props and set the scene as if this were a real day on the job for the lumberjacks.
- The Tallest Tree: stack two blocks, on their shortest height, on top of one another. Let students know that at this station, they will need to balance in tree pose while they try to spot the tallest tree in the forest. Once it’s spotted, have them confirm that it is indeed the tallest while balancing on the other leg (to even out). Then, they can carefully come down from the blocks and get ready to climb that tree.
- Bear Crawl over Bolsters: lay several bolsters on the floor, short edges touching each other. This will serve as the tree “trunk”. Instruct students that at this station, they will imagine that they are climbing a massive pine tree using their bare hands! With hands and curled toes in contact with the ground, bellies facing down, students can look at the bolsters as they “climb” during their bear crawl. For an added challenge, have them flip over to scale back down over the bolsters in a crab walk form.
- Stretch and Chop: set one unrolled strap down on the floor. When students make their way to this station, they can pick up the strap and hold it in front of their torso with both hands; their grips can be about 2 times as wide as their shoulders are to allow for enough space. On an inhale, they lift the strap up over their heads, and on an exhale they reach it behind their back. Inhale brings the strap back overhead, and exhale returns the strap in front of their torso, inviting their shoulders to open. After three rounds of this stretch, they “chop” the wood in slow motion. This is done by returning the strap overhead and then leaning to one side to stretch the side body while mindfully keeping both hips and shoulders square to the front of this station, then back up through center, and over to the other side. Chop on each side three times.
- Log Rolling on a Rushing River: take several rolled mats (“logs”) and place them on the floor, spread out with your students’ strides in mind. Let students know that the spaces between the mats are a rushing, roaring river. They must make their way across the space by stepping on the logs without falling in the river below.
Direct students as to which activity is the start and which activity is the end of your obstacle course. Lumberjacking was a very competitive trade, but the only type of competition that you may consider bringing into this event is competition with oneself. Encourage students to remain focused, calm and aware of their surroundings. If you have enough time to do two rounds, they can challenge themselves to surpass the great work that they did in the first round. Those who are not participating at any given time can encourage their fellow lumberjacks with positive affirmations, claps and loads of smiles!
- Partner See-Saw: A lumberjack can’t do his work all on his own. Sometimes teams of two would use a massive saw in tandem to cut down a very large tree. You can bring dual logging to life in your class through partner see-saw. Invite pairs to sit on their mats facing each other. With legs stretched out long in front of them (dandasana, staff pose), they can move closer until soles of feet are touching. On an inhale, students lift arms up overhead, and on the exhale arms reach for their partner in front of them. Gently hold hands. As one student gently pulls their partners hands toward their own heart, the other partner comes into seated forward fold (pashimottanasana). Repeat a couple of times, feeling the deep stretch on the back body.
- Recognizing our Resources: It is incredibly important that we talk with our students about our limited natural resources on earth, and that we model sustainable practices for them to look up to and adopt. “Trees are such an amazing part of our planet. They offer so much to so many living creatures!” Engage your class in a round of Orange You Grateful – an activity that awakens our hearts and minds to the beauty of our trees. Have students sit in a circle and introduce a small ball as your “orange”. The orange will be passed around the circle, and when students receive the orange, they can share their answer to the prompt “Orange you grateful that trees give….”. Encourage students to share what trees provide to us and others. Some examples may include lumber, homes, paper products, oxygen, shade, homes for birds, etc. Invite creativity and thoughtful approaches to this exercise… trees provide so many treasures to our planet!
After everyone has had a turn to share what they are grateful for, remind students that we need to replenish what we use. “Many trees are cut down each and every day, and it’s up to us to be smart about how we restore this resource for the benefit of all beings.” Brainstorm ways to reduce the amount of trees we use in our own daily living, as well as how, when, and where to plant more trees. Perhaps prior to class you can identify a local agency that plants trees or cleans up nearby forests and parks. If you’re able to plan an off-site gathering, this type of work could be perfect for some Karma Yoga.
- A Grand, Shared Feast: Everyone knows that breakfast is a lumberjack’s favorite meal of the day. After completing your Logger’s Run Obstacle Course, let everyone know that they can sit on their mats in the mess hall…. it’s time for a grand feast! As you sprinkle pom poms around them, let them know that you are setting out all of their favorite breakfast foods all around the room. Watch as their eyes sparkle thinking of their most-loved morning meals. At the cue of music, invite students to collect their breakfast with their hands, or, for a silly take, their toes (a la Toega!). Once the music ends and they return to their mats with their meals, invite the group to a pom pom potluck, where they introduce the food that they’ve collected and offer to share it with each and every one of their fellow lumberjacks.
- Flat as a Flapjack: Mmmm, breakfast. Legend has it that the flapjacks couldn’t be flipped fast enough for Paul Bunyan! For your secret garden (otherwise known as corpse pose, savasana), guide students to lie flat on their mats like one giant pancake, imagining the warmth of the pan below and all around them. Guide them to picture a pat of butter resting on the top of their head, and then beginning to melt down across the pancake, leading them through a body scan.
We hope that these activities stir up the imaginations and intentionality of each and every one of your students. May they believe in their own abilities just as much as the real-life loggers believed in Paul. Namaste!