A lovely way to spend a lazy afternoon is to rest in the shade of a big tree – the branches and leaves rustling above you and the soft earth feeding its roots below you. Trees provide a sense of timelessness and patience, of strength with flexibility. That union sounds just like a yoga practice! Bring the forest into your class (or, even better, have class outside under some trees).
Start your class with the story of a seed:
Two children found a seed (child’s pose) on a walk to school. They couldn’t tell what kind of seed it was – it was about the size of a grape and what color do you think it was (ask the kids to share their idea for the seed)? Yes – it was all those colors kind of swirled together. The kids knew what plants needed to grow, so they planted the seed in some sunny soil, sprinkled it with water (forward fold with wiggly fingers), and waited. The seed (child’s pose) began to swell. It began to get bigger and bigger (child’s pose starts to turn into ragdoll) until a strong stem popped out of the ground (extended mountain pose). The stem kept growing and growing, getting taller and wider (extended mountain keeps reaching higher)! Then, branches began to grow (tree pose) with beautiful huge leaves covering them. Can you imagine? Over the next few months, the children continued to water the tree. Sometimes the wind would blow the tree gently and the leaves would wiggle a little. Once, the wind was so strong that the tree swung back and forth, leaning this way and that. But guess what… the roots and trunk of the tree stayed strong and steady. The kids watched as animals began to call the tree home. There were butterflies (cobbler pose) and birds (crow or pigeon pose) and snakes (cobra pose) all living together in the tree. Then the most magical thing happened. The tree bloomed the biggest, most colorful, most fragrant flowers anyone had ever seen (flower pose). Can you smell the flowers (bunny breath)? What do they smell like to you? (Ask kids for their suggestion – roses, chocolate, etc). The flowers stayed bright and beautiful for a few weeks, but then slowly started to wilt and fall to the earth (move from flower pose to savasana). The kids were very sad. They were worried that the tree wasn’t healthy. But then they looked closely and saw that in the center of each flower was a seed (child’s pose), about the size of a grape! They collected all of the fallen seeds and gave them to people in their neighborhood and showed them how to plant the seeds. And I bet you can guess what happened next. Now their whole neighborhood blooms every year with amazing flowering trees, and every year the people collect the seeds and pass them to other neighborhoods. So eventually, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing the beautiful trees and smelling the blossoms.
Your whole class is now back in Tree Pose, so turn that into a group Tree Pose (just like the trees in the story). To do a “forest” of trees, have your group stand in a circle and hold hands. Everyone comes into Tree Pose by standing strong on their right leg and bringing their left foot to the inner thigh of the right leg. Now, slowly and carefully bring arms overhead, still holding hands. There will probably be some wobbling, but that’s just the wind moving the trees around. Stay for a while, then come down and try it on the other side. Kids can share what kind of trees they are, where they are planted, and what kind of animals live in their branches.
A game of Red Light, Green Light, Tree is an active way to practice listening skills and balance using Tree Pose. This played in the same way as the traditional Red Light, Green Light game but when “it” says “Red Light” everyone else has to freeze in Tree Pose. Kidding Around Yoga has modified the game further by adding a yellow light (for really slow walking) and a brown light (for crawling). Whoever tags the “it” person first is “it” for the next round. You could play that if you fall out of your Tree Pose you have to go back to the starting line, or you could just move back two steps. You decide what’s best for your group.
To settle the group down after the game, introduce Tree Feet. I used this in my classroom to give the kids a stretch break and help them refocus their energy. Children either sit or stand and imagine their feet are growing roots right into the floor. When their roots feel strong and energized, like they are drawing energy up through the floor, they stretch their arms up to be the branches, fingers open wide. When the wind blows, they sway in the breeze and stretch their sides. Their fingers breathe in the air all the way to their toes (just like the leaves send air to the roots). Then breathe out and relax back into seated or standing. They say to themselves, “I am ready.”