“Spring is in the air,” is more than just a saying. When the seasons change and days start getting longer and warmer, there is a change in the air as well as in our moods and emotions. In yoga we often think of the breath as the air element. Many yoga teachers throughout the ages have said that the mind follows the breath and vice versa. A fast pace of breathing triggers anxiety and other stimulating emotions while deep, slow breathing fosters feelings of happiness, peace, compassion and empathy. As we breathe, so we think. Just as there’s a spectrum of emotions we all experience, there is also a spectrum of the breath.
On this spectrum of breath, kids can play with fast and slow, loud and quiet, long and short. Check in with the mood of the class: are kids tired or wired? Or somewhere in between? Or a mixture? One fun way to explore the speed of breath from slow to fast is locomotive breath. This can be either seated in a circle, or with kids arranged like the cars of a train, lined up. If they are lined up as a train, they can slowly take a walk as they do this exercise, but it will complicate the activity so it’s best for older kids. You are the conductor so you set the pace: slow short inhales followed by slow short exhales. Increase in speed gradually, keeping the inhales short. When you are ready to end the activity, put your arm up to toot your horn. When kids see that, they do the same and on your cue, everyone says, “Hoo hoo!” Any other pranayama activities can be used to emphasize fast/slow, loud/quiet, long/short.
Air carries scent and sound, things that we don’t have to actively seek (like we do with the sense of sight) – so it fosters a receptive state, in other words, a great way for kids to practice awareness by observing the qualities of air. What does air look/sound/feel like? These characteristics of air can be explored as follows:
Looks like: Play a game called Windy Day! Choose a handful of poses kids can do that can ‘show’ the movement of wind. For example, TREE, WARRIOR, TRIANGLE, EAGLE (basically, most standing poses). Choose one kid to play the part of the wind. Endow them with their ‘windy powers’ (blue ribbons or scarves in each hand). They get a few chances to call out one of the poses above to the rest of the group. The kid playing the wind then runs around, holding the ribbons out and sweeping them along the others (this works best if the rest of the kids are arranged in a line or a circle, rather than randomly placed around the room). As the blue ribbons ‘blow’ over them, they sway as a tree would in the wind. If the ‘wind’ stops (stands in place), they must freeze in their pose, so let them know that they should always pay attention to what the ‘wind’ is doing. Save enough time for each kid to play the part of the wind.
Sounds like: There are plenty of sounds I use with kids to mimic the wind: rush, whoosh, swoosh, hush, woooo (the sound of blowing out birthday candles), hahh (the sound of fogging up a mirror or window). Then there’s the sound of silence (the sound of still air!). I like to bring these sounds in as a vocalized exhalation, emphasizing that the sounds should be slow and soft (to prevent hyperventilation). If there are some kids that insist on hyper, fast versions, then you can let them try both fast and slow and ask them how they feel different with each one so that they can again experience the spectrum of qualities (this is a perfect time to refer back to locomotive breath described above).
Feels like: Give each kid a chance to say what they think air or wind feels like. Here are some ideas: feathers tickling, a furry cat brushing up against you, walking through tall grass…lots of opportunity for imagination! Maybe pass around a talking stick or some other prop you have for class to signify when each kid is allowed to speak. Also, you can refer back to this when they are in Secret Garden/savasana.
The activities above will guide kids in experiencing the qualities of air. Afterwards, if you have time (and kids who love superheroes!) you can do the following activity. This can be done as a meditation, during Secret Garden, or as a discussion while kids are seated. Tell them to complete the sentence, “If air were a super hero, his/her superpowers would be…” This can even be done as an art project, complete with a super hero pose for his/her own hero.
Finally, an air salutation is in order here, since air is all about movement and expansion. Do this one sideways on the mat so kids can take a wide stance. Start with hands down at sides, then inhale to STAR pose. Exhale, a big gust of wind blows down (say whoosh! As arms float down to the ground to touch midway between the feet). Then say, “the wind blows back and forth,” and sweep arms side to side and keep the breath moving (the whole time keeping the wide stance). Then exhale, pivot to one side to RUNNER pose, inhale stay; exhale pivot to the other side, RUNNER pose, inhale stay. Exhale back to center, then ‘blow up your balloon:’ inhale-exhale the way you would blow up a balloon, 3-5 times while slowly standing up and expanding arms back to STAR pose. At the biggest expansion of STAR pose, say, “Now pop your balloon!” At that point kids can either hiss or flutter their lips as they deflate and collapse down to a squat.
This is a pretty detailed salutation, so it might be best to demonstrate it first. If you like, during the RUNNER pose side to side, you can say, “Now the wind blows to the east! Now it blows to the west,” if you want to add a little dramatization or if kids are learning about cardinal directions. After practicing it several times, or a few classes in a row, the kids will be proud that they remember the sequence and you might give them a chance to lead it. Also, as with any salutation, modify it to suit your group of kids.