The transformational power of imagination

Have you ever seen a kid play happily with a simple cardboard box for 30 minutes? What about kids who love to drum on anything from empty Quaker oats canisters to cookie tins? When it comes to props, so much can be done with ordinary household items and things we might deem destined for the recycle bin. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Empty canisters and other cylindrical items

We tend to shop at Trader Joe’s where the coffee is sold in canisters, much like the ones that Quaker Oats come in. Not only do these make good drums (perhaps for a kids’ kirtan, if that is something that you include in your kids yoga), but they can also be a great substitute for yoga blocks. I know what you’re thinking…that you’ll have to wait and save up 20 or 30 canisters and that’s a lot of coffee, or oatmeal. In that case, consider asking your yogis to bring their own canister or other similar item to a future class. Give them enough advanced notice so they can plan and have their item ready. This can be a great opportunity to teach about recycling and creativity.

Old lonely socks

I think that everyone loses a sock to the Dryer Gods at some point. This can be one of those glass-half-full moments: it’s so common to get frustrated over the whereabouts of that sock, but then again, what about all the things we can do with the sock we do have in hand? The first thing that comes to mind is sock puppets, which can be used to chant silly oms; this can be helpful for those who are shy about chanting om. “It’s the sock chanting, not me…..”

A less conventional use of an old lonely sock would be to make eye pillows. Make sure the sock is clean first (which it probably is, since it probably became widowed because of the whole laundry process). Fill with beans, rice or other similar substance and tie or sew up the end. They can also be used as beanbags to balance on your head while doing standing poses.

Belts and bubble wrap

What do broken belts, bubble wrap, and items of clothing have in common? They can all be used as yoga straps (that is, if the bubble wrap is a long enough piece). Maybe it was cold in the morning and then it warmed up in the afternoon. Once your yogis take off their sweaters and jackets, they can be used as yoga straps. I think that’s a more likely scenario than finding enough bubble wrap for everyone, unless you’ve been saving it up for years. Then again, if you do have enough bubble wrap, there’s so much sensory fun to be had – like doing standing or balancing poses on it, or laying some out as part of a yoga obstacle course.

Empty shipping boxes

My 2-year-old daughter loves it when we get something from Amazon because then it means she can play with the empty box! She jumps right inside with her stuffed animals and lets her imagination fly. For kids yoga, we can turn the box upside down and use it as a meditation seat (if it is sturdy enough) or we can decorate it and use it as an altar. If the word ‘altar’ sounds too religious and you want to open it up to kids of all spiritual backgrounds, use a word like ‘yoga monument,’ ‘dedication to relaxation,’ or ‘yoga platform.’ The point is for kids to decorate and adorn their box with things that remind them of relaxing their bodies, calming their minds, and breathing. Empty tissue boxes can serve this purpose, too, if small boxes are desired.

Empty spice bottles

When I was at Satchidananda Ashram – Yogaville, one of the swamis gave a lesson in meditation and the mind. She filled a bowl with water and plopped a crystal in. She added some food coloring: yellow for happiness, blue for sadness, red for anger. Then she tossed in some clumps of dirt to symbolize distracting thoughts. The crystal was meant to symbolize our true nature which is peace and joy. After adding the coloring and dirt, we saw how the crystal was no longer visible.

That visual demonstration was a simple, yet memorable way to think of how the mind can cloud the peace and joy that we all have inside. I haven’t done that particular demonstration with kids, but if I were to do something similar I’d design the activity so that each kid had something in hand because most kids want to touch and experience the things we explain.

Here’s my version: fill an empty spice bottle (or other similar small bottle or container) to about ¾ full of water. Add some glitter, sand, dirt, spices/seasonings or other substance that will cloud the water when you shake the bottle. Make sure it is something that will settle to the bottom after a bit. Once everyone has a bottle in hand, prompt them to shake it, then set it down on the ground in front of them. As they watch the stuff inside settle to the bottom, they simply breath and relax. Think of this as an unconventional form of tratak.

Various things settle at different rates. I found that turmeric was very slow to settle while sand was much faster. Experiment to find the ‘powder’ that works best for you and your yogis. Also, if you have trouble finding enough bottles or containers, this can be a great way for kids to reuse a water bottle.

Go with the flow

These are just a few ideas for reusing materials you might otherwise throw away. Your little yogis might have some great ideas of their own for how to use recyclable or reusable items, too. If you are open to letting them have a say in the matter, bring up the issue a week or two ahead of time to let them prepare to bring something to class, or perhaps vote on a particular reusable item that you can provide. After the class is over, they can keep that item or go with the flow and recycle it or use it for another purpose.

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