As a kids’ yoga teacher we have an amazing opportunity to introduce children to the ideas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. About 1600 years ago in India, Patanjali condensed two different traditions (Ashtanga Yoga and Karma Yoga) to compose the Yoga Sutras, the foundational text of yoga. He divided yoga into eight limbs. The idea of the Eight Limbs is to provide a structure for our lives so our poor habits will simply drop away from us. Two of the limbs I like to teach kids are the Yamas and Niyamas (the other limbs include postures, meditation, concentration, and breathing, as well as other practices). Yamas and Niyamas provide lists of behaviors to encourage and sustain for a fruitful, happy life. Far from being strictly religious practices, when explained and practiced within a kids’ yoga class, the Yamas and Niyamas are basically rules, like the Golden Rule, to be present, mindful, and whole:
Ahimsa- In thought word and deed, act with non – violence
Satya- Be honest, truthfulness
Asteya- Be generous, do not steal
Brachmacharya – Be moderate in all areas of your life
Aparigraha –Have gratitude, be un-attached to expectations.
Saucha – Cleanliness of mind and body
Samtosha- Find contentment, trust in the bigger picture
Tapas- Acceptance of uncomfortable parts of life
Svadhyaya-Study and learn about yourself and the world around you
Ishvara Pranidhana- Trust the source in yourself and surrender to the will of the Universe
There are countless interpretations and commentaries on the Yoga Sutras available. My favorite interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is The Secret Power of Yoga written by Nichala Joy Devi. This is a woman’s guide to the heart and spirit of the Yoga Sutras. I have found it helpful to spend a little time each day reading and thinking about the Sutras and have found this book helpful. I also encourage you to find a Satsang, or a group, to discuss the Sutras and how to implement them into our daily lives.
As a Sunday school teacher I enjoy teaching svadhyaya (study and learn about yourself and the world around you) by acting out Bible stories and incorporating yoga postures. I also find teaching in schools or libraries that by using books and poems about nature, we can invite nature’s presence into our own lives.
The recent gem I found in my local library is a book called The Happiest Tree by Uma Krishnaswami. This book is chock-full of yogic wisdom for adults and children building a road to self-confidence.
To use this book in your yoga class, find a spot to read this book under the shade of a tree. Ask the kids to sit in padmasana (lotus pose) pretending to grow roots into the earth, while they listen to the story. While reading the story, or when the story is finished, spend some time practicing the poses in the story.
Cat – Marjaryasana helps massage the belly and spine. This pose warms the abdomen and stretches the back as well as the torso.
Cobra – Bhujangasana strengthens the spine. It firms the buttocks, stretches the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen. Cobra can relieve sciatica and be therapeutic for asthma.
Frog – Mandukasana stretches the inner thighs, groin and hips. By allowing the chest and shoulders to expand, it relieves stress, anxiety and depression. Offer the kids the idea that their yoga mat is a lily pad.
Tree – Vrksasana increases balance, focus, memory and concentration. Tree also strengthens ankles and knees. When practicing tree it is fun to ask the kids to circle up and practice standing as a forest of trees. Allow the branches to rest gently on the neighboring tree and close their eyes. Make sure to do the tree on both sides!
Lotus– Padmasana increases mobility and releases tension. A common meditation pose, it steadies the body so the mind will follow.
Finish your class by asking the kids to share what their favorite part of the story was. I like to do this while enjoying a healthy snack. The following recipe is one of my favorites. It is nut-free, dairy-free and fun to make because there is no need to bake!
2c GF whole rolled oats pulsed in food processor until fine
½ c coconut flour
1 c GF rice crisp cereal
½ c chia and flax blend
½ tsp salt
In a mixer with the paddle stir the first 4 ingredients, for about one minute.
½ c maple syrup
½ cup molasses( this is why they are sassy)
1 tsp vanilla
½ Tbsp. coconut oil
½ c sunflower seed butter
½ c chocolate chips
Add the 6 remaining ingredients. Stir until the mixture becomes crumbly and press into a 7×11 wax paper lined pan. Chill for ½ hour in the freezer. You can cut and individually wrap with yarn or serve family style.