Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Plush Party at So Yoga

We had a blast at the Kids Class yesterday. All the kids brought their favourite plush. The children taught their toy their favourite yoga poses, kept their balance with their plush on them.. We finished with a relaxation time, their toy near their ears. I told them that if they remain motionless and in contact with their toy, they could hear what secret the plush has to tell... Some plushes had their best day ever, some plushes were tired after so much yoga !

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

4 Mindfulness Activities for Kids

These methods are presented by age groups. I find that any technique can actually be used on any student, at any age.. Just need to adapt the words and present the exercise in a funny way for the youngest ones!

Mindfulness is a buzzword these days. From mindful eating to mindful parenting, the idea is catching on. Even CEOs of large companies are setting aside time for mindfulness to increase employee productivity and satisfaction. However, many of us may not know exactly what this trend means and what separates mindfulness from meditation.

Meditation involves four levels of deep concentration with the ultimate goal being to completely silence the mind.

Mindfulness simply means that we are paying close attention to the present moment without critique of our current state. The idea is to be accepting of wherever you are and more aware of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal being to minimize stress caused by wanting to change our situation, and to be better connected to our bodies and minds so that we are less reactive and more kind, compassionate, and present with ourselves and others.

While this is a hard concept to grasp for adults, it’s even tricker to explain to children. The good news is that we don’t necessarily need to explain it in this way to them, but rather we can show them what it means to be mindful. There is a lot to gain from teaching mindfulness to our young ones. Below are some exercises that parents, teachers, and yoga teachers can try with kids of all ages.

1. Before School Age: Counting the Breath
For kids who are yet to start formal schooling, practicing mindfulness can be a great way to regulate emotions and offer a form of self-soothing. Mindfulness exercises involve breathing — one of the easiest ways to calm down when we’re upset. This is especially useful for kids in the “terrible twos” and beyond who have trouble coming down from a tantrum.
I’ve watched on in amazement as my best friend walked her tantruming two year old through a breathing sequence. Within a minute he was calm and able to articulate what was upsetting him.
This can be as simple as having your child breathe in for three seconds, hold it for three, and breathe out for three. By doing so, they have to consciously slow their breathing, and by extension, calm their body. This creates a space where they can reset and reflect on the situation at hand (or maybe not, they are two after all).
With a little practice, this simple exercise can lead to a few less tears and set a foundation for a childhood with emotional balance and functional coping skills.
2. Ages 5-10: Animal Breathing Exercises
Once in school, most of a child’s day is a structured, even pressured environment that focuses on specific results. There is little attention on the emotional wellbeing of our students. While some schools are becoming more open to mindfulness classes, many students experience stress and anxiety with no learned way to deal with it.
Making mindfulness fun and accessible to kids is as easy introducing different types of breathing. Breathing exercises can be both energizing and calming. Energizing exercises are perfect for the mid-afternoon to bring alertness to the body and mind. Calming exercises are great for teachers to try after recess to bring down the energy level in the classroom.
For a calming exercise, try the “Bumblebee Breath,” by inhaling through the nose and then pursing the lips and humming as you breathe out. By creating a sensation in the mouth, the attention goes to that spot, and the mind becomes quiet.
The “Lion Breath” is an energizing breath. Have the kids breathe in through their mouth and then loudly exhale all their air while sticking out their tongue, as if they are a growling lion. By deeply inhaling and exhaling fully, they are ridding their bodies of stale air and taking in fresh, originated air — which leads to more energy.
3. Pre-teens and Teens: Body Scan
These are the years when stress and anxiety can become severe. There is a lot of pressure on pre-teens and teens to perform well in school, stay out of trouble, and think about the next stage of their lives, all while trying to forge an identity and deal with the changes going on in their bodies. This is one of the most important times to utilize mindfulness.
At this age, kids are less willing to look silly and participate in animal themed breathing, but they do welcome a way to unwind and relax after the school day. One of my favorite actives to do with teens is a body scan.
Have them lay down and relax their body. Then, starting with the feet and working up, bring attention to each body part, encouraging them to send the breath there, and then completely relax it. Include the areas of the body where tension lives like the belly, shoulders, neck, and face.
While this exercise is not technically mindfulness because it is active, it can lead teens to a quiet head space where they can simply lay down and breathe — and that is mindfulness.
4. Pre-teens and Teens: Mindfulness in Daily Life
We can also encourage teens to be more mindful in whatever activities they take part in.
They are able to grasp the idea of being present and how it can help deal with stress. Explain how being mindful at their soccer game, while swimming, or while running can make these actives more enjoyable.
Even if they are doing something unpleasant — like homework — by accepting that moment without daydreaming of hanging out with friends, it becomes more manageable and less stressful.
Introducing a consistent mindfulness practice is an incredible way to set kids up for success in life. The hope is that they will be more connected to themselves, more thoughtful with their actions, and better able to regulate their emotions and behavior.
Mindfulness teaches them to take a step back when things get tough, and deal with life one breath at a time.
Source: Camille Dodson

6 Ways to Make Yoga Fun for Children Ages 3-6

I love introducing yoga to children. The younger, the better!
As I use the kind of exercises below, or create my own, I sometimes find myself becoming a kid again :-)

It is SO much fun to teach this age group because they are fast and full of energy, their imagination is wild, and they LOVE playing and moving—the perfect audience for a children yoga class!
Here are the most important things to remember when you teach those free spirits and want to make yoga fun for them!

1. They are fast…very fast

They have infinite amount of energy, but instead of suppressing it, use it! Make the class very active.
It is hard for them to sit quietly or to stay in one pose for a long time, so you will need to let each pose and game flow, one into the other. Don’t hesitate too long between exercises!
If, through games, imagination, and lots of yoga poses, you have succeeded in releasing a bit of their infinite energy, they will be happy to lie down at the end of class, and practice imagery and relaxation.
2. Use their imagination.

A. Going on a yoga journey

  • We do traveling poses to reach our destination
  • We meet the people who live there and we do the things they do in yoga (cooking, wood chopping, surfing, dancing…)
  • We see nature and we imitate the trees, mountains, waves rocks etc. with our bodies (same goes with animals!)
  • We get hungry so we do a yoga picnic with food poses
  • We feel like playing so we go to the yoga playground and we do a yoga swing, slide, or carousel
  • We decide to go to the beach, yoga sunbathe for a bit and meet sea creatures as we go on a yoga boat
  • At the end we get tired, so we lie down and we use our imagination to journey back (maybe on a flying rug) to where the class is

Children at this age are not always aware of the wonders of the world outside of their country or even neighborhood, I Google and print pictures of wherever we are planning to go on a journey to.
If we’re going to ancient Egypt for example, I will print pictures of pyramids, sphinx, camels and pharaohs to help the children be familiar with this new place.

B. Inventing your own yoga story

You can have each kid invent their own story with yoga animal poses combined into it, or have each participant in the circle continue the story of the one before them,each adding a pose to the story.
Have everyone do the pose the kids mention in their story. You can also stay in the pose once it’s mentioned until another kid says another pose in their part of the storytelling.
C. Yoga Around the Globe

Have each kid in the circle spin the globe in their turn; wherever their finger lands, that’s where you’ll travel with a yoga pose, and then do a couple of poses in that country.

D. Wizard

Come dressed up and with the magic of yoga, turn the children into different yoga animals they choose out of the Yoga Magic Sack. You can also let them be the wizards.

E. Sun Dance Story

Tell a story about Yoga Animals and Yoga Objects as you flow through them – it always makes a Sun Salute more interesting!

3. Keep your rules at all cost!

This is the age where we try to find what the boundaries are, so create clear boundaries and keep your rules at all cost.
Keep in mind though that rules are hard to keep so don’t make too many rules, but keep the one rule: RESPECT!Respect can mean anything you need to mean…listening to each other and the teacher, no violence, no put downs, relaxation is a quiet time etc.
Never ever give instructions when no one is listening – always always first gather the children’s attention and only then give instructions.
4. They’re easily distracted.

They have a short attention span, so switch between fast and slow, poses and games and breathing and relaxation.
Every time you change the kind of activity you do, their attention span starts from the beginning. Vary the class structure a bit to keep things interesting! To help the kids focus and stay longer in poses, you can:
  • Count and sing
  • Tell interesting animal facts and use sound effects and animal sounds
  • Say ‘faster/ higher/ more/ one more/ again!’
  • Animate the poses: lighting candles (in Shoulder Stand) and blowing them out, or watering seeds (Child Pose) and letting them grow into Flower Poses and then into Tree Poses
  • Facilitate interaction with partner and group poses: chairs and tables, flowers and bees, monkey and trees, etc.
  • Use props: sliding a ball down a Slide Pose (inclined Plane), balancing a doll on the head or tummy or back, etc.
It’s also a great idea to come to the class dressed up according to the class theme—make it dramatic! You are sure to capture their attention!

5.  Change things up

Kids this age easily get bored with repetition, so keep the activities varied!Don’t go on the same yoga journey twice within the same year. You can use some of the same poses, but you will have to wrap them in a different story every time.
Use Your Voice – if you speak in the same tone all the time, the children’s attention will drift away. Sometimes whisper as if you have a secret to tell them, and a moment after, be all hyped up and exited!
Use lots and lots of yoga games! – Try to remember the games you played as a kid and sprinkle yoga poses into them to transform them into yoga games.
Try a Yoga Obstacle Course – place yoga mats in a line or a circle and make each a station to:
  • Do yoga poses in a certain way or with a particular prop
  • Do a breathing exercises with a prop you place there
  • Do something fun such as dancing, skipping rope, face painting etc.
  • Relax
You can also use everything that we had for the previous age group– dolls, puppets, stickers, books, songs, etc.

6. Improved Balance And Motor Skills

Kids this age can play a much wider variety of games and do MANY more poses than the younger age groups.
They can balance by themselves, have more coordination, can stay quiet for longer and understand instructions better—so try to take them to their limit…gradually!Allow them to try and make mistakes, and really in Yoga there is no possibility to make a mistake.
In yoga we say that there are 840 million yoga poses, so every movement, eventually, can be yoga. What makes it yoga of course is awareness, but this will come gradually.
And most importantly; let yourself have fun, and they will too!
Source: Gopala Amir-Yaffe

Monday, January 25, 2016

10 Ways to Help Children Stay Longer In Relaxation

Some useful tips for Savasana with kids, at any age. I often use mindful jar, or mandalas colouring too!

Children love relaxation… it just might take them a few times to realize it. Once they experience its sweetness and joy, they will never let you leave the class without it.
 To experience relaxation in depth, they need to stay there for a while. Below are excellent techniques to help with that:

1. Yoga Blanket
Being covered can really help to relax, as the extra weight and sensation all over our body is extremely settling. So sometimes at the end of the class, just for relaxation, we lie under the mat instead of on top of it; the children really enjoy being tucked in for the final relaxation.
Real blankets are even better to use, if you have them around, because there is a slight challenge with lifting the mat off the floor; once the children realize this is possible, it will be harder to keep the mats down during the class.
2. Eye Pillow
Eye pillows help us to close the eyes end to calm down and become quiet. We use our eyes a lot to relate to the world; when they are gently shut in this way, it helps us to disconnect. You can buy eye pillows or make your own using socks that you can fill up with rice and then tie closed. You can scent the eye pillows by adding dried lavender or herbal tea to the filling, or even by spraying aromatic oils on them.
Scents can be very helpful in creating a relaxed state of mind.
3. Tibetan Medicine Bowl
I use a Tibetan bowl in almost every class and for all age groups. You can get a Tibetan bowl at the closest Tibetan store or online. They are a bit costly, but they are worth it.
These bowls are a magical tool for focusing, relaxing and healing. Their sound vibration brings the mind to a total state of calm (alpha brain waves) in seconds. The children love them and look forward to it.
To use the bowl, place it on the student’s heart/chest, belly, or back (if they are lying facing down) and strike the side of the bowl gently with the softer or wider part of your playing stick. You can use the bowl at the end of the guided imagery or combine the sound as a part of the journey. The Tibetan bowl can be the song of a magical bird, the sound of the wind, or the call of whales.
You can also use the Tibetan bowl as a relaxation by itself. I do this when the class is a bit wild, and I also say that my magic bowl will visit only those who lay down quietly with their eyes closed, which usually has the desired effect!
Children feel the vibration of the sound all over their body, so even very young children will stay still, waiting for the magic bowl to visit them.
4. Yoga Magic Stone

Put a small stone (I use glass pebbles or crystals) on the foreheads of the children when they lie down with their eyes closed.
I tell the them that with this special yoga diamond, they can talk to animals and understand animal language, that they can see the past or the future, that they’ll be able to read thoughts, or that the yoga diamond will give them the ability to fly… it depends on the theme.
I also tell them that the magic of the yoga diamond will work only as long as it’s on their forehead; if the diamond falls, the magic breaks. This makes them lie down motionless and helps them to focus on the relaxation.
You can give the children the yoga diamond as a gift at the end of the class; a gift they can use in just the same way every time they feel they need to relax. You can even ask them to bring their yoga diamond back to every class to be used at the relaxation.
5. Burrito/Sushi/Mummy
It’s great to do this pose for final relaxation if you have been on a picnic (then it can be a burrito) or if you are in Egypt (then it’s a mummy). It all depends on the theme of your class!
Lie down on your yoga mat sideways and close to the edge. Hold onto the edge of the mat with one hand, keeping the other arm beside your body. Roll toward the long part of the mat and let yourself be wrapped by it. Close your eyes and rest. I love this technique because the children cannot move while they are rolled up!
The pressure of the yoga mat does help to relax though, and at the end of the relaxation you can roll the children out of their sushi by pulling on the open end of the mat.
Young children will need help in order to roll into this pose, and some, who may feel claustrophobic, will handle it better if their arms stay out of the mat; they just need to start the pose with their arms raised over their heads.
6. Counting
You can count ten deep breaths before the relaxation, as it is sure to help quiet your class down.
If the children are fidgety at the end of guided imagery, use counting to make them stay there for a few more breaths; they can each count silently to themselves for ten or twenty breaths, before they get up.
Young children might have a hard time remaining in total silence, so you can say “I will count to 10… only when I reach 10, you can stretch your arms over your head, make yourself longer, take a deep breath, yawn, and slowly sit up… 1… 2…”.
Count very slowly.
7. Still Water
Everyone lies on the floor completely still. If someone moves, they have to step over to the side.
In this game we invite the action of stillness rather than saying “don’t move,” which makes it more fun and more effective!
8. Escalator Breath

In this exercise we all (except the first person on the escalator) lie with our head on the belly of the friend before us. We breathe deeply and feel how we lift and lower our friend’s head with our belly as we breathe, and how the same is happening to our head on the belly of the friend before us. We close our eyes and listen and feel the breath moving like waves, helping us go deeper into the relaxation.
The interdependence in this exercise and the responsibility you have for your friends to stay in the pose helps the children to stay still for a long time.
9. Reflexology
Reflexology and other kinds of massage are great ways to relax. You don’t need to know reflexology (although it is great if you do) to massage the children’s feet; just follow your heart and your hands and make it pleasant.
If you massage them too lightly, it will tickle, so use firm yet gentle touch. Use foot or hand creams that smell good, like strawberry or banana.
Try to combine the massage with your class theme or with the journey you take in your guided imagery. For example if you are in the sea, the massage can be dolphins who lick your feet, or if you are in the sky it can be the clouds who will massage your feet.
If you teach in a kindergarten or in preschool, let the children massage their teacher — it will melt the teacher’s heart! In family yoga it’s even better; let the parents massage the children and then the children massage the parents. Did you ever get a massage from a child? All the annoying things they ever did will be erased!
10. Story Time
Sometimes it is nice to finish with a short and inspiring story either after the relaxation or instead of it. It’s a nice way to end the class either with a message or with something funny.
Source: Gopala Amir-Yaffe

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Kids Yoga and Mindfulness Video Testimonial

A beautiful video.. Showing how effective a yoga and mindfulness program can be on children.

"I wish I had yoga at school when I was young".. Something our generation could often say, hopefully the next generation no longer.. More and more schools adopt these program nowadays, and not only in the US.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

7 Yoga Tips for Better Sleep.. it works on kids too!

I tried these exercises for myself; and for my 6 years old child. Dedicating 20minutes of our time was worth it, we both enjoyed a beautiful, deep night sleep!
Here are seven tips on how to use yoga for better sleep. Do these exercises after your regular nighttime routine so you can go straight to bed after the last exercise. Avoid doing these exercises in bed since your bed should be reserved for sleep as much as possible. Part of good sleep hygiene is a routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep. Consistency is important, so do even a little every night.
1. Start with self-compassion. One fundamental basis of yoga is being kind and compassionate to your body and mind. Notice if you are holding onto harsh thoughts. Try to weave in self-compassion for both your body and mind throughout your practice, and let go of the idea of perfection. Do not do anything painful.
2. Get in touch with your breath.
  • Find a comfortable seat or lie down on your back.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Place one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest.
  • Begin to take smooth, slow breaths as if you are sipping air through your nose. Exhale through your nose slowly, keeping your mouth closed.
  • Pace your breath by repeating these phrases in your mind:
On the inhale, "I breathe in, and let go of the day." On the exhale, "I breathe out, and let go of the day."
3. Release tension using a yoga breath called Lion's breath.
  • Inhale through your nose.
  • Stick out your tongue and exhale through your mouth loudly, as if you are fogging up a mirror.
4. Calm down using forward folds. Avoid using your hands to pull yourself forward or forcing the shape of the pose--it's not about your hands or head reaching the floor or your feet. Instead, let gravity do most of the work.
- Standing Forward Bend
  • Arm variations: Place your hands to opposite elbows, or clasp your fingers at the base of your head
  • Bend your knees as much as you need to in order to rest your torso on your thighs.
- Wide Legged Forward Fall
- Head to Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana)
Seated Forward Bend (Pashimottanasana)

5. Gently stretch your hips. Be cautious if you have any hip injuries.
- Butterfly
Reclined Figure Four
Reclined Bound Angle

6. Try a gentle inversion.
Legs Up the Wall 

7. Wind down at the end of your practice with a body scan meditation - for about 12 minutes

Why Kids Need Yoga In Their Lives

More and more studies show that yoga is beneficial to kids, in many aspects. Now more than ever.

More than ever, kids today are spending more time indoors, at home and sitting at their desks at school. Our children’s activities and definitions of "fun" shouldn’t be limited to television, iPads and video games.
Yoga allows us to interact with our children in a playful way, by fueling their imagination and lust for life. Yoga keeps children fit, excited and curious, while still proving educational. With time, a consistent yoga practice can help develop their emotional and social skills, among numerous other mental and physical benefits.
When it comes to health and fitness for children, we tend to focus on a particular sport or outdoor play, but the sensitivity of their developing emotional minds can sometimes get overlooked. Who would have thought the ancient Eastern art of yoga is equally beneficial for a child's well-being, as well as our own?
Here are five great reasons why kids today need yoga in their lives:

1. Concentration is enhanced.
When children become accustomed to practicing yoga postures, they automatically improve their ability to concentrate. Ancient sages used yoga as a form of meditation, and their powers of concentration are legendary.
Your child will learn how to sit still in one place and focus on what’s important, as opposed to allowing their mind wander and become easily distracted. Improved concentration translates into their time at school during lessons, boosts their attention span and can help improve their grades.

2. Flexibility and balance are increased.
Yoga helps to improve flexibility and balance by toning their little muscles gently and safely. Practicing asana makes children stronger and less likely to suffer sprains and fractures from accidental falls and other mishaps common to adventurous, curious kids.

3. Overall well-being is improved.
Kids who practice yoga regularly feel good about themselves, and are quite likely healthier and happier than those who don’t. A regular yoga practice promotes a healthy lifestyle and outlook from a young age. They'll feel both mentally and physically rejuvenated after a yoga session, thus improving their overall mental and physical health.
4. Continued practice boosts confidence.
When your child is able to display great agility and flexibility, it does wonders for their confidence. Their improved performance at school also helps to build their self-esteem amongst their peers at school.
They'll become more poised and start to believe in their own abilities. This feeling provides them with the adrenaline they need to achieve success in all of their endeavors, and they'll take that with them through the rest of their lives.

5. Relaxed mind and awareness increases.
Even children are subject to stress these days, because of their workload at school and the high expectations that their parents have for them. They are pushed to be high achievers at every aspect of their lives, and when they fail, they might take it to heart and can even become depressed.
Yoga helps children to relax and de-stress when they feel upset or depressed. It helps them to live life in a state of higher awareness and helps to put their stresses and strains into perspective. It soothes their frayed minds and helps them get back to a calm mental state.