Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Power of your Breath

Students often ask me why they are supposed to breathe with their nose and belly.. Some explanations below!

"Take a moment to think about your breath: Is it deep or 
shallow? Slow or fast? It’s interesting that it can take a few moments to figure out our patterns of breathing, even though it’s something we’re always doing. The reason most of us can’t pinpoint what’s happening right away is because breathing happens unconsciously: It’s part of the autonomic nervous system, which tells our internal organs (like the diaphragm and lungs) to function without our conscious control. Yet unlike other functions our autonomic nervous system regulates—like digestion and circulation—breathing can also be voluntarily regulated. And when I teach patients and yoga students how to do this, it can transform their practice.
For starters, regulating the breath through a 
technique commonly called “belly breathing” creates more capacity to take bigger breaths. People often 
tell me that just 10 minutes of belly breathing seems to help their breathing feel “freer.” In turn, this leads them to tune in to the energetic center in the abdominal area, where the “belly brain” lives. Finally, there’s an energetic shift that happens when you’re able to control your breath with belly breathing. You may start to see the breath as not just air, but also as energy moving within your body. When this happens, you’re really tapping into the power of breathing.
Before learning how to belly-breathe, 
it helps to understand the basic anatomy 
of the breath. Respiration happens in two phases: inspiration (inhaling) and expiration (exhaling). Normal, restful breathing primarily uses the diaphragm, whereas exercise or exertion recruits the accessory muscles 
of breathing—the intercostal and upper 
thoracic muscles, near the ribs and chest, respectively—to further expand the chest. 
A full yogic breath is based on diaphragmatic, or belly, breathing, but includes intercostal and upper thoracic breathing as well.
When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts, flattening out and pressing down on the abdomen, which in turn expands the chest. At the same time, the external intercostal muscles (located between the ribs) work to lift and expand the chest by drawing the ribs upward and out, increasing the capacity for volume in the chest. A deep breath also activates the accessory muscles 
of breathing, including the pectorals, serratus anterior, rhomboids, and middle trapezius, which all work to expand and lift the upper chest. Finally, there are the scalene muscles, which run from the cervical spine (a.k.a. your neck) to the upper two ribs. You can feel these muscles contract by placing your fingers on either side of your neck and taking a deep, sharp inhalation. The scalene muscles work along with the diaphragm and intercostals to balance the expansion of the lower ribs by lifting the upper chest.
This increased volume in the chest not only makes room for the air coming into 
the lungs, it also changes the atmospheric pressure inside the lungs, creating a vacuum that actually draws air in. At the end of inhalation, the diaphragm relaxes, returning to its domelike structure, which initiates your exhale. This, along with the elastic recoil of the structures of the chest wall and contraction of the internal intercostals and accessory muscles of exhalation, raises the pressure within the thorax (the area between the 
neck and the abdomen), causing the air 
in the lungs to be expelled.
Since breathing starts with the diaphragm, I begin breathing techniques with belly breathing. Lie down, with one block under your upper back and another under your head; you can also lie over a bolster. 
As you inhale, actively expand your abdomen—though try not to let your chest expand until the last few seconds of your inhale. Then release and exhale, letting the abdomen fall and tightening it at the very end of your exhalation: This fully pushes your diaphragm up into its domelike shape. Repeat this cycle for three minutes, and build up to five or six minutes over time. When you feel like you’ve got the hang of this, transition into a seated position and do the same thing.
To prep your body to engage the muscles of breathing, you may want to create physical space with asana so that tight muscles don’t inhibit your effort to expand your breath. The goal of developing a deeper belly breath 
is to enhance your awareness of the breath circumferentially
—around your entire thorax—including 
your sides 
and front and back body. To do this, practice poses that release tension from the belly, ribs, 
and back by stretching the thorax up and away from the pelvis. Try the poses below before your pranayama practice, and then see how much freer your breath feels and how much more in tune you become with your belly brain.

What is the 
“belly brain”?

This may come as a surprise, but we actually have a brain in the solar plexus (located at the pit of the stomach) that’s referred to as the “belly brain.” It is your gut feeling, and it functions largely unconsciously. In fact, most people only become aware of the belly brain in extreme situations, in which survival instincts kick in and override the “thinking brain.”
Nearly all of the practices developed to heighten awareness of the “belly brain” involve some variation of belly breathing. Beyond the calming effects of a regular belly-breathing practice, there’s a good chance you’ll also have enhanced awareness of any negative influences affecting you beyond your conscious awareness."
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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How to raise creative kids

Some ways of encouraging our kids creativity!

"How to raise creative kids: the benefits of play for innovative, independent thinking

"Many of us spend our adulthoods trying to reclaim our creative side, but we never have to ‘lose’ it in the first place. Anna Salaman, Executive Director of Playeum, shares how you can encourage your child to explore their creative side, and put them on the path for a lifetime of innovative thinking…

First, know that your child is already capable of great creativity!

Remember those days as a kid when you’d spend hours happily drawing, painting, making your own toys and tinkering? Having room in our lives to play, create and let our imaginations run free shouldn’t be relegated to childhood, but encouraging your child’s creative side now can be crucial in so many ways. It is becoming increasingly evident that creative thinking and doing is the key to navigating life in the 21st century.
How can parents help their kids to stay imaginative and inspired? There are many ways to be creative, and these tips focus on the creative process of making new things, whether they are objects or artworks…
1. Know that your child is already creative
Studies have shown that children are significantly more ‘divergent’ in their thinking, meaning that they have a much deeper capacity than adults to come up with new ideas. If you hold this in mind, you will respect your child for what they are – amazing imaginative and capable creators.
2. Understand the benefits of play and creativity
For decades, studies have proven that creativity brings wide-ranging benefits to children. Amongst others, an exploratory, open-ended and creative approach has been evidenced to:
  • Lengthen the child’s focus and concentration
  • Improve behavioural difficulties
  • Assist children in self-expression
  • Help with memory retention
  • Boost the child’s self-confidence as a learner
  • Develop perseverance and maturity
An important realisation for children during the creative process is that failure is not failure, it’s learning.

3. Allow time for creativity to take place
We’ve all been there, despairing as our child seems glued to the screen, but not quite knowing how to steer them away from it. The first thing you can do is change your mind-set: be determined that this pattern will be disrupted by replacing screen time with creative pursuits. Talk with your child about this so that you make the decision together on how much time they allocate to both activities. As a rule, try to double the amount of play/making time they are used to, and stick to the decisions you make together.
This sounds easier said than done, and it is true that new regimes take time to get established. You may need to be very active at the start, talking with your child about what they may like to create. If they are still reluctant, you can always start making something yourself. You may find that they wander over to see what you are doing, and soon they will have ideas on what they would like to do themselves.
 4. Allocate a space for the activity
If you can, make some room for a permanent space dedicated purely for making activities. This alone indicates that playing and creative activity is worthwhile, but also usefully contains the activity if you don’t have large rooms. A making table is ideal, with a stool that your child can sit on as they work. If this isn’t possible, the floor is also fine but do work hard at keeping it clear and used exclusively for making and creating.
5. Provide resources in the allocated space
A wide range of resources can be inspiring for children and spark off ideas. Accessible, recycled resources are ideal as they are free and readily available. Corks, chopsticks, skewers, card, bottles and packaging – all can be repurposed imaginatively. Paper and art materials are also important, along with fixing materials (tape, glue, string, rubber bands).
Primary-aged children are extremely capable with tools and materials, which means you can provide more sophisticated tools than you might at first think. Along with a good pair of scissors, tools can include an awl, nails and a hammer. With some initial guidance, you could also provide a hot glue gun, which can fix wood together very effectively.
Over time, you could add LEDs, coin batteries and copper tape. Stand back and watch how your child works out how to make a simple circuit or add flashing lights to their creation.
These all take up space, so it’s worth investing in storage such as drawers, baskets and other containers to ensure they’re organised and accessible at all times.

6. Let them do it for themselves
Assisting your child with something they are physically unable to do themselves is useful, of course, along with getting them started on a project if they are reluctant or lacking inspiration. However, your child will become a more confident learner if you stand back, watch and give positive encouragement, rather than if you actively contribute to the making process. Again, this sounds easy but it’s very tempting to lean forward and tell your child it might work better if they did it ‘this way’. Don’t! Let them work it out for themselves, even if they are getting frustrated.

Why is this so important?
If the child does something themselves, they feel pride and achievement, and they have also learnt the important lesson that continuing to try to do something transforms failure into ‘learning’ and that it’s ‘part of the process’. If you jump in, you run the risk of disrupting that fragile development process.
The successful completion of this process results in a sense of achievement. After achievement, comes confidence. With confidence, comes continued experimentation. With continued experimentation, comes creativity and innovation. Then you probably have a very enthusiastic child willing to try new things, who is not afraid to fail, and who wants to try out some other activities on their own too. So failure is not final; it is part of the process, and as the parent, you can encourage the child through it."


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What to do in Child Pose

I often indicate my students to "just relax" in child pose.. whereas there's so much else to do and enjoy!

Most yoga teachers will tell you to ‘come down to Child’s pose’ if you feel tired, overwhelmed, or in need of a rest during class. But Child’s pose doesn’t have to be a snooze.
Yes — Child’s pose or Balasana is very good for relaxing, especially if you drop to the floor for a rest to break up a set of strong balancing postures or in between sequences in a Warrior flow.
It can be a great transitional posture, releasing the lower back after deep back bending and providing a re-set for the nervous system between long-held yin postures.
And while Child’s pose may be child’s play, the seemingly simple nature of the asana may mask its many benefits and the ability to use the posture for more than a flop and drop.
Breath Awareness
There are few other postures that offer an opportunity for breath awareness like Child’s pose.
When we lie in Child’s pose, the abdomen is constricted against the thighs, which constrains our full-frontal chest breathing (the normal way we breathe). So the belly can only expand so far with the inhale breath, and if we want to inhale deeply we have to breathe around the ribs and into the back of the lungs.
While it may feel uncomfortable, being forced to breathe slower and longer is good for you – helping to slow down the heart rate, which in turn helps slow down breathing. Focus on the lower back gently rising (inhale) and falling (exhale) and ideally adopt the Ujjayi breath.
Feel the breath as it travels over the back of the throat on the inhale and exhale and create a rasping, oceanic sound so that the breath becomes a gentle wave.
Deeper Internalisation
If you are feeling distracted in class or lacking in focus, Child’s pose will certainly help you get back ‘in the zone’. I can’t help but close my eyes in the posture, and I often use it as a chance to massage my third-eye (the space between the eyebrows) into the mat.
This stimulates our seat of intuition and divine wisdom, massaging into the pituitary gland and stimulating right back into the pineal gland, helping with hormone regulation.
Essentially, it feels like you can go deep inside yourself in Child’s pose, and if you adopt the classical version, with hands loosely by your side, palms facing upwards beside your feet, you will get a real sense of being in utero – cocooned within the womb like an unborn baby.
That sense of safety and deep nurturing can be very healing if you allow yourself to sink softly into it.  As an unborn baby you had nothing to do and nowhere to be – the idea of rekindling that feeling in our busy lives sure sounds good.
Preparation for Forward Bends
Beginners can also use Balasana to get a taste of a deep forward bend and it’s possible to be quite active in a Child’s pose.
Pressure into the palms will soften the shoulders, while working (or melting) the sit bones back to the heels through breath control and the slow opening up and stretching of the sacral and lumbar spine.
If you open your knees apart (wide-leg Child’s pose), the belly and chest will freely sink to the mat and the hips can stretch and open.
Soften, Soften, Soften
Child’s pose is the perfect posture for learning the art of softening. Softening is different to resting. If you have an attitude of ‘go hard’ in other postures and use the Child’s pose simply to switch off, you may miss the subtleties of softening into every posture.
You can deepen into every posture, even a Warrior pose, simply by taking a softer, gentler attitude.
Try thinking of Child’s pose as a resting posture but not just a rest. Instead, you softly open up the lower spine and hips and stretch the shoulders by being active, not passive. The active part is your focused attention, breath and surrender into the depths of the posture. This is different from both the action of pushing/striving and the inaction of flopping.
Work the Posture Incrementally
With the time you take to relax in Child’s pose, you can inch your fingers forward until your forearms lift off the mat. You can spread the fingers and press the palms more firmly into the mat and so send your weight back over your heels as you work your shoulders away and down, surrendering the armpits and chest closer to the mat.
All postures offer the opportunity for subtle, incremental changes to achieve better alignment and more depth, but few offer the chance to so easily and steadily work towards fullest expression like Child’s pose.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Tachning Meditation to children

For younger kids, I finish classes with what I call a relaxation moment, where I ask then to visualise parts of their body for instance... First step into meditation!

"Introducing children to yoga, meditation, and spirituality is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. It can set their future on a nourishing and creative course. As teachers, we need to know how to present this knowledge so that children of different ages will receive the most benefit from it.

When we teach meditation children, we need to choose age-appropriate techniques that foster their total growth and development. The word “meditation” is an English term for a wide range of practices and techniques. Meditations for children cannot be the same as those taught to middle-aged business people or spiritual aspirants seeking higher knowledge. Rather, in this context, meditation is a process that supports the growth of the body-mind of the child, fosters the development of each child’s own unique personality, and supports creativity and expression.
Meditation techniques for children can help them relax and focus better during school, so that they can concentrate and memorize more effectively. From the spiritual perspective, good meditation techniques teach children self-awareness, encourage them to be themselves, and help them face life with greater belief in their potential.
There are three broad age groups that we need to consider when teaching yoga to children: those below the age of eight years, children between the age of eight and puberty, and post-pubertal teens.

Meditation for Children Below Eight Years

From the point of view of yogic physiology, children below age eight do not need much formal meditation training. It is more important for these children that their parents learn yoga and meditation and carry yogic principles into their homes. Children absorb the energy of the environment. If their parents practice some form of self-development, their children will grow up in a healthier, more relaxed and aware environment.
Parents need to practice meditation techniques that increase their own capacity for awareness in the midst of their busy lives, so that they can be more present and available to their children. The child needs to know that a parent is really interested in them, is really listening to and attending to them. At the same time, parents need to learn how to allow children to be themselves and to foster each child’s own unique being and abilities.
One meditation technique can be used with children in this age group, however. A modified practice of yoga nidra is a deep relaxation practice in the Corpse Pose (Savasana). In this practice we cannot ask the children to feel individual parts of the body, but rather we work with awareness of larger parts. For example, we may playfully instruct the child in body awareness by saying, “Feel that you are a statute until I count to 10. Now bend your elbows and now straighten your arms.” We give similar instructions with the legs and may ask them to wiggle their toes, and so on. This takes their awareness through the body.
Once children have developed a little body awareness, we can teach them to listen to and follow outside sounds, or to visualize imaginary realms, or we can read stories that stimulate their imaginations.

Meditation for Children From Eight to Puberty

By the age of eight, a child’s fundamental personality has formed and his or her body begins a process of preparing for puberty. Changes begin to occur in children’s brains around the age of eight, and these changes reach a peak during puberty. When we teach meditation to this age group, our main aim is to support balanced physical and mental development. This helps the child be better mentally prepared for the onslaught of feelings, desires, and urges that arise during puberty. It also supports the child’s ability to take in knowledge at school, and to develop a relaxed focus and good memory.
Eight-year-olds in India learn three practices to foster total physical, mental, and spiritual development. These are Sun Salutation for the body, alternate nostril breathing for the brain and mind, and mantras for the deeper mind and spirit. These practices can slow the onset of puberty and balance its effects by acting on the subtle channels that flow in the spine. Mental development then has time to catch up to physical changes.
Yogic physiology explains how this occurs. A child’s physical changes during puberty are under the control of pingala nadi, the spinal channel that carries prana, the life force. Mental development occurs under the control of ida nadi, the spinal channel that carries psychological force. Excessive stimulation of the physical channel alone, as tends to occur in the normal social environment, causes imbalanced development and can make puberty a rough process. The yogic practices taught children at this time stimulate both channels equally, to stimulate physical and mental growth at the same time.
The practice of Sun Salutation balances the life force, prana, preventing it from becoming jammed up in the sexual centers (swadhisthana chakra). One note of caution is to teach children only asanas that are playful and that do not put too much pressure on the endocrine system. Never hold the major poses for extended periods, as they will overstimulate the physical systems and can cause imbalanced development.
Alternate nostril breathing is a pre-meditative practice that balances the flow of energy in both ida and pingala. This pranayama directly affects the physical and mental systems by balancing both sides of the brain. Do not teach breath retention to children. Simply get them to observe the flow of the breath in on one side and out on the other, alternating sides. This will calm and balance them.
Mantras are the main meditative practices taught to this age group, as they powerfully affect the brain and its development. The main mantra taught is the Gayatri mantra. This mantra has 24 syllables, each of which stimulates a different part of the brain. Gayatri is the mantra to stimulate our intelligence.
All of the practices listed above, including yoga nidra as detailed for younger children, will support a child’s ability to learn, to take in and digest information at school, and to develop individual interests.


Our students in the post-pubertal stage of adolescence can engage in more classical forms of meditation. We can teach them techniques that further support their mental development, for example, so that they can stay relaxed and able to concentrate during these most important learning years.
Again, one of the best practices to teach is yoga nidra. This time we can use the adult form, rotating the awareness through the body parts and then taking awareness deeper into the breath and mind.
Visualization techniques are wonderful for this age group, and techniques that develop memory and mental power are particularly useful. For example, we can ask a child to visualize an imaginary blackboard and ask them to see themselves writing the letters of the alphabet on this board in colored chalk. Or in this day and age, to visualize a computer screen and see themselves creating their own computer game, following their hero through any story they want to create.
Breath meditations are useful for helping students who are at home studying. It is important for students to remain relaxed and receptive, and to take regular productive and relaxing breaks from study. They can, if they wish, use that time to mentally review their work."

Source: Dr. Swami Shankardev,

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Yoga vs. PE at School

Benefits of Kids Yoga are indubitable. That's why more and more schools open theirs doors to it. Next step for So Yoga: integrate Yoga as PE, instead of ECA!

"In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents, which means that more than one third of the US nation’s youth are overweight or obese (CDC, 2015). This epidemic of childhood obesity comes with an array of tragic and familiar, consequences, both in the short and long term.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease. Diabetes, cancer, stroke. 

The issue is urgent, not just for our youth, but for us as parents, as teachers, as caretakers and as trusted adults, to provide them guidance, support and environment for a healthier future. It’s clear that the children in our country deserve a better solution than what we’ve been giving them, and the time is now.
Of course, it is well known that good nutrition and physical activity are foundational for the healthy development and weight maintenance of children and teens. And being that our children and teens spend, on average, 7 hours of their day at school, we believe that schools have the power to have a positive impact on student health outcomes, particularly through the inclusion of exercise during P.E. and recess.
Yoga as P.E.
As a part of the effort to get our schools and students moving, yoga provides one way of enriching the standard Physical Education curriculum to be at once more inclusive and more relevant to students of any age. Not only does yoga build upon basic tenants of physical fitness, such as muscle strength, bone strength and flexibility, but it does so in a way that is developmentally appropriate, accessible, and non-competitive for students of diverse capacities.
Even better?
Yoga Ed. actually goes beyond the traditional model of P.E. to enhance self-awareness, self-management and self-efficacy, helping students to build essential life skills and draw connections to their everyday life in a way that team sports may not. In other words, yoga helps students develop concrete tools that empower them to take charge of their own health, not just to excel on the field. They learn to observe their needs and their environment, and get intentional about how they feed, move, and respect their bodies for the long-term.
Starting with the Basics
For any physical activity for children and teens to be successful in cultivating healthier outcomes, it must actually get students to actually be physically active. Yoga does this, and quite well. As a weight-bearing activity, yoga stimulates bone growth and development, and can lead to greater muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. In fact, researchers at the Los Angeles Charter College of Education found that students who participated in Yoga Ed. classes experienced significant gains in upper body strength over one year when compared to school district means (Slovacek, Tucker, & Pantoja, 2003). And although not all yoga is necessarily aerobic exercise, classes that do get students’ hearts pumping can help improve cardiovascular fitness. Research suggests that yoga can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and mediate blood sugar (McCall, 2007), and a regular yoga practice has even demonstrated significant effects on the management of obesity (Rioux & Ritenbaugh, 2013).
Of course, the same could be argued for most activities in any given P.E. class, so how does yoga compare? One study conducted at Sunset Beach Elementary School in Hawaii revealed that students who participated in the Yoga Ed. curriculum as an alternative to P.E. actually recorded an increase in the number of steps per minute compared to their peers in the traditional P.E. class. They were more active at school, and even more, yoga students demonstrated an increase in moderate to vigorous physical activity and a decrease in sedentary behavior and stress outside of class as well (Armenta et al, 2014). More movement, in school and out. We’d call that a good start.

Above & Beyond

But yoga does so much more than get students’ bodies moving, and it actually helps to fulfill needs that a traditional P.E. curriculum typically does not. For one, in most team sports, the activities typically aren’t focused on developing a child’s individual development, sense of balance and space, and general coordination. While kids may learn very specific skill sets such as kicking or throwing, they don’t often come away with an improved sense of holistic body-awareness.
Peter Balding, a Physical Education teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii, realized that upon integrating Yoga Ed. into his classes, his students developed body strength and flexibility that served them in their development and in their everyday lives, outside of sports and outside of class. With so much time spent in class or in front of a computer, television or phone, many kids and teens miss out on developing that pivotal bodily awareness, and may not know their bodies well enough to really take control of their health.
Yoga gives them that control, and does even more to promote their wellness through the development of key social, emotional, cognitive and academic life skills, such as attention and focus, decision-making, cooperation, stress management and empathy.
Through Yoga Ed. lesson plans, students are given time to be introspective, to slow down and be quiet within their bodies, while simultaneously being challenged to ask big questions and take more ownership of their thoughts, feelings and actions. In the end, this means students that are not just healthier, but more prepared to face future challenges with confidence and resilience.

All According to Plan

Getting yoga incorporated into the P.E. curriculum doesn’t have to be daunting, especially because Yoga Ed. reinforces the National Standards for Physical Education and Health that are already in place, in the United States and abroad. Yoga doesn’t overturn the current system, it simply offers a fresh perspective on how students can improve their own fitness and experience exercise in a new way.
Let’s get our students moving toward health, but let’s do it mindfully, in a way that meets their needs as a whole, and treats them as more than a health statistic. With yoga as a part of our P.E. plan, we can start to do just that."

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Shaking Muscles

I might no longer say "Shaking is good", but "Take it easy" instead!

Shaking muscles and too much quivering may be a sign of overworking. Learn why you should slow down and listen to your body.
Muscles are made up of many fibers. When a muscle is used, not all the fibers contract at the same time. Some rest while the others work, and then they trade places. When the muscles are really challenged, the changeovers can get a little ragged.
Beginning yogis often shake quite a lot. As muscles get stronger from regular practice, the fibers learn to trade off between firing and resting with smoother coordination. Eventually quivering often subsides (though there will always be teachers who turn students into yoga jelly, independent of their strength).
To calm the body, try to hug the quivering (contracting) muscle against its underlying bone and press the bone into the muscle being stretched.
Quivering is not necessarily bad, but it may be a sign that the body is overworked. Several years ago, when slugger Mark McGwire was mired in a terrible slump, a sportscaster asked Mac’s hitting coach what the problem was. The coach opined that McGwire was trying too hard, and needed to “try easier.”
Tune into the brain, the eyes, the root of the tongue, and, most of all, the breath. If any of these areas feel hard or constricted, take the coach’s advice: Try easier."

Benefits of yoga for kids

One more article highlighting the pluses of Kids Yoga...I like the approach and the vision from an experienced teacher:

"Our children live in a hurry-up world of busy parents, school pressures, incessant lessons, video games, malls, and competitive sports. We usually don’t think of these influences as stressful for our kids, but often they are. The bustling pace of our children’s lives can have a profound effect on their innate joy—and usually not for the better.
I have found that yoga can help counter these pressures. When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that’s noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children.
Children derive enormous benefits from yoga. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with the inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. Yoga brings that marvelous inner light that all children have to the surface.
When yogis developed the asanas many thousands of years ago, they still lived close to the natural world and used animals and plants for inspiration—the sting of a scorpion, the grace of a swan, the grounded stature of a tree. When children imitate the movements and sounds of nature, they have a chance to get inside another being and imagine taking on its qualities. When they assume the pose of the lion (Simhasana) for example, they experience not only the power and behavior of the lion, but also their own sense of power: when to be aggressive, when to retreat. The physical movements introduce kids to yoga’s true meaning: union, expression, and honor for oneself and one’s part in the delicate web of life.
A Child’s Way
Yoga with children offers many possibilities to exchange wisdom, share good times, and lay the foundation for a lifelong practice that will continue to deepen. All that’s needed is a little flexibility on the adult’s part because, as I quickly found out when I first started teaching the practice to preschoolers, yoga for children is quite different than yoga for adults.
Six years ago, I had my first experience teaching yoga to kids at a local Montessori school. I looked forward to the opportunity with confidence—after all, I’d been teaching yoga to adults for quite a while, had two young children of my own, and had taught creative writing for several years in various Los Angeles schools. But after two classes with a group of 3 to 6-year-olds, I had to seriously reevaluate my approach. I needed to learn to let go (the very practice I had been preaching for years) of my agenda and my expectations of what yoga is and is not.
When I began to honor the children’s innate intelligence and tune in to how they were instructing me to instruct them, we began to co-create our classes. We used the yoga asanas as a springboard for exploration of many other areas—animal adaptations and behavior, music and playing instruments, storytelling, drawing—and our time together became a truly interdisciplinary approach to learning. Together we wove stories with our bodies and minds in a flow that could only happen in child’s play.
The kids began to call me Mrs. Yoga, and I called them Yoga Kids. We continued to work and play together until our creations bloomed into a program called YogaKids. The program combines yogic techniques designed especially for children using Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner, an author and professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, describes eight intelligences innate in all of us—linguistic, logical, visual, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal—and emphasizes that children should be given the opportunity to develop and embody as many of these as possible.
In keeping with this theory, YogaKids integrates storytelling, games, music, language, and other arts into a complete curriculum that engages the “whole child.” We employ ecology, anatomy, nutrition, and life lessons that echo yogic principles of interdependence, oneness, and fun. Most of all, our program engages the entire mind, body, and spirit in a way that honors all the ways children learn.
Taking the Practice Home
If you’re planning to teach yoga to kids, there are a few general things to know that will enhance your experience. The greatest challenge with children is to hold their attention long enough to teach them the benefits of yoga: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being. Luckily, most children love to talk, and they love to move—both of which can happen in yoga. Children will jump at the chance to assume the role of animals, trees, flowers, warriors. Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in the dog pose, hiss in the cobra, and meow in cat stretch. They can also recite the ABCs or 123s as they are holding poses. Sound is a great release for children and adds an auditory dimension to the physical experience of yoga.
Children need to discover the world on their own. Telling them to think harder, do it better, or be a certain way because it’s good for them is not the optimal way. Instead, provide a loving, responsive, creative environment for them to uncover their own truths. As they perform the various animal and nature asanas, engage their minds to deepen their awareness. When they’re snakes (Bhujangasana), invite them to really imagine that they’re just a long spine with no arms and legs. Could you still run or climb a tree? In Tree Pose (Vrksasana), ask them to imagine being a giant oak, with roots growing out of the bottoms of their feet. Could you stay in the same position for 100 years? If you were to be chopped down, would that be OK? Would it hurt?
When they stretch like a dog, balance like a flamingo, breathe like a bunny, or stand strong and tall like a tree, they are making a connection between the macrocosm of their environment and the microcosm of their bodies. The importance of reverence for all life and the principle of interdependence becomes apparent. Children begin to understand that we are all made of the same “stuff.” We’re just in different forms.
Think of yourself as a facilitator rather than a teacher. Guide your children while simultaneously opening your heart and letting them guide you. They’ll no doubt invite you into a boundless world of wonder and exploration. If you choose to join them, the teaching/learning process will be continually reciprocal and provide an opportunity for everyone to create, express themselves, and grow together."