Friday, May 17, 2013
Tough love. That is what we got from His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. He was in Madison, WI this week and for the first time in my life I had a chance to be in his presence. This event was focused on a specific teaching called, “In Praise of Dependent Origination.” This short text was written over 600 years ago to praise The Buddha for his teachings on cause and effect.
The teaching itself was pretty deep and difficult to understand for many reasons – poor sound amplification coupled with the ambient noise of people shuffling around in the auditorium and a thick accent combined with a complicated topic.
To lighten it up, His Holiness sprinkled his talk with casual conversation and personal stories. His smile and laughter were like the sun and warmed the large auditorium. But his finger was like a lightening bolt as he leaned forward and implored us all to take action.
Go ahead and meditate or pray for your own internal peace, he said, but for world peace, we must get out in the world and make things happen. “I am just like you.” He said, same body, same mind, same breath. His point was that, If I can do it, you can do it too. And we SHOULD do it.
He focused special attention on a group of children sitting off to the side of the stage. When he noticed them, he turned and made a joke about them getting the day off school. He asked questions and engaged them in conversation. He focused a tremendous amount of shakti on this group of students. He knows where he has the most influence....and who has the power to make the biggest changes in our world.
His practice and his presence are a force for good in this world. The message I got from this experience is that we can be a force for good too.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
In class yesterday, the third in a six-week series titled “From Anxious to Awesome”, I was asking the mostly 9-year-old girls what they had been practicing during the week. One girl said, “Oh, Turtle in a Shell mudra. I use it all the time and I taught it to my sister and my best friend and they use it all the time too.”
Children enjoy the mudras, or yoga hand gestures. They are great “on-the-go” strategies kids can use throughout the day to self-regulate. I taught Turtle in a Shell the week before and it was this same girl who had an insight when practicing it. She said that it made her feel calm and stable and realized that this is what she could do when kids in class were bothering her. This is something that had upset her and she recognized she could handle it differently. And, based on her report in our class the following week, she did.
When sharing techniques in class, I often suggest ways to incorporate it into daily life. “You can do Switch Breath (alternate nostril breathing) in the morning before breakfast.” Or, “This Candy Cane (supine) twist can be done right in your bed before sleep or before you get up.” It’s wonderful to see a child find her own effective ways to weave yoga into her routine and it is empowering for that child to have her own set of tools to can access when needed.
For some people this mudra can feel expanding and opening. After all, “Adhi” means primordial – existing from the beginning, or as I like to say, the Oneness of it All. For most, this is a grounding, stabilizing and comforting mudra. One child said she liked it because it felt like she was giving her thumbs a hug.
To practice Turtle in a Shell, simply place your thumbs across your palms and wrap the fingers over the thumbs. Rest your hands palms face down on your knees or thighs. The mudra shapes the breath so there is no breathing technique applied while holding a mudra. This mudra often facilitates full breathing. Just notice how it affects your breathing. Hold the mudra for a few moments and welcome in the experience. Share it with a child in your life then let us know in the comments below when you like to use Turtle in a Shell.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
While offering our courses at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in The Bahamas last week, I had the chance to listen to Geshe Michael Roach give a talk on karmic seeds. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That is the law of karma. He was giving us tips on karmic gardening, so that the seeds we are planting for what we want in life grow faster and sprout sooner. Later on, I had a chance to talk with one of his students who had traveled with him. As he was further explaining how this works, I came to realize it is a lot of self-tracking.
In yoga we call this tracking “self-study” or “svadyaya.” It is one of the “Niyamas” that we have been talking about in our newsletter over the last several months. Self-study is one of three main methods Patanjali gives in the Yoga Sutras for stilling the mind, it’s that important and that effective.
Every thought, word and action is creating our world. Becoming more aware of our thoughts helps us choose more wisely. A kind thought creates a kind world. A kind deed does as well. Geshe Michael explained a specific strategy we can use to create the world we want using a method from the old books of Tibet he calls “The Four Starbucks Steps.” He told us that the only way to plant seeds is with another person. Whatever we want, we have to help another person get it. For example, if we want to get more students into our yoga class, we have to help another teacher get more students into her class. That plants a seed that will then ripen into our experience of having more students in our class. This “Starbucks” formula speeds up the whole process.
Step 1: Say what you want in life in a single, short sentence.
We need to be clear about what seed we want to plant.
Step 2: Plan who you are going to help get this same thing, and which Starbucks you are going to take them to, to talk about it.
It is important to plan exactly which Starbucks and at what exact time you plan to meet this person. It’s easy to leave it vague and then nothing happens.
Step 3: Actually DO something to help them.
Any action you take will plant a seed that has no choice but to sprout in your life.
Step 4: Do your “Coffee Meditation”.
This is the step that speeds it all up. You could be planting seeds that won’t sprout until your next lifetime. But if you do this 4th step, it could be just a few weeks or months. The coffee meditation (and I’m still not clear why it is called such) involves thinking of the good things you are doing to help this person as you drift off to sleep. Just before sleep, it’s common to think about all the negative things in life – all our worries. In this sleepy time, our mind is more receptive to suggestion. So rather than all the negative thoughts settling in, good thoughts about our good deeds settle in, take root and start to sprout.
Geshe Michael claims it is this 4th step that was his “Secret weapon” that he used to build a “zillion dollar company.” If you want to read about this, check out his book The Diamond Cutter, where he explains how he built an empire in the diamond business from nothing using purely these Buddhist principals.
Patanjali describes “self-study” in the very first line of the second chapter on practices as the process of seeing your own consciousness. With the Four Starbucks Steps from Geshe Michael, you can use self-study along with serving others to get whatever you want in life – in this lifetime.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Erica Emmendorfer is a first grade teacher at North Kenwood Oakland Charter School in Chicago and she occasionally shares her experiences of teaching yoga to the children in her classroom and in an after school program. We LOVE the way Erica incorporates the principles and practices of Yoga throughout her day to create a truly cooperative classroom.
I have found in my last eight years of teaching, that time outs can be very powerful. However, they are usually a consequence for poor choices and unacceptable behavior. They are a reactive measure. Nevertheless, that doesn’t have to always be the case. In my classroom, I try to give children a chance to recenter and refocus before a normal time out is absolutely necessary. A visit to Peace Island is my solution.
Peace Island (which doesn’t have to be called Peace Island) is a space in my classroom where children can find peace on their own. My Peace Island is a small rug separated a bit from the main activity of the classroom. At the rug, I keep a couple of yoga books and some yoga pose cards. You could go further with your decoration by including a plant, incense, and / or some comfy cushions. I like to keep mine simple to reduce the clutter in my classroom (and also because I have a black thumb).
Children are invited to visit Peace Island whenever they feel they need a moment away from the action. They can go to Peace Island and do yoga, breathing exercises, or simply sit quietly. Often children go of their own accord, but sometimes I ask them if they would like to make a trip. Sometimes I send children to Peace Island to do specific yoga poses: backbends to wake up and energize or forward folds to relax and regroup. I even send children to Peace Island when they have a tummy ache to do a wide legged forward fold or a seated twist. Peace Island can be very versatile. It provides a time out, without the negative connotations.
I work hard to ensure that Peace Island is not a punishment or consequence. I do not want that area of the room to be associated with stress or tension. I let each child know a visit to Peace Island is an opportunity to help yourself. Usually, when I send a child to Peace Island it is more of a question or invitation: “Would you like to take a minute in Peace Island before coming to the rug?” or “Would it help for you to go do some forward folds in Peace Island?” Giving children the choice empowers them and also alleviates any stress that a normal time out might bring. A small note about inviting - be ready for and accepting of a child who decides not to go.
I like to think of Peace Island as a preventative time out (maybe the most powerful time out of all). As an adult, I wish that I myself had more opportunities to take time outs when my stress level rises dangerously high. My students and I use a visit to Peace Island to prevent poor choices, to alleviate the wiggles, to blow off some steam, and to steal a moment of peace and quiet in an otherwise hectic day.
I hope that in the near future you can enjoy a visit to your own version Peace Island.
- Setting a timer in Peace Island might be necessary for those students who like to linger.
- Teaching children the energetic benefits of yoga poses will help them to be more mindful about the yoga practice in Peace Island. They will benefit more from each trip.
- Peace Island is almost always a solitary place. It is very hard to find true peace and quiet when you have company ;)
Do you have something like a "Peace Island" in your home or classroom? We'd love to hear what practices and techniques have worked for you in the comments below.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
One of the many things I enjoy about teaching courses at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat in The Bahamas is the international crowd. It is incredibly heartening to meet so many people from all over the world who are passionate about sharing the practice of yoga for children.
One woman who attended our workshop is a 6th grade teacher in Canada. She is already sharing yoga practices with her students and wants to start an afterschool yoga club. Another student lives in Anguilla and plans to add children’s yoga to the other yoga classes offered at a five star resort. Others are from Israel, France and the US.
Two had just completed an intensive month long, 200-hour teacher training and knew they wanted to add the unique skills of teaching yoga to children to their newfound vocation. Moms were attending to learn how to better help their children deal with anxiety and everyday stressors; others were continuing to build their repertoire of techniques to effectively engage children in yoga. The 3-day course ended today with a beautiful ceremony of offering flowers and fruit and a reminder to continue to study, practice and teach.
There is no way I would have the chance to directly teach the children in these women’s lives so the opportunity to come together on Paradise Island to share and laugh and learn creates a ripple that spreads out across the globe. One-by-one, teacher-by-teacher and student-by-student we are changing the world for the better through this life-affirming practice.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Understanding some basic concepts from Ayurveda can help you make smarter choices about what the children in your life need to thrive. It can also help you better understand why they may be feeling or behaving the way they are.
Ayurveda is a beautiful health system from India, it is the sister science to yoga and developed along side yoga thousands of years ago. This same system is still used today. The word Ayurveda means “knowledge of life.” Just like the practice of yoga, it recognizes that the body and mind are interrelated and an imbalance in one can lead to an imbalance in the other.
Ayurveda sees the human body and mind as made up of some unique combination of the five elements in nature – earth, water, fire, air and space. Think of the qualities of earth – stable, solid, immovable. Water is flowing, connecting, powerful. Fire is hot and light. Air is quick and changeable. Space is open and expansive. Consider how your own mind and your body has these qualities. In Ayurveda, these five elements combine into three doshas, or “constitution.” We don’t each have an equal amount of all five elements. Some are more grounded, stable…and can be stubborn. Others are intense, natural born leaders…and quick to temper. Understanding someone’s constitution can help you plan meals and routines, including a yoga practice, that allow their natural elements to be in balance.
For example, someone with a lot of earth and water in their constitution will show qualities of mud – very steady routine, less inclined toward physical activity and with children – mucus. Knowing this, you can add in a little fire element. Get them moving to create heat, for example.
Ayurveda is a very complex topic. When I first started learning about Ayurveda back in India almost 20 years ago, I literally found myself in tears of frustration trying to figure out if I was supposed to eat tomatoes or not, according to my constitution and current imbalance. But it is so valuable to understanding our health and wellness, I made a free educational video , as part of a three-part series to further explain it. I promise this video won’t leaving you crying, in fact, it will likely make you laugh. When you register for this video, you will get one delivered to your inbox every few days. You can see previous blog posts on the other two videos too.