Wednesday, August 3, 2016

To Adjust a Child in a Yoga Posture, or Not?

Yoga teachers often physically manipulate a student’s body into alignment so that the full effect of the pose may be realized.  It can increase body awareness, openness of both body and mind…and sometimes the chance of injury.

Whereas a typical adult body is layered with emotional and physical tension, in much need of a nudge, children are more pliable and great care needs to be taken when adjusting a child in a Yoga posture, if it is to be done at all.

Less is more when it comes to what is known as “hands-on adjustments.”  In our teacher training program, our mantra is “hands off.”  Yes, human touch is deeply healing and a skillful adjustment can prompt an insight and a revelation.  But is it worth the risk?

The risks of a teacher using the hands or, as you may have experienced in your Yoga class, another part of the body to manipulate a student into a pose are many.

At the physical level, an adjustment may cause an injury.  Children do tend to bend before they break and yet muscles and tendons are still developing and too much force could cause a tear.  If you’ve ever taught Yoga to children you’ve heard an exclamation of “owww” in a Yoga pose.  Oftentimes, this is a child expressing loudly their response to novel sensations in the body.  Upon further investigation, you discover nothing is injured, but you may think twice before being a part of that “ow” experience.

At the mental/emotional level there are more reasons for not adjusting a child in a posture.  One is that to a child, an adjustment often feels like a “correction.”  They feel they are “not good at Yoga” and lose interest.  For a lifelong practice that needs to be self-initiated – this is a big loss.  In many cases, however, children relish the attention. I often hear kids call out, “Will you do that to me too?” after they’ve watched a fellow student receive an adjustment.  Which way it goes largely comes down to how the teacher presents the adjustment.  First, call it an “adjustment” and not a “correction” and let the child know the purpose for it – not that it’s a “bad” pose, but that when you gently guide a forearm back in Triangle pose, they may feel more open in the chest and experience more energy.

Also, children’s Yoga teachers must always err on the side of caution with any physical contact with students.  Some schools and institutions have rules about touch. This is often for the child’s safety and to avoid the chance that physical touch be misinterpreted as inappropriate.

There are many ways to support a child in a Yoga posture.  We can do this with our words, with our bodies mirroring the pose, with our facial expression and with our intention.  Our energetic presence is the most powerful tool we have when “adjusting” poses and facilitating an experience of Yoga for our young students.   

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Leaning Into The Light

For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, today is the longest day – the most light we get all year. The summer solstice allows us to shine.  Since we are a reflection of nature, and nature of us, this long day allows us to more fully experience our Light.

Light is not just a metaphor for awareness or consciousness, it IS awareness.  There is this fluid range of language we use to talk about this – awareness, Yoga, consciousness, spirituality, Light. 

Living in tune with the cycles of nature is a big part of living a Yoga lifestyle.  Nature is constantly changing and so are we.  And yet, there is a part of us that is unchanging.  Like the sun that does not move, does not wax or wane, and is ever present shining on all that IS equally, there is a part of us that is this way too. Aligning with nature is aligning with our self.

So, on this day of most light, there are several things both you and the kids in your life can do to both honor and experience it.  One is to simply feel the sun on your skin.  Get outside, take a deep breath and smile at the sun.  Another is to sit with your own light.  This shift from one season into the next is a great time to practice stillness and silence.  Close your eyes, breathe and feel that light shining within you.  If you regularly sit for 10 minutes, sit for 20 minutes today.  If you haven’t yet cultivated a personal meditation practice for yourself, today is the perfect day to start!

Make friends with nature.  While outside, acknowledge each and everything you see – every tree, every rock, the birds, the clouds, the stones on your path.  Say to each one, “You are my favorite tree, YOU are my favorite little squirrel, etc.  Notice how it feels to compliment nature.  You can even say, “Namasté”, the Light in me honors the Light in you.

Dance to light filled music.  Here are a couple selections to get you started. When I think of sunshine, I think of Bob Marley, and one of my favorite tunes about Light is Three Little Birds or you can enjoy a nice long Greatful Dead jam of Turn On Your Lovelight.

The only thing needed to dispel darkness is light.  To get rid of darkness in a room, we don’t try to push it away, we simply turn on the light.  If you are feeling dark and dreary about anything within you, your family or society at large, your Light WILL dispel the darkness.   A favorite meditation I use from my teacher, Rod Styker, called Meditation to Increase the Power of Soul on his Four Desires CD, can help you let your Lovelight shine! 

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Mountain That Longed To Be Different - a Book Review

In her new book, children’s Yoga specialist Lisa Roberts cleverly weaves the Sun Salutations into an engaging story about seeking and finding.

The Mountain That Longed To Be Different tells a tale children will be able to relate to and can participate in as well!  The action on each page correlates to a movement in the classic Yoga warm-up sequence called the Sun Salutations.  Children become the mountain that longed to be different and experience his story through movement.

The book also includes ideas for additional story telling with the reader being encouraged to create his own narration and her own invented Yoga pose.  We know kids love to do that.  Dozens of additional poses are illustrated at the end of the book to get the creative ideas for made up pose flows going.

Creative thinking is so important for cognitive development, as is movement.  In this new Yoga-based book, kids get both. 

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Music in Kids Yoga Classes

Three components we add to make Yoga fun and engaging for children are sound, movement and stories.  For example, when holding Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), we wag our tails and bark.  That dog could be in the forest with the hero of our story who is about to meet a dragon.

Music is one aspect of sound, movement and stories that can be engaging for children as well.  A common question is, what kind of music and when to play it?

There is a set structure to the Yoga classes we teach to children.  It begins with a quiet tuning in and moves toward active Yoga poses and games before heading back into a quieting time and into final rest and meditation.  The best time to incorporate music is during the active time.  Anything from "Here Comes The Sun" by The Beatles during Sun Salutations to "Adukbe" on Putumayo’s World Playground II album for a Freeze ‘n Flow game.

People often ask me for music recommendations and it’s tough for two reasons. One is that there is SO MUCH awesome music out there that it’s hard to choose.  Another reason is that I rarely use music in my kids Yoga classes.  We live in such a busy, noisy world, I want to give kids a chance to experience quiet.  Who knows when a spontaneous moment of silent presence will arise and I don’t want kids to lose the chance to experience it because music, however wonderful, is taking them out of the experience.

Many say that music can facilitate an experience.  That’s true too.  This is why ultimately, using music in Yoga classes for kids or adults is based on personal preference.  So, as it is with all meaningful questions about the practice of Yoga the answer depends.  It depends on your preferences and your students interests and, perhaps most importantly, your intention.  If you want your students to get a good feeling for Yoga, have fun and be interested in more, music is a great way to engage.

If your intention is to facilitate an experience of quiet and connection, music may not be indicated. As a teacher, I find music distracting.  It may or may not match the tempo and the mood of what we are doing, and I find myself turning toward the music to adjust the volume or skip to the next song instead of tuning into the kids.  I was taught to teach a traditional form of Yoga and so I have no experience making playlists to go with a Yoga practice.

If you are going to use music in class, find out what the children like. Many kids don’t like “Yoga music.”  That soft, lilting, inspiring music we love is the same music kids will openly complain about.  I’ve had older kids write down song titles and artists they recommend for Yoga practice and then I go research and listen online.  Many of the recommended songs had lyrics that did not support the Yoga philosophy. For younger kids there are many great Yoga music CDs by wonderful artists such as Kira Willey and one of our own certified teachers, Samana Lake

Playing soft tunes while children are coloring after a guided relaxation can be a lovely time for music in a kid’s Yoga class, but again I prefer to facilitate silence.  Kids revel in silence and they get so little of it in life. Learning to be comfortable with yourself in quiet moments is a powerful skill to develop. 

Try some music in class to initially engage your students and for the active segments of class.  And also be sure to include quiet components so children have a chance to tune into the music of their own heart. 

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Weaving Games into Yoga for Children

For 5 years, I taught classes at Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago.  And for those 5 years, one boy showed up for every weekly class.  It was fun to watch him grow and mature in life and with his Yoga practice.  Every once in a while, I would ask him, “Fred, what is it you like so much about Yoga?”  His reply was quick and consistent – “The games!”

It was an interesting response because during our one hour Yoga class, often just five minutes of it was games.   But as Fred would tell you, it’s an important five minutes.   While the games we play in kids Yoga classes are certainly fun, they can also reinforce the rest of the class – both the philosophy and the practice.

Games are typically slotted in towards the end of a Yoga class or home practice.  It makes sense to play a game after teaching some poses.  Also, games are reinforcing and can support children staying engaged to reap the natural reward.  And since Yoga games include Yoga poses, the relaxation we call “final rest” would follow the game.

The variety of games we play with children in the context of a Yoga class or home practice is truly endless.  We do focus on collaboration over competition and The Knot Game is a great example.  While there are no official Yoga poses in this game, children practice cooperation, coordination and spatial relations.  This can help them be more aware and connected.  And to me, that equals “Yoga.”   Check out this video explaining how to play.

Another highly requested game (and Fred’s all-time favorite) is Yoga Freeze Tag.  It’s Freeze Tag with a Yoga twist.  There are many variations and the most simple version is to have one person be “it” and to declare “no un-freeze”.  The person who is “it” tags the others who are moving around the room.  When tagged, the child “freezes” into a Yoga pose – either one chosen or one assigned by person who is “it”.  You may need to have a conversation about appropriate poses for this game – Triangle, yes…Crow, not so much).  The frozen Yoga poses become obstacles in the tag game, adding to the fun.  A smaller space is actually better for this game so it is more about strategy and less about speed.  We used to play this game often in the living room of an old Chicago mansion on the North Side that had been converted into a community center. 

Kids love the games and like Fred, it may be what keeps them coming back to class again and again for years.   In addition to five minutes of fun, they benefit from the breathing techniques, Yoga postures and deep relaxation during the other 55 minutes.  Of course, a game can take 10-20 minutes by playing a few rounds or a few different games.  It’s all up to you and you can relax knowing the kids having fun are also the kids who are learning self-regulation skills for life.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Teaching Yoga to Children With Down Syndrome

Recently, I taught a class for several families who have a child with Down syndrome.  It went much like other family yoga classes I teach in that parents and kids had a good time together, everyone got a chance to move and stretch and, perhaps most importantly, to connect and relax.

Before the class, I sent out a brief survey asking the parents what their children were interested in (so I could integrate engaging themes), what their intention was for joining the class and if there were any precautions I should be aware of. Interestingly, there were none given.

A pediatrician who consults for the organization hosting the class mentioned neck instability as a precaution and suggested no weight bearing on the head.  This neck instability, or atlantoaxial instability (AAI), is characterized by excessive movement at the junction between the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) as a result of either a bony or ligamentous abnormality.  It is estimated that about 15% of this population has AAI and X-ray, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, can detect it.

Since yoga can involve postures such as Shoulderstand and Headstand that would be contraindicated in these cases, it’s wise to inquire about this condition or avoid these postures altogether. 

Reasons parents indicated for joining the class included wanting to relax, get the kids involved in exercise and for “family focused exercise.”

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and especially important for children with Down syndrome, who may not have healthy thyroid functioning.  Low motor skills may also deter children from naturally engaging in more strenuous activities.  Yoga is a great choice because it is non-competitive and each student can practice at his or her own level.

We practiced Balloon Breath (filling up like a balloon and then falling to the floor as you “deflate”) and Sun Salutations.  We focused on strong, stable standing postures such as Triangle and Warrior II.  And, we went on a Magic Carpet Ride as a relaxation technique.

One thing I did add in to specifically address healthy thyroid function is a hand gesture or “mudra” called Garuda Mudra.  “Garuda” is a mythical Eagle from India.  Place the hands in front of you, palms facing the body.  Cross the hands until the thumbs hook and stretch the fingers away from center.  Hold this mudra at the height of the neck.  It can also promote cervical spine alignment. 

The benefits of yoga for children with Down syndrome are many.  In addition to getting in some important exercise, yoga may improve balance and stability.

Children can excel in a non-competitive activity, and it’s great for self-esteem.

As is the case with any child, with any condition, a yoga program that is tailored to meet their unique needs and interests will allow them to soar.

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