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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Kids Yoga Teacher Dress Code

What you wear for personal practice and what you wear when you teach are likely two different outfits, especially when teaching Yoga to children.  It’s common for Yoga students today to wear barely-there tight fitting tops and bottoms, along with armfuls of bangles and beads when taking group classes.  None of this is really appropriate when teaching kids.

Modesty is key.  Cover the shoulders and the belly.  It is both more respectful and less distracting when the teacher is wearing something not-too-tight and not too revealing.   It may seem obvious, but wear a top with a high enough neckline so that when you are in Plank pose in a circle, the kids don’t see right down your shirt.  Also, a top with longer length will keep the belly covered when you reach your arms up. I used to have a silver navel ring and when I was wearing a shorter top and reached my arms up, the kids would exclaim, “Oooh, your belly-button is pierced!”  Not the best focus for class. 

Jewelry can also be a distraction, and even dangerous.  Loose beads and bells can get caught on a student’s body or clothing (awkward!), they are visually distracting and often their movement can be heard during final rest.   Giving kids a chance to rest deeply is critical.  Don’t let a wardrobe choice rob them of it.

Consider the culture. A colleague of mine noticed that when she taught in the rougher neighborhoods of Chicago, it was important that she didn’t look too “pretty” or well-manicured.  She preferred to wear a looser T-Shirt rather than a brand name “Yoga” top.  It made her more relatable to the children; they listened better and learned more Yoga. 

In some traditions the teacher will wear tighter clothes or expose more bare skin so students can see the subtle actions of a pose.  It makes sense for adults, but I don’t recommend it in kids’ Yoga classes.  They are not practicing at that level of detail until they are a bit older and then it’s even more important to be modest.  Preteen boys can be amazingly distractible, if you know what I mean. 

Sometimes, I even teach in loose stretchy jeans when I go into schools.  Not ideal for a belly-down pose like Bow (Dhanurasana), but if that is what the kids I’m teaching are wearing, it makes sense.  It also helps me be more aware of the limitations they have in their jeans and that we probably don’t want to spend too much time in the Bow pose!  I’m not practicing, I’m teaching – walking around a lot more than staying on my mat in a pose.  Also, it’s practical and shows that you don’t need a fancy outfit to benefit from Yoga. 

When I started teaching Yoga to children, back in 1999, I had recently completed my 200-hour basic Yoga teacher training from the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta ashram in Kerala, India.  We had a teacher’s uniform.  It was a baggy yellow T-Shirt and long white cotton pants.  The traditional garb of Yoga is loose, white, pure cotton clothing.  It’s modest and allows room for movement. Either of these choices, though not hip, is perfect for teaching kids Yoga.

Clothing is a personal choice and a reflection of who you are.  As Alicia Keys says in regards to fashion, “Do you.” You can choose an outfit that makes you feel good, says who you are and is still modest and respectful to your young students. 

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Help A Child Develop an Inner Resource

Children who attend school in the city of Baltimore are exposed to violence, crime and poverty at a rate that would be hard for many of us to comprehend.   They need to develop a technique to feel safe inside themselves, regardless of the situation around them.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to teach the practice of Yoga Nidra to teachers of kids Yoga in Baltimore.  We deconstructed the practice of Yoga Nidra to make it safe, effective and engaging for children. These teachers will now be able to weave this practice into their classes where they teach through the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF).  The founders of HLF (read more about them in this previous blog), have been teaching kids Yoga in Baltimore for so long, their former students are now young adults and have become teachers for the foundation. Several of these long-time practitioners, along with new teachers, participated in this weekend training.

According to research published in the book Overcoming Trauma Through Yoga by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD, every year 1 out of 25 children in the United States experiences some form of abuse.  They go on to state that, “By the time a child reaches the age of eighteen, the probability that he or she will have been directly affected by interpersonal or community violence is approximately one in four.”

Kids need an inner resource.   An inner resource is a technique developed by Richard Miller, who modernized the traditional practice of Yoga Nidra and now calls it iRest® Yoga Nidra.  He added this inner resource piece to the practice when he realized that those he was working with would come upon the memory of trauma and be overwhelmed by it.

The inner resource is a tool to use when what we are experiencing feels overwhelming.  We always have a choice.  We can welcome and allow whatever is arising – a thought, a memory, a body sensation – or, if it’s too much, we can retreat to our inner resource. 

In trauma, choice was taken away.  Whether it was a car accident, a natural disaster or abuse, the body’s safety mechanism was overridden by an outside source.

Research has shown that iRest Yoga Nidra effectively reduces PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain and chemical dependency.  iRest is integrative in that it heals the various unresolved issues, traumas, and wounds that are present in the body and mind. It is restorative in that it aids its practitioners in recognizing their underlying peace of mind that is always present amidst the changing circumstances of life.

To help a child develop an inner resource, invite them to relax and casually begin to consider a place or an experience where they feel safe and at ease.  It could be a place in their own home, in nature, somewhere they have been on vacation or a fantastical place they create in their mind.  Ultimately, it is a felt experience of wellbeing that is always with us regardless of what is happening around us.

Some kids will need help discovering this inner resource. Home may not feel safe, they may not have had much exposure to natural surroundings and may have never taken a vacation.  Through discussion, storytelling and art children can learn to cultivate a “special place” within themselves.  It’s all about the felt sensation in the body of safety and ease.  We can help a child tune in to and cultivate that.

A favorite way to get to an inner resource is by Magic Carpet Ride.  A child imagines he or she is on a magic carpet woven especially for them, of all their favorite colors and they are safely and gently lifted up and carried on a journey to this inner resource.  Here, they explore the sensory experiences of it – sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch. This helps make it more tangible and to be able to more easily get into this experience quickly and completely when whatever is arising in life feels overwhelming.

When practiced consistently, this inner resource is a valuable tool a child can use anywhere, anytime to experience wellbeing, and to recognize they are more than their circumstances.

The Magic Carpet Ride is a track from our Chill Children Guided Relaxation CD.

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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 is...it 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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