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Monday, November 21, 2016

Shine The Light – A Mantra for Children

During these uncertain times, Children may be feeling fearful and in need of a powerful practice to dispel dark feelings. Fear is a darkness and love is light.

 Jyoti is a Sanskrit word that refers to this light and is often translated as “brightness.”  Om Jyotir Aham is a mantra that means “I am the light.” To remove darkness when you walk into a room, you don't try to push it away or fight it; you simply turn on the light.  It works the same way in the mind.

Mantra is the repetition of a sacred sound. It’s an effective practice that's easy to use. It creates a positive groove in the mind just like worry creates a negative groove. This simple technique can increase feelings of love and dispell feelings of fear.

To practice this "Om Jyotir Aham" mantra, sit tall on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.  Take a moment to feel the breath.  Then say out loud, in a whisper or silently, “Om Jyotir Aham”.  Repeat this over and over again on each exhale.  This is a harmless practice that a child of any age can do.  Sing along together for 1-5 minutes.

If for whatever reason using a foreign language isn't a good fit for your situation, you can fall back on an old American gospel, “This Little Light of Mine”. There are many renditions of this uplifting tune. Children’s singer, Raffi, had a big hit with it in the 1980s. I like to play it on my ukulele.

Children feel empowered when they know how to do something for themselves to feel better. This mantra can remove the darkness and let the light of love shine as it also shines a light on others. To hear how it sounds, click here.

*As an Ohana member, you have access to a restorative heart opening practice featuring this mantra.  Not a member yet? Check it out for FREE for 15-days.

 

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Relaxation for Children

Squirmy six-year-olds may seem impervious to an adult’s gentle request to, “close your eyes, soften your body and relax”.  And yet, it’s an endeavor every children’s Yoga teacher takes on…every class. 

This is Savasana. Children lovingly refer to this final relaxation segment of a Yoga class as the “rest part at the end”.  It is both the most beneficial and often most requested.

Bouncy, giggly, wiggly, silly kids oftentimes don’t know how to be still. But they can be taught.  And once they are skillfully guided to a deep state of rest, they want it again and again.

You can get kids to relax.  Here’s how.

  1. Believe.  Or, you may be thinking, just wave a magic fairy wand, right?  The truth is, our perception IS creating our reality.  If we approach this with a belief that kids can’t be still or won’t relax, we are generating that energy. If there is a strong vision they will, it’s much more likely to be the case.
  2. Be consistent.  Everyone falls into a routine.  If a 3-5 minute relaxation period is part of the routine, kids will get used to it. This can be in your kids Yoga class, before a test in the classroom or after school.
  3. Relax at 3 levels – body, breath and mind. An easy and effective way to get kids to relax their body is to suggest to them that their heels are heavy on the floor, the back of their legs, bottom, rib cage and shoulder blades, back of the hands, backs of the arms and back of the head are all heavy on the floor. The sensations of heaviness and warmth trigger parasympathetic dominance. This is the rest and digest side of the autonomic nervous system. Then, invite them to feel their breath in their body.  Finally, give them an image to relax their mind, like riding a cloud on a beautiful sunny day. 
  4. Hold space. Give the children at least 1-3 minutes of silence after talking them through the three phases of relaxation described above.
  5. Reinforce. I treat “the rest part at the end” as a special treat.  Afterwards, I ask the kids how they felt and ask them if there is ever a time in life when they want to feel that way.  It connects the experience to a benefit and reinforces their interest in it.

The benefits are profound.  It is in a state of rest that the body grows and does repair work.  Memory and learning only occur when the body is calm. A relaxed mind and body is a field for unlimited potential, and that is the life-changing magic of relaxation.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fun Yoga Moves for Halloween

Stress is scary! Try these fun Yoga moves to help the kids in your life prepare for and recover from sugar and stress this Halloween.


Having a theme or story line that carries the student along through a practice is a hallmark of children’s Yoga classes. Holidays are ideal themes and Halloween - a favorite kid holiday - makes for a colorful, creative and creepy class.

While the practice stays pretty much the same, the poses, breathing exercises and relaxation take on different nature features, animals or characters to go along with the chosen theme. Here are some ideas to turn your kids Yoga classes or practice at home into some spooky fun!

During the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar), opening the arms out to the sides becomes a Vampire - mwa-a-a. Folding forward (Uttanasana) is a tree stump in a haunted forest. Instead of barking in Down Dog, howl like Werewolves.

Triangle (Trikonasana) becomes a witch's hat. You can cast spells, make a witches brew and fly on your broom sticks. Trees (Vrksasana) become gnarled in the haunted forest where the witches craft their magic. I like to weave in stories about how the witches create candy full of sugar, which truly makes us sick and cranky. They use their magic to make it all colorful and delicious as a way to trick us into eating the poison that sugar really is! Don't be fooled! (Seriously, reducing sugar intake is one of the most important steps we can take towards better health - especially mental health.)

Most children love ghost stories, and while they tend to create arousal rather than rest, they can be turned into an awareness building activity when the children are invited to become aware of bodily sensations while listening to scary stories. Being scared is a "loud" sensation so it's a great one to start working with. Welcoming in sensation as it arises is a powerful skill for children to learn, helping them develop emotional intelligence and stress hardiness.

So go ahead, get crazy and get creepy and know you are helping your children develop lifetime habits for personal health.

Visit our lesson plans page for a complete "Spooky Fun" Halloween themed lesson plan.

Ohana Members receive new done-for-you lesson plans every month...and so much more.  Check it out FREE for 15-days.  No credit card required.

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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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