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.

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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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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Turtle to Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the primary mental health challenges children face today. In many ways, anxiety is an exaggerated form of stress. One of the big differences is that a “stressor” may not be present. It’s common to feel worried right before a big test but when worry sticks around long after the test, a child needs help letting that worry go.

Even though anxiety is often present when there is not a specific stimulus causing it, most of us live in a very stimulating world and any stimulation can overwhelm an already taxed nervous system.  Kids need a break from all this input. You can create a space in the home or classroom where children can chill out and withdraw the senses.

This is when it is time to turtle. Just like a turtle is able to draw its limbs and head into its shell for protection, a child benefits greatly from drawing the senses inward. In the Yoga tradition, this is called “pratyahara.” It’s an important strategy for children to use when feeling overwhelmed, nervous or having a full bout of anxiety.

Anxiety reduction through turtling can be achieved in 6 easy steps:

  1. Consider all of the senses and give each one a break.
  2. Closing the eyes is the easiest way to withdraw from visual input. Lie back with a lavender filled pillow on the eyes – even better.
  3. Reduce auditory input by turning off electronic devices like TVs, computers and anything that is humming or buzzing.
  4. Play the silence game where everyone tries to go as long as they can without talking. It may help to put a pillow or blanket over your head.
  5. Stop eating (and maybe even brush your teeth) to reduce the input of taste and try to reduce any strong smells in the area.
  6. Finally, be sure to reduce input felt through the skin. This can be very stressful for some children. You may need to remove a scratchy sweater or add a soft fleece blanket.

Let the child participate in creating “Turtle Time.” Overtime, this becomes a familiar and cherished routine that children can rely on anywhere or anytime they are feeling overwhelmed!

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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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