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In trying to come up with meaningful lessons that kids can take off their mats and into their lives, I recently bought a great book called 10 Minute Life Lessons for Kids. The lessons are divided into categories such as Things We Value, Potential and Self-Worth, Love and Kindness and Attitude to name a few. When applying ideas from other sources into my class, I always try to find a yoga slant.
I decided to give my students a lesson on attitude. I strongly believe that what we think about and what we say influences our perspective and the outcome of different situations. This idea was not one that I was taught as a child but really would have helped me growing up.
I first made sure that none of the children had food allergies. I gave each student a Smartie (I chose this type of candy because it dissolves slowly but quickly enough to move onto other things in class when we finished this lesson). The kids were not allowed to eat it until I gave them the go ahead. We all then got into chair pose or a standing squat with backs against the wall. The idea behind this exercise was that while our legs started to burn from our position, we were to suck on the candy and try to keep our thoughts on the sweetness versus the pain.
There will always be difficulties in life but by training ourselves to focus on the sweetness in life even when things are hard we will create a more fulfilling and happier life in the long run.
This week I decided to take out the balls. Balls in yoga? I know… it may not be traditional but it is a fun and helpful way to teach asana!
There are many ways to use balls in class.
To start class we pass a ball around with our feet. Sitting in a modified boat pose, we pass the ball around the circle. When you receive the ball, you must hold it up with your feet and answer questions about yourself before passing the ball to your neighbor. I love starting the class with the kids sharing information about themselves. It creates a teacher/student connection that helps maintain classroom management. Sometimes I introduce smaller balls that involve greater dexterity and concentration.
Another core exercise is to hold boat pose while twisting side to side touching the ball to the ground each side.
Begin with the kids lying flat on their backs with hands extended above their heads. Place balls between feet and have the children lift the ball over their heads to their hands. Then have the kids sit up holding the ball using their stomach muscles. If you are using one ball, each student can toss you the ball from a reclined position which also activates the core.
Forward and back bends:
Have the class line up in a row. Using one ball, the first in line does a back bend and passes the ball to the person in back of them over their head, that person does a forward bend and passes the ball between their legs. Repeat this sequence down the line.
More back bends:
Students begin standing on their knees. Using a giant exercise ball, place the ball between their legs and have them lean back opening their chest in a modified camel pose.
Students turn onto their stomachs with arms extended toward their legs. Place the ball on their lower backs and have them reach up to hold the ball while lifting their legs off the ground in a modified bow pose. I find that kids don’t always understand the process of lifting their chests off the ground in a locust or bow pose. Reaching up for the ball helps create a connection of lifting and opening the chest.
Full back bend:
Starting in mountain pose. The kids sit on the large exercise ball and begin to walk their legs forward until the ball is resting on their lower back. The kids can then open their chest and reach toward the floor. Not all children like to be suspended in this vulnerable way. Ask if they would like you to support them floating on the ball if their feet start to lift before their hands touch the floor.
Ending class with fun breathing exercises using pom poms. Have the kids count how many breathes it takes to blow their pom pom from one end of the room to the next and then see if they can reduce the number of breaths on the way back.
Kids love balls. What better way to engage and have fun while teaching valuable asana form.
My daughter’s second grade teacher pointed out to me recently how truly amazing school aged children are to be able to harness all of their energy into listening, paying attention, walking in straight lines and staying quiet for almost 8 hours every day in school. It is no wonder that during recess on the playground and on the bus ride home from school chaos seems to rule. All of that bottled up energy is ready to explode by the time our children have a moment of “free” time.
As a yoga instructor teaching my classes after a full day of school, I have often struggled with how to rein in some of that energy that naturally needs to come out. I often wonder where that balance is between needed energy releasing and a calm class environment. I have found a few ideas that help to bring the energy level back down. These ideas can easily be tailored to work in your own home.
I often have excited kids running into my class eager to get moving. I hate to begin class with a negative comment but also am not fond of starting my class with kids running around the studio.
- To get the kids ready for yoga as they walk into the room, I meet each child before they enter the studio holding a few objects in hand. Explain to the kids that the twins of these objects are hidden in plain sight around the studio. The kids must stand at a designated wall quietly and use their eagle eyes to search for each object. When they have found all three objects, they must find a mat and sit quietly until everyone else is sitting.
- The game “Yoga Toes” always seems to quiet the room down. Scatter small pom poms around the room and have the kids collect the pom poms with their toes by crunching them around the pom poms and walking them to a designated area with a cup or bucket for dumping. In class, I tend to avoid games that create competition with each other and instead play the game twice having the kids remember their first number of collected pom poms and try to best their own score. This game takes a lot of concentration.
- Coloring is an activity that any child can do and using some quiet background music sets the tone. I print out mandalas and use the time coloring to help foster calmness. If done without a lot of speaking, mandala coloring is very meditative.
- This idea gets the kids working hard on their own. I have many types of cards depicting yoga poses. Hand each child 5 cards. Go over all of the poses with the children as a group and then have them come up with their own sequences—trying to find the one that flows the best. When they have worked out which sequence moves best from one pose to the next, have them teach the rest of the class.
- Lately I have started my classes with a little mediation. I light a candle and have the kids sit quietly looking at the light. We started with one minute and will be working ourselves up to 3 minutes. It is amazing how hard being still and being quiet is for some kids. I know many adults that to this day cannot sit still with themselves. What an amazing skill to foster.
I hope these ideas help when needed. I’d love to hear some ideas that you have to create a peaceful and calm environment in your studios and homes.
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I was looking through my idea folder for some new inspiration. I came across a torn out Family Fun Magazine page. Although originally pulled out for an outdoor game on one side, I was pleasantly surprised to find inspiration for a new way to play the old favorite game telephone on the other page.
Here is my yoga version.
Have everyone sit down in a circle. Jot down three yoga moves on a piece of paper (so that you can remember the sequence!) Whisper the three moves to one of your students. That person passes the message on until the message makes it all around the circle. The last player to hear the message announces the instructions aloud and leads the class in acting them out.
To make this even trickier, and to get more people announcing the instructions more quickly, have two messages go around the circle in opposite directions.
In one of my favorite books that I use for teaching life lessons (10-Minute Life Lessons For Kids), I came across this story. You can duplicate this in class very easily.
One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget. As he stood in front of the group of high powered overachievers he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.”He pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the space between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was on to him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all of the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good.” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard you can always fit some more things in it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “That’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.” What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Your children; Your loved ones; Your education; Your dreams; A worthy cause; Teaching or mentoring others; Doing things that you love; Time for yourself; Your health; Your significant other? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat the little stuff (the gravel, the sand) then you’ll fill your life with little things you worry about that don’t really matter, and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the big, important stuff (the big rocks). What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life? Start asking yourself that question to simplify your life. Always remember to put the big rocks in the jar first.
Yoga parties are a healthy and creative way to celebrate a birthday. I can bring the yoga party to your location or schedule parties at Breathe yoga studio in the village of Pittsford. Either way the kids get a unique, active and fun yoga hour to mark their happy day with friends.
For this event it was decided weeks beforehand that the birthday girl wanted a dog theme for her yoga party. I offer many themes for parties, as well as, customized party ideas and this puppy party was going to be fun to create from scratch. For each theme, the different elements of the party (group intro game, breath work, warm ups, pose concentration, yoga games and guided relaxation) change to fit the theme.
In all of my classes and parties, I begin with a group game to help create a connection. The birthday girl requested the “alphabet name game” which gets everyone moving and warmed up for more fun. In this game, we go around the circle and create a pose using the first letter in each name. Each child shares a pose or makes one up and then the whole group does the pose. Each new pose is followed by the preceding poses creating a very dynamic flow.
I then introduce some breathing exercises. For the puppy party, I combined the traditional bunny breath with a lion breath and created the “dog breath”. You begin by inhaling through your nose and then you stick your tongue out and pant 4 times. We do this three times. I then showed them a fun snake breath which is done by inhaling raising arms into the air and then exhaling with a hiss as your arms slither down to heart center. This breath starts the kids linking breath with movement.
Yoga Warm Up
I customized a theme based doggie warm up. For the dog party, we took our puppies on a nighttime adventure. The dogs followed moths into the woods, barked at owls flying in pursuit of mice, encountered snakes slithering through tall grass, happened upon a horse farm and fell into a pond filled with frogs. Finally our puppies chased some cats home, where exhausted by their adventure, lay down on their backs to rest.
We also worked on our down dogs using the song “Who Let the Dogs Out”. The kids did some strenuous yoga while in their down dogs. Lifting legs to shake their tails, flipping their dogs into wild dogs and alternating between howling up dogs and barking down dogs. Within all of the fun is some serious yoga!
We then took out bean bags and practiced balance poses . We worked on balancing on one leg in flamingo pose, tree pose and eagle all while trying to keep those been bags from falling.
As all dogs love balls, we took out our big red bouncy ball and played “Catch the Cat”. Sitting in boat pose, you begin to pass the ball around the circle using your feet. This is the dog. Once the dog is half way around the circle, the cat comes out. I use a smaller ball for the cat. The dog ball tries to catch the cat ball. No one notices how hard they are working their cores as the laughter ensues.
We also used our balls to practice plow pose. I place the ball between a girl’s feet. She then lifts her hips up and over her head to either drop the ball in her outstretched arms or (if there is room) to the feet of another girl behind her.
For this final “dog show” game which is variation of musical chairs, I printed out dogs doing various activities. Many of the activities are poses that we reviewed during the party. Some were new. After reviewing all of the poses, I placed the dog cards on all of the mats. I turned on music and the group walked around the mats. When the music stopped, the girls get on a mat and do the designated pose. Each time the music stops, the girls must find a pose that they did not do. I try not to do any games where people get “out” to keep yoga non-competitive.
For savasana I usually provide breathing buddies for the class to place on their stomachs to help them focus on their breath. For this party the birthday girl’s mom wanted to treat each girl to a dog Webkinz. After the initial excitement of receiving this new toy, the girls quieted down to some guided relaxation.
The party was a success. Smoothies and veggies and dip were enjoyed. What a great way to begin a new year!
A new session has begun and I found myself with first class jitters yesterday although I have been teaching for a while. Each group brings a different dynamic to the class. If I have a lot of returning students, I feel obligated to shake things up and not repeat too many ideas from my past lessons. Then a little voice in my head asks how can they get bored with repeating some games or yoga warm ups when most of them probably can sit and watch reruns of Phineas and Ferb for days on end!
There seems to be a predictable pattern to the dynamics in my classes. If there are a lot of siblings, class is a bit more energetic. The class will require some extra focus on classroom management. I find that if there are a lot of friends in the class that this usually also creates more distraction and less focus. Yesterday’s class had me chanting “If I say yoga, you say class… Yoga…the class shouts class, Yoga… class, yoga, yoga,yoga… class, class, class!” This is a very effective way to get the class to focus back on me and it is fun for them to do. You mix up how you say your part and can make it very silly. I have used tree and pose and nama and ste.
As a teacher, one must be able to reevaluate class plans and make quick adjustments. My 5-7 group yesterday had three boys and 10 girls. We had siblings and we had good friends and the class was a bit rowdy. I had planned to play the game Mirror, Mirror that my fellow yoga blogger, Donna Freeman at yogainmyschool.com mentioned recently but with this age group I find that the boys do not like partnering up with girls. I decided to switch to my favorite standby game Yoga Toes instead. In Yoga Toes, I throw out a big bucket of pom poms around the room and the kids have to use their toes to pick them up and put them on their mats. I sometimes have them drop them into cups. The kids count their pom poms and remember the number and then try to get more the next time. This game miraculously quiets everyone down… even the rowdiest of classes. It requires being very present which is a skill that the Mirror, Mirror game also helps develop.
My older group of 11-18 year olds had a lot of repeats but enough new students that we started with the Name/Pose game where each person says their name and then picks a pose. The whole group then does that pose. We continue to the next person and the group does that pose and then repeats the pose that came before it. We end up doing a flowing sequence and learning each others names. Yesterday we added a new idea to this game. After someone picked a pose we talked about the flow and transitions between the poses and if there was a break in the flow. The class decided where the person should move to make the sequence flow more fluidly. It was great fun moving people around and trying the vinyasa out again feeling the differences between smooth transitions and ones that feel out of sequence.
I’d love to hear how you begin a new session, if you ever get the butterflies and your thoughts about class dynamics.
The kids and I had a lot of fun in the park. We did yoga poses using animal cards. We saluted the sun and during savasana the class listened to a relaxation script that I read to them from a great book that I’ve mentioned before called “Ready, Set, Relax: A Research-Based Program of Relaxation, Learning and Self-Esteem for Children” by Jeffrey Allen.
I was reading this morning about how most children are not spending enough time in nature in a piece called How To Lick a Slug written by Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. I really believe that it is up to us as parents to expose our children to nature starting from an early age for them to really appreciate being outside in all of its natural glory. Sometimes that means getting uncomfortable in the heat or the rain. Sometimes that means not sleeping so well because of the root digging into your back or the rain dripping through the tent or the cacophony of animal sounds that descend once darkness arrives. It means we as parents must make nature important. We must take the time to take walks or bike rides with our children. We must remember to put the alarm on to see some natural wonder in the mid-night sky. I also know that sometimes life is really busy so if we as parent can’t take the time to be the nature guides, then summer camps can do wonders to help a child connect with the millipedes of the world.
Here is great news… yoga connects kids to nature! You can begin to teach your children how to connect with the natural world in your own home. You can start at any age and it’s free. Yoga poses were created long ago as a way to appreciate and connect with the world. The asanas we take to our mat visually and physically represent animals and objects seen in nature.
Here is a fun yoga game that gets everyone moving and thinking about how everything is connected.
Yoga games that are inspired by nature:
Walk Like This: (I adapted this game from Barbara Sher’s book Self-Esteem Games.)
In this game, you call out various animals and the kids have to move like that animal.
Have everyone stand in a line across a wall. Mark a “finish line” across the way.
- Duck: Squat down with your hands behind your back and waddle to the line with the heels of your feet touching.
- Crab: Sit in the traditional crab position. Turn sideways and walk to the finish line.
- Kangaroo:Standing with your feet together and elbows bent with hands clenched jump to the finish line keeping your feet together.
- Elephant: Bend forward with hands clasped in front swinging from side to side, walk with straight legs.
- Lobster: Sit in crab position moving hands first then feet move toward your hands.
- Caterpillar: Starting in child pose, transition into down dog, then slide your arms out until you are flat on the ground, then scrunch back into child pose and repeat.
- Chicken: Squatting with feet together and knees apart, grasp your ankles from inside your knees. Walk and cluck.
- Other animals that work well are bunny, seal, horse, and donkey.
Go on a yoga journey: This is an idea that works with 3-8 year olds. Have the kids help navigate the journey. How will you get there? Use many transportation poses. What did you see? Mountains, volcanoes, forests, jungles, all kinds of land or aquatic animals. You can take the journey to the desert and talk about desert plants and animals and weather, you can go planet hopping by rocket ship, you can to your nearest zoo or garden and become the animals, insects, flora and fauna that you encounter. The ideas are as limitless as your and the kids imaginations.
In class we also salute the sun, get down with dogs, stand still and strong like mountains and defy gravity in crow. We also have a lot of fun and its even better when you take class outside and use the wind for music during savasana.