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Why do we run, swim and bike, but practice yoga? We practice an instrument or a dance routine in the effort of finding perfection. However, perfection is not what we are practicing when we get on our mats. What we practice when we get on our mats is our way of being. We practice opening our hearts so that we can love more deeply and find more compassion and acceptance. We practice balance so that we find balance between work and play, family time and personal time, being strong yet being vulnerable in our lives. We practice to find the moving meditation that helps us clear the “monkey mind”—the chaos of thoughts that jump around in our brains— to bring more clarity, grounding and inner calmness into our day. We practice finding our inner voice and inner strength in discomfort so that we are familiar with acting with purpose or sitting with the discomfort versus reacting to or running away from the discomfort of life that comes in the form of disappointments, challenges and frustrations.
In each class we can practice all of these ways of being. To find which one resonates most we begin our practice connecting to our breath. Breath is the channel to our inner voice. We quite our mind with breath to allow our deepest desires and needs to be heard amidst the usual chattering of intrusive thoughts.
Once we find an intention, we can focus on it as we move on our mats.
Are you looking to find love, deepen connections, accept yourself for who you are flaws and all? While practicing find ways to open your heart in every pose. Back bend in mountain, warrior one, anjaneasana and crescent lunges. Find more heart softening in down dog or opening in side angle and triangle.
Are you looking to increase energy? Bring more energy in by exuding more energy out in each pose. Find strength from the ground up, express energy by keeping fingers and toes active, use inversions to move stagnant energy from within.
Are you looking to clear your mind and find peace? Focus even more than usual on your breath creating a moving meditation. It is easy to lose your breath if you are trying to come to your edge in class. Work on staying with your breath and practice with ease. Use the sound of your ujayi breath to help calm and ground you in your practice.
Are you looking for balance in your life? Though most practices include balance poses, find the yin/yang in each pose during your practice. Find the solidity and the fluidity, the strength and the vulnerability, the control and the surrender in every asana.
Are you in need of more strength in life to go after what you really want? Begin each asana from the ground up, creating stability to increase grounding and strength but then find the flight to move you into action. In standing poses keep a 90 degree angle in your front knee, only coming out for a moment when needed and then finding it again, in order to increase your strength and learn to breathe through the discomfort. Change comes from challenge and fear and doubt can be dissolved by staying put in times of challenge instead of taking the easy way out. Find moments of flight in arm balancing poses.
Yoga is not about trying to find perfection in poses or your practice. Yoga is about coming to our mats to find the truth and acceptance in our imperfections. We practice BEING on our mats so that we can be bigger, more honest and show our true selves off our mats.
Next class, listen to your internal voice and follow your intention to greater possibility in your life.
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.
Life is a constantly shifting set of priorities, needs and wants. I find that creating harmony in one aspect of life causes another to fall by the way side. One’s career may be in a good place, but then one’s social life is off kilter. The kids are soaring academically, but then extracurricular activities have created hectic and turbulent afternoons. The scale may precariously rest in balance for a negligibly short time until it tips again toward one need or goal or priority. I am envious of those who seemingly do it all and do it all well. I secretly hope that their closets are messy or their cars have liter from the kid’s snacks just to make me feel better. Does anyone really have it all together balanced perfectly or is it just an illusion?
I love balance poses. The challenge to focus and remain steady while balancing on a leg in tree, dancer or eagle pose or on one’s arms in crow pose or a handstand always exists whether you are a newcomer to yoga or someone who has practiced for years. Finding that point of equilibrium helps satisfy our need to find balance in life.
Check out Yoga Journal’s balance sequence.
Here is a past post that I wrote on the subject of balance.
I have been battling yet another cold. I realize that teaching kids does come with the added bonus of germ contact, however, being active, using hand sanitizer religiously, eating healthily and getting good sleep should be helping my body fight these buggers. What’s going on!!
Here is a list of some things that I have incorporated into my newest staying healthy initiative:
1. I love this yoga sequence that I found last year in Yoga Journal called “Immunity Boost“. My plan is to wake up and start my day with some immune boosting yoga.
2. I have started using this great product called Amazing Grass Superfood. It is a powder that contains an amazing (hence the name) amount of vegetables and fruits. Each packet serving is the equivalent of 3 servings of fruits and vegetables.
Here is a list of ingredients in the chocolate powder: organic wheat grass, organic barley grass, organic alfalfa, asparagus, lima beans, green peas, kale, kiwi, organic spinach, organic broccoli, brussle sprouts, green beans, zucchini, apricots, organic carrots, mangoes, pineapple, sweet potatoes, tangerines, yellow squash, pomegranates, raspberries, guavas, cranberries, red cabbage, cherries, tomatoes, beets, plums, purple grapes, blueberries, organic oat fiber, organic soy milk powder (organic soy beants, organic cane juice), organic cocoa, FOS (from chicory root), butch cocoa, natural vanilla, apple pectin fiber, carrageenan, sea salt, silicon dioxide (anti-caking).
I blend my packet with bananas and chocolate milk. Yummy! My six-year-old loved it. I feel healthier just writing about the drink!
3. Regular exercise can help your body fight the negative effects of stress on the immune system. There is even research that says that exercising with a cold will due no harm and actually might make you feel better. I love being active and generally do some form of exercise everyday. Now that it is winter I’ll be heading outdoors for some snowshoeing and skiing—getting some vitamin D and fresh oxygen in my body.
4. Research proves that lack of sleep will breakdown your immune system making one susceptible to illness. I am a morning person. My husband is a night owl. I do TRY (not always successfully…) to stay up to have time with my man after the kids are in bed. When I feel myself losing ground on the cold front, I head to bed earlier to help my body rest.
5. I am around essential oils a lot being a yoga teacher and often find the different aromas very soothing. Try bergamot, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, myrrh, rosemary, tea tree, and thyme to help aid the immune system. I love the company Natropatch of Vermont. They make patches of essential oils that you wear for energy, sleep help, aches and pain, PMS and stress release. I recently used the stress release patch on a 7 hour family car trip and must claim that I was very relaxed throughout. The eucalyptus patch is specific for repairing and healing one’s body from colds and coughs.
I wish everyone a healthy and happy holiday season. In honor of the holidays, I would like to announce Karma Spot’s first ever contest…
I would love to hear what you do to keep healthy during the Winter months. Write a comment to enter yourself to win an Ana Brett Kundalini Yoga video. The randomly picked winner will be announced next Sunday the 20th of December.
Oprah once said:
“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more.
If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”
It’s almost Thanksgiving—a time when we as a country collectively give thanks. Thanksgiving and Valentines Day are both celebrations created to ensure that we become mindful of the people we love and the life that we live at least for one day.
I love everything about Thanksgiving from the colors, food, family time and football. Being mindful is the process of being completely present. Take time this season to be present. Look at the sky, feel the cool, crisp air, smell the aromas of the food cooking in the kitchen, listen to the leaves crunching, children laughing, football on TV. Take in and appreciate the moment instead of being anxious about the turkey, fretting about fitting everyone around the table, worrying about the family dynamics. Stop and think about what you have and be grateful for those things.
For some, this beginning to the holiday season is not accompanied by joy and excitement but rather by anxiety and sadness.
Whether the holidays bring pleasant or unpleasant reactions, bring yoga with you to help keep you centered.
- Remember to breathe. Take some Ujjayi breaths to release anxiety and center your mind.
- Do some simple inversions and forward bends like down dog, standing forward fold and shoulder stand to create a temporary rise in blood pressure to trigger the body’s natural calming mechanisms.
- Try heart opening poses to counter fatigue and depression like cobra, pigeon, fish, boat, bow and bridge poses.
- To tame feelings of irritability and anxiety use twists, hip opening poses and side bends to help balance your emotions. Try malasana, half lord of the fishes pose and revloved side angle pose to help regulate emotions.
This Thanksgiving bring yoga and mindfulness to the table and see if being grateful comes more easily. Imagine what it would be like to be mindful every day we live and every moment we have with those we love.
I am so grateful for my family and friends that provide me with love and support. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for my body that has taken me on some great adventures this year. I am thankful for my yoga practice for always changing and encouraging me to grow. I am grateful for you, my readers, and all my little and big yogis for allowing me to teach and learn and share.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Why do family yoga? To both deepen the connection with those you love in a playful way while deepening your stretches in poses with the help of your all too eager family members.
I spent an hour Saturday teaching a family yoga class. My family joined me making it very special. There were 6 families and we started out placing mats in a giant circle with each family grouped together to make family/partner poses easier. The ages ran from 3-adult which created a very fun and dynamic mix of energy. Here is the sequence of the class:
- We started using slinkies to help us visualize our lungs expanding and contracting with breath.
- Then each family partnered up to do some back breathing using the slow breath that we practiced first.
- We began to link body and breath with sunrise/sunset pose – starting in child’s pose, inhale and rise on your knees extending your hands above your head like the sun rising and then reverse the direction ending back in child’s pose.
- Finally, we did some cat/cows linking breath to each pose.
- Kids helped show their parents how we reach to the sun and then say “hi” to our toes.
- We hissed in cobra and barked in down dog. The poses may not be difficult but it is sometimes hard for us adults to let go and act like a kid and see the fun in something that we usually take seriously.
We focused more on Downward Facing Dog while listening to “Who Let the Dogs Out”.
- We lifted a leg to shake our tail. We brought our knee toward our opposite wrist and then lengthened our leg back behind us and then brought our knee toward the same wrist then lengthened it out again.
- We rested in child’s pose.
- Then we got wild and flipped our dogs saying hi to our families.
I then led everyone on a sequence with some tropical island flair.
- We listened to steel drums while breathing like elephants, picking bananas like monkeys, stalking prey like tigers, slinking around like lizards, hissing like cobras and drinking water like giraffes.
We spent the rest of the time doing family partner poses.
- Sitting on a rock. One person rests in child’s pose (usually the larger adult) while another family member aligns the pant line of their pants with that of the person on the floor and gently sits. The person on the bottom gets a deeper spine stretch. Be careful if you have knee issues.
- Lizard sunbathing on a rock. Starting in the same position with one person in child’s pose, the second person furthers their stretch by lying down head to head and extending their arms side to side.
- Down dog tunnels. Everyone lines up side to side in downdog and everyone takes turns slinking through the tunnel and getting back into downdog.
- Double down dogs. One person gets into down dog. The second person stands at the feet of their partner and faces away. Then the second person slowly lifts their feet onto the sacrum (pant line) of the first and gets into their own down dog.
- Group tree. Touching palms everyone lifts into tree pose, raising hands into the air.
- Group airplane. Everyone comes into a circle and gets into airplane with hands reaching out toward each other.
- Group boat. In a circle everyone does boat with feet touching and holding hands.
- Group flower. In a circle everyone starts in butterfly pose with feet touching, then slip arms through legs and grab a hold of the hands next to you.
- Partner boat. Holding hands facing each other with leg bent, extend legs up together while balancing on sit bones.
- We ended the group poses with each family creating a unique pose of their choice.
We played a breathing game with each family trying to keep a scarf up in the air with their breath.
And finished with savasana.
It was a really wonderful way to spend time with my family while sharing the joy of yoga.
As I have posted previously, teaching yoga to kids is very different than teaching adults. It is yoga play and typically proper alignment is not stressed. Once a session, however, I take out some props and teach my classes of kids between 5 and 11 some alignment. The kids love it when I bring out the yoga props and although I am speaking alignment, the idea that I am treating them like the adults makes this class special in their eyes. The props are like presents and the excitement is palpable.
Here is a list of poses that we do using different props:
3 lb Pilates Balls
1. Chair pose with chest press
2. Chair pose with chest press and side leg extensions
3. Partner seated twists – sitting back to back with legs crossed twist to one side to pass the ball and then twist to the other side to retrieve the ball.
4. Standing splits – press ball into the air, lift one leg back as you touch the ball to the floor.
5. Boat pose holding ball
6. Boat pose holding ball to one side and then twisting to the opposite side
7. Standing back to back with feet mat distance apart pass ball back and forth with forward bends between legs and then with a small back bends above head.
1. Chair pose against the wall
2. Warrior one with foot against the wall
3. Warrior three with foot pressing against the wall
4. Warrior three with finger tips touching the wall
5. Tree pose touching wall
6. Dancer pose facing and touching the wall
7. Half Moon with foot pressing against wall and the use of a block for hand
8. Handstand prep against the wall
9. Tripod headstand against the wall
10. Camel pose with hips against the wall
1. Half Moon with foot pressing against the wall and the use of a block under hand
2. Feet up the wall with blocks on feet (avoid if the blocks are too heavy and use hardcover books)
I haven’t used blankets, bolsters or straps with the 5-7 year-olds but the 8-11 year-olds love to use blankets and bolsters during savasana. What I especially like about introducing the wall is that you see the kids take more risks with poses knowing the support is there. The kids all love to try handstands and they really open up in half moon.
We ended classes this week with a lot of giggles doing a group chair pose against the wall – one person starts against the wall and everyone else sits on each others laps. The kids are amazed that they can hold the weight of the entire class on their lap and the occasional falls upon trying to stand back up gets everyone laughing to savasana. I posted a while back about a great “life lesson” using chair pose against the wall. Check it out here.
I am writing with the window open and the air feels and smells like Fall. How can summer be over already? New school supplies and clothes have been bought, backpacks are packed, we head out to meet new teachers and see old friends tomorrow.
Although Spring may be the season for new growth, Fall always carries within its crisp air the feeling of new possibilities and a clean slate.
Add some yoga into your life this Fall. Start with these beginner poses. Remember to breath three full breaths through your nose as you allow your body to relax into the stretch.
- Cat – Cow Stretch: A very basic spinal stretch done on all fours.
- Child’s Pose – Balasana: This is a resting pose you can use anytime you get tired.
- Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana: A very basic backbend, Cobra may be done many times in a single yoga class.
- Corpse Pose – Savasana: This resting and rejuvenating pose is done at the end of every yoga class.
- Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana: Downward facing dog is done many times during most yoga classes. It is a peaceful pose, a resting pose and a great strengthener in its own right.
- Mountain Pose – Tadasana: The foundation of all standing poses.
- Plank Pose: Strengthens the arms and spine. Holding plank is a fantastic core strengthening exercise.
- Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana: A forward bend reaching for your toes.
- Staff Pose – Dandasana: Dandasana is the basic seated pose from which all the others originate.
- Remove your shoes
- Turn off your cell phone – even a phone on vibrate will make noise in class during savasana.
- Arrive on time – try to arrive 10 minutes early and skip the class if you are running 10 minutes late.
- Don’t skip savasana – the final relaxation is an important (and sometimes the most challenging) part of practice.
My daughter is a worrier. She can focus on an anxiety to the point that it becomes a huge ugly monster that takes a lot of effort to make disappear. Last year, Kindergarten, that monster reared its head on the school bus and it caused us all great stress each morning for about 3 weeks.
We have come up with many worry banishing techniques.
• Write a list of all the things that make you happy.
When a worry pops into your head, quickly turn to one of those happy inducing thoughts or activities.
• Discuss the worry only at one point during the day.
The worry loses its power if you must postpone thinking about it until later.
• Focus on your breath.
Yoga breathing – Feel your stomach rise and fall. Coming back to the breath when a worry pops into your head calms the nervous system and creates mental peace.
• Practice some yoga.
The following asanas help remove anxiety:
Single Leg Raise – Lie down straight on your back. Raise the right leg up straight and as far as possible while inhaling. Lower it back to original position exhaling. Then repeat the same with left leg. Next hold your feet with opposite hand while in the raised position. Take a few breaths while in this position and then switch.
Double Leg Raise – Raise both the legs together with knees straight and bottom on the floor. Repeat ten times. Inhale while raising legs and exhale while lowering legs.
Cobra Pose – Lie flat on your stomach with your palms besides your shoulders. Hold your feet together while pointing toes, push your head and chest gently off the ground while lifting your head up fully. Inhale while pushing up and exhale on the way back.
Child Pose – Sit with knees spread and feet touching. Lean forward until your chest and forehead are resting onto the floor and arms are outstretched in front of you.
Sage Twist – Sit on floor with both legs straight in front of you. Bend your left leg towards your chest. Rotate your body toward your left knee. Wrap your right arm around the left knee with the knee positioned in the crook of the right elbow. Clasp your hands if comfortable and keep your back straight.
A book that I highly recommend that my daughter used to help work through her Kindergarten fears was What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.
Change, such as a new school year, always creates some anxiety. Yoga is a great tool to help conquer those fears. Start a new experience with a spirit of adventure by using yoga to squash those butterflies (and sometimes those monsters too).
It is hard for children to navigate through their energy levels. As adults we have different coping strategies in place (or at least we should by now!) to deal with drops in daily energy or excessive energy moments. I try to avoid certain food for lunch that will make feel sluggish like pasta, Chinese food or any meal that is heavy on carbs. I take long deep breaths to fill up on fresh oxygen. I exercise or nap depending on what I think I need. I also use coffee for boosting low energy moments. I am a self-confessed coffee addict.
On the flip side, when I have moments when I feel like I am going to bounce of walls, I run. I play outside with my children. I do some head or hand stands. I use the energy constructively.
Children don’t often listen to their bodies. When that energy slump or high hits, it is often when we see disruptive behavior (like sibling fighting) or tantrums. Yoga is a great tool to help children find outlets for their different energy levels.
Here a list of my favorite yoga poses and fun activities to help kids calm down:
seated spinal twist
Mandala coloring: Mandalas are balanced visual designs that are used as meditation to create internal harmony. While coloring the design in a quiet atmosphere, thoughts come and go resulting in a meditative state— a clarity and calmness. Besides the coloring books I love using, I have also found websites online that allow you to download mandalas for free.
I have also found some great sand mandalas here.
Books I recommend that help children relax:
Please let me know if you have ways to help the children in your life calm down and find peace.