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mountain climber

The mind fascinates me. In the book called, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking”, the author, Oliver Burkeman, dives into what he refers to as our our “goal crazy” society. Sighting a number of studies he has determined that people create goals in the name of planning for the future and productivity, but in reality, it is a means to remove the unsettling feeling of uncertainty.

Goals can actually hinder success. In 1996 fifteen climbers died on Mount Everest within a twenty-four period of time—the highest death toll in the mountain’s history. Climbers know that timing is crucial to success on Everest. If climbers don’t make the peak by a pre-arranged time, they must turn around to avoid running out of oxygen or attempting the dangerous climb down in the dark. Hours after the time to turn back passed, people were still climbing to the summit. Why? As more feelings of anxiety increased as the climbers climbed, the more they held onto their goal to summit to help cover the feelings of uncertainty they were feeling at the moment. To feel better in the present, they chose to put their lives in jeopardy.

What a compelling reason to come to our mats! The more we get comfortable with the feelings of uncertainty, the more likely we can make sound choices for ourselves. The more we sit in discomfort, the more we find our voice of reason.

Here is another example of why goals can be limiting. Have you ever waited for a cab in New York City in the rain? It is a challenge to find a cab when it rains and the logical conclusion is that it is because the cabs are in higher demand. In actuality, based on research by economist Colin Camerer, though the demand for cabs increases, the supply of cabs shrinks. The cab drivers set a goal to make double the amount they owe for renting the cab each day they work. When it rains, the cab drivers make that money more quickly and head home early!

In this example, the goal setting actually limited their potential.

Now it is time to apply these lessons on your mat. When you are practicing, dig deep. Get uncomfortable. Breathe. When you have the opportunity, put yourself in a place of uncertainty. Try an arm balance, try a head or handstand. Take a chance. Begin to be OK with those feelings of the unknown. That is where the opportunity for growth and living big exist and are waiting.

Come to your mat. Give up your goals. Embrace life’s uncertainty.

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D Sharon Pruitt

D Sharon Pruitt

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.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

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.

Core strengthening:

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.

Plow practice:

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.

Breathing fun:

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.

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.

Have fun!

Photo by Janie Jones

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.

Group Game

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.

Breath Work

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!

Pose Concentration

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.

Final Game

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.

Savasana

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.

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).

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I work at a great place called Midtown Athletic Club. I was hired last year as the only children’s yoga instructor to teach yoga which was the only children’s programming that they offered (besides tennis). Midtown just put in a gorgeous outdoor pool and has since been working hard to attract families. They will begin to offer an abundance of children’s classes from kick boxing to boot camp to zoomba and yoga. The yoga classes offered will range from mom and baby to storybook yoga, pre-k, 5-7 , 8-11 and teen classes. It is a wonderfully diverse and full schedule. Starting this Fall I am also lucky to have a new and very talented teacher to help me.

Last night there was a great kick-off party for the kid’s programming and I played yoga for an hour and half with children rotating between different class demos around the giant pool deck and garden near by. It was a blast and everyone seemed to really enjoy their introduction to yoga. To keep it moving and fun I alternated between some very active yoga games. I started with yoga poses using the first letter in each child’s name, then we did yoga using animal cards and for some of the groups, especially the dubious older boys, I took out one of my Thumballs and we played letter yoga with the ball (you do a yoga pose to the letter on which the catcher’s thumb falls on the ball).

The next morning, my friend (and amazing power vinyasa yoga instructor) mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing me in action and said that it was great that our boss had seen how kids yoga “works” because it was really clear how valuable it was to have someone specialized in teaching kids yoga versus just pulling instructors from adult classes to teach.

It did make me think about the differences between children’s and adult classes.

I think that as children’s yoga instructors, we know how different it is to teach to children than it is to teach to adults. It requires a different way of thinking about yoga. It is yoga play.

• In adult class it is important to walk around your class and make adjustments and talk your students through the asanas. In children’s yoga you are on the ground moving and mooing! Talk about alignment is kept short and adjustments are rarely made.

• In adult classes repetition of a vinyasa is typical, as students we are willing to hold a pose for a long time and our bodies and minds benefit from doing so. In children’s yoga you have to put a lot of effort in keeping the class interested and moving with the changing energies. Attention spans vary with age. A good guideline is age x 5 minutes.

• In adult classes, with few exceptions, everyone is there to find that centering and calm. Class discipline is a non-issue. There may be moments of laughter and fun but we are seriously working toward a peace of mind and a body sans tension. In contrast, in children’s classes you have to develop some strategic class management techniques and you need to laugh and make silly faces and sounds—the louder and sillier the better.

• In adult classes there is a lot of talk about daily stresses and relaxing and focusing on the moment. Children can understand some talk about how to relax and get rid of stress but it is almost more important and more helpful as a children’s yoga instructor to be in the know of all things “kids”— being able to talk about animal facts, tv shows and music helps you to make the class user friendly for kids and the kids see that you understand their world and can relate to them.

• Yoga Journal is a great source for inspiration for adult classes and sometimes even some of the older children’s classes. I spend a lot of time looking at blogs on parenting, teaching and children’s yoga. I read a lot of psychology based books on child development, teaching children life lessons and how to encourage children to succeed and be happy people. The information I gather from these resources fuel my classes.

It does require a lot of passion and energy to teach children. But, let me tell you, hearing “Miss Jen!!” screamed from the crowded pool last night by one of my recent yoga campers makes all the hard work (or should I say hard play) so well worth it.

1. Yoga Helps Children Learn About Their Own Strength

Through yoga children can learn how to fall asleep more easily by themselves by following a sequence of poses that helps quiet the nervous system.

Parents can also use guided relaxation books to ease their children into a more peaceful place before bed. On the occasion when my daughter has had more trouble than usual falling asleep (this child is just like me in the sleep department—head hits the pillow and lights out), I have found reading a page from Ready… Set… R.E.L.A.X. allows her body to let go of any tensions she may be holding onto and drift off to sleep without a problem.

Children learn about the strength of their minds.

Through yoga, one learns that what you think about makes a big impact in one’s life. Using affirmations during class helps children gravitate to the positive imagery that will help them succeed in life. Shouting “I am strong!” in warrior 1 and “I am brave!” in warrior 2 is a fun way that begins the connection between mind and body.

2. Yoga Develops Trust in Oneself

In class I often stress that each student is unique and that their yoga practice will look different than the person next to them. Each student must listen to what their own bodies are telling them. Asking your children how their bodies feel in different poses helps them to connect to their bodies and their feelings which is an awareness that is need to develop trust in themselves.

3. Yoga Teaches Positive Ways to Deal with Garbage

In class yesterday my friend who was teaching told us the story “The Law of Garbage Trucks” by David Pollay. A taxi driver almost gets into a car accident and smiles at the person who almost caused the accident. The passenger on board was surprised with his driver’s reaction. The driver explained that everyone walks around with garbage—full of frustration, anger and disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and will dump it on you if you let them. Don’t take it personally, smile, wave and move on. You will be happier because you did.

Yoga teaches the skills to let it go. Breath. Meditate. Move your body in ways that release your own built up garbage.

4. Yoga Is An Amazing Form of Exercise

Not all children are competitive. Yoga can be both a group or individual sport. It is as challenging as one makes it and the challenges continue throughout one’s life. Yoga is an activity that continues for as long as one likes. Yoga doesn’t require a team to participate although doing yoga in a class environment does connect people together. Yoga is a great formof strength training.

5. Yoga Can Be Used Throughout One’s Life

Yoga is beneficial throughout one’s life. Learning yoga at young age gives one an advantage. It can help release tension during final exams and stressful times in life; it also helps eleviate sadness. Yoga helps during parenting by rejuvinating and giving a sense of peace in a hectic time, yoga keeps the body strong and supple as one gets older ensuring an active life one’s whole life.

Being a parent, I have often felt the desire to step in to do something that my children are capable of doing themselves. It is tough teaching children to be responsible. Helicopter parenting is the norm these days. In the past our grandparents walked miles to school by themselves and our parents walked blocks to school by themselves but we are of a generation that believes that danger lurks two doors down from the home. It is hard to raise independent kids if we teach them not to trust anyone but us. I am a huge fan of the blog FreeRangeKids.wordpress.com written by Lenore Skenazy. She also wrote a book called Free-Range Kids:Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry that debunks most of the fears we parents have allowed to permeate our psyche. She explains how and why this generation of parents has fallen for the idea that nothing is safe anymore.

I must admit that as a child I was not given many household responsibilities. Being hounded to clean up my room is not a memory that I have though I remember happily keeping my private space clean while spending hours in my room as a teenager with the door closed listening to music, talking on the phone and rearranging my possessions. I was, however, given tremendous amounts freedom. My siblings and I were outside all day until we heard my mother calling us in—not knowing where we were each and every moment and not worrying about us. It wasn’t until those teenage years that the leash seemed to tighten.

How to teach our children to be responsible begins early. Allowing them to have more control of their personal hygiene—teeth brushing, bathing and dressing—gives them pride. It is not always easy to let your child walk out the door in their outfit of choice but it teaches them to trust their own instincts and provides a sense of self (even if it means plaid with stripes).

Giving your children jobs around the house that are not part of an allowance exemplifies that they are part of a family which needs everyone working together to work. My children take turns setting and clearing the table at dinner (each one does one part for the whole week and then switches to avoid the fighting over whose turn it is to do what). This really makes a huge difference to my evening—as meal planner, food shopper and chef it is a joy not to have to be stuck in the kitchen for another hour after dinner cleaning and it allows me to enjoy more time with my children at night as everything gets done much more quickly.

Teaching that work (responsibilities) comes before play by creating a rule of homework before TV also teaches that not all responsibilities are going to be fun but they still need to be done.

In my yoga classes, I try to find ways to encourage independence. I set my mats up before class in a circle to ease the beginning of class but everyone must roll up the studio mats and put them away after class. Even the little guys try —their rolls are lopsided and don’t look too tidy— but they leave feeling pride and I fix them when they have gone. Are there other ways that you help teach responsibility to your children or students? I’d love to hear about them!

Current Classes:

MIDTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

Mondays:
6-7:15am Power Vinyasa (H)

Thursdays:
6-7am Power Vinyasa

Story Time Yoga
1-1:45pm

Sundays:
5-7 year olds
9:45-10:30am
8-11 year olds
10:45-11:30am

STUDIO MOVE!

Wednesdays:
10:30-11:30 Power Vinyasa

Fridays:
Yoga for Athletes
9-10am

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