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Photo by Drewski Mac

My yoga journey had a lot of starts and stops initially. When I finally became a true yogi, it was because of running. I was always a runner first and yoga was only a way to stretch for a long time. Even after I became a teacher, running was still my first passion. I began to have an unsettling feeling about this combination of running and yoga. This duo had within it a built in struggle. It was a struggle both in mind and body. But I ignored it. I ran and trained and pushed until finally succumbing to my yoga journey when running was no longer an option. And as they say “I saw the light and I never turned back”. Well not really.

You see, running and yoga are truly yin and yang both mentally and physically. Runners push. Runners compete with themselves and others. They compare. Runners turn off the mind because our bodies CAN do more, do faster, do longer. Runners don’t stop at pain but use pain as a test for mental toughness. Don’t stop. Run faster. Run longer. Rest if you need to but then get back on the track. Running compacts the muscles in the body. It tightens the muscles in the legs. It ignores the upper body. It creates imbalances.

I bought the runner’s message and lived that message. I ran when sick (though my running partner got my wrath that day), I ran in the heat, I ran when my leg had a strange pain, I kept on running. Speed work, long runs, tempo runs, trail runs. I woke up every morning with foot and leg pain. And then I couldn’t run. I had injured myself to the point that it was just not possible.

I turned to yoga. I listened to my body. I saw the alignment issues that were part of my running problems in my yoga and I patiently kept coming to my mat, working on my alignment. I got stronger. I got more flexible. My body began to open up. My hips released. My hamstrings released. I didn’t push, but patiently worked. I woke up without pain. I woke up.

So now I am running again. I love the freedom of being able to put on running shoes and take off. I love running on trails in all weather. The surroundings absorbs me. Mindfulness is necessary as to not trip. I now sometimes walk up some hills. But now, I always make sure that I get into the studio as often as I can to be in class. That takes precedent overrunning, but my need to get outside and fill my lungs with fresh air takes me to the trails. I have started to get the urge to push a little more. Maybe because it is marathon season and just a pattern that I have created. But yoga is what makes me able to run. I need both running and yoga in my life. The yin/yang. The dance. The balance.

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.

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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:

Breathing Exercises

  • 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.

Sun Salutations

  • 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.

Some of the resources that I used to help gather ideas for this class were a dvd called Yoga for Families led by Ingrid Von Burg and a great book called Playful Family Yoga by Teressa Asencia.

Photo by Amanda Hirsch

Photo by Amanda Hirsch

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.

Wall

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

Blocks

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.

Namaste.

I have finally lost the battle with this cold. Truthfully I don’t think that I was quick enough with my cider vinegar mixture. If consumed when that little tickle just makes itself known, colds seem to disappear before blowing up into the runny nose, tissue crumpling mess that this one has become.

My 5 mile run on Thursday didn’t seem to effect my condition. So thinking that the heat that the running generated went well I decided to take a heated vinyasa class Friday morning before teaching my pre-k yoga class. My body was flowing but then all of the sudden so was my nose. The faucet started to leak and that was it. Cold. Had one.

What do you fellow teachers do when struck with a cold? I didn’t have time on my side to find a sub and truthfully, I have a very limited resource of help. I used hand cleanser and went for it. We had a blast and I didn’t have much of a problem. Took the dog for a walk and then at 7pm all went down hill. My head felt heavy and full, my nose was completely clogged, my husband was waking up somewhere in Asia and the house was out of both tissues and Afrin. Argh.

I went to bed before the kids. My son (bless him) read to my daughter and I tossed and turned until midnight before finally waking up at 4am and then again at 7am when I heard the tv come on downstairs. Having high hopes that rest (inadequate but rest none-the-less) would repair my body so that I could teach today. I was asked to teach the JV soccer team of a local high school and was so looking forward to the experience. Being an athlete, I had so much to share and say. I was going to teach a vinyasa class and then add some partner poses and end with a guided meditation for athletes that I have downloaded by Stin Hansen.

As the morning waned so did my energy. I finally had to call my boss and friend and relinquish my class… I had such mixed feelings. What do others do? Do you teach when sick? Do you suck it up and find the energy? It was my first teen class experience. I didn’t want to disappoint them by not giving them my best, and at the same time, I didn’t want to be spreading this virus around. Please comment on how you handle these kind of situations.

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.

Photo by John Goodridge

Photo by John Goodridge

I just happened to be at Target today with my family and found packs of animal flash cards in the dollar section. I bought two decks—Animals of the World and U.S. Animals. Each deck has 36 cards that are color illustrated on one side and has facts on the other side. What a great tool for teaching yoga to kids.

Ideas for how to use the cards in class:

  • Let each child pick a card and act out that animal in a yoga pose. If there isn’t a pose for the animal, have the child make it up!
  • One child acts out his pose. Then the class does the pose. You can go around the room with each child acting it out individually (as the classic stadium wave) or all together as a class.
  • One child acts out their animal pose. Then the class acts out the animal pose. Then the next child acts out his pose and the class follows, but this time the class also acts out the previous pose or poses. This creates a very dynamic, flowing class. Fun and energy releasing!
  • Teach 5-8 poses to the class using the cards as visual references. Then teach the card’s poses in the opposite direction. Then mix the poses up so the class feels how the transitions between the poses change when the cards are placed in a different sequence. Ask them whether it flowed better or worse each time you change the sequence. See if the kids can sequence the poses in as many different ways as possible.
  • Lay out mats in circle configuration. Teach 5-12 poses. Lay one pose on each childs’ mat. Turn on energetic music and play yoga freeze. When the music stops, the children get into the pose on the mat. When the music resumes, the children walk or run around the mat circle.

D Sharon Pruitt

D Sharon Pruitt

I received my childrens yoga certification from Karma Kids Yoga which is based in NYC. I love the Karma Kids approach to childrens yoga and the training left me with an unbelievable amount of material.

Training was fun and exhausting. Getting into a playful mindset in a room full of children is a lot easier than in a room full of adults. I worried that maybe I needed a theatre background or an elementary school teacher’s background to be able to connect to the children in my classes. My instructor, Jessica, was so animated and in the know of so many animal and childrens pop culture facts that I was a little intimidated. I may know my asanas but do I know enough about Sponge Bob to relate to my classes?

Everyone developes their own style and the only way to find out what that style is is to teach. The real training for me started when I applied what I learned in some summer classes in my home with the children of friends. I was able to work out my initial nerves, plan some classes and work on how much material was needed for the length of time I was teaching, as well as, try out adding music and books to the mix. It was a gentle introduction to teaching and it helped give me confidence when I went out looking for places to teach outside of my home.

There are many certification programs out there. I have found that I use material from many sources. I am always looking for games to make into yoga games and ways to teach the poses that are fun and playful. Pick a program that intrigues you or works into your schedule and use that certification as a starting point not the be all end all. Go online and research the programs out there. Think a little bit about where you want to teach, what population you want to teach. If you don’t know. It is OK. I think that if you are not sure what age group that you would like to teach then a program that has a broader appeal is important. If you want to bring yoga into the public school system then YogaKids would be a great choice as it has a integrative educational slant to its certification program. It is also more intensive and costly. For me Karma Kids was a great place to begin. I am soon to add a mom and baby certification to my credentials and was searching for a program that resonated with me. Again there are many choices out there. Take that leap, pick one that works in your schedule, budget and lifestyle and just go for it. You can always go back for more.

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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