One of the teens in today’s yoga class told me about something that happened at school that morning, and how it pissed her off. I was surprised at how the story ended as I saw no big deal on it… But, hey! It all depends on one’s perspective, right? Well… After lots of breathing in class and a long savasana, she came to me and commented, “Now I can see how breathing helped clear my mind to see that I completely overreacted to what happened this morning…”
I wish everyone in the world could learn this. I hold this vision for our future. May we learn to stop before choosing angry reactions that will just make the problem bigger instead of opening up the path to a solution. Imagine how many conflicts would be avoided if we learned this? Yes, it involves mindfulness, paying attention to what is going on inside you and around you, done without judgment. Not easy. But it’d be wonderful to learn to step back while facing some challenging situation, take a deep breath, clear the mind and be capable of making the best decision in the situation you find yourself in. I believe we all can achieve this. And so I encouraged my students in that class to try to take a deep breath before respond to anything another person said to them in a discussion of some sorts.
Another teenager said, “I wish my parents would know this as they yell at me during an argument!” That was a teaching moment since the other students were paying attention when she made this comment out loud. I said, “How about the next time this happens you invite them to stop and take a breath together? Notice I said the word ‘together’, that’s how you get your parents to try your suggestions with you.” She then looked into the distance as if she were imagining the situation in her head. Well, the seed has been planted and I hope she remembers next time some conflict comes up. Just one breath, a deep one taken deliberately; that’s all it takes to remind us to stop and maybe shift our perspective, maybe choose softer words, maybe realize it is no big deal given the bigger picture of our lives. Just one conscious breath to start with.
I have tried this in my own life and it has made a big difference. Let me know if you try it and how that goes for you. I would love to hear your stories too, so feel free to share in the comments section below.
In my yoga classes I have always tried to incorporate some mindfulness exercises; sometimes in the beginning, sometimes in the end or even both. Savasana is always a good time to bring them back to the present moment as the mind keeps working, essentially doing its job. Nowadays I also do it in the middle of class, when I sense there is some opening for a short lesson on mindfulness or for introducing some mindful technique while performing a yoga pose. Depending on how open the students are at that moment, they will absorb the new skill right there. If they are not, they might remember what was said in a pose later when it comes to mind or they decide to show someone else (parents in case of little kids) that pose.
The way mindfulness gets explained needs to be tailored to different age groups. Of course I would not talk about the prefrontal cortex or amygdala in the middle of a yoga class, even for adults (I try to keep them present and I believe those words could be an invitation for people to zone out!), but examples according to the students’ ages can be presented and made easy to understand or recreate. Like the yoga poses, as a teacher, we need to drop any expectations that all the students will get it on the first, second or hundredth time… Our job is to present the lesson, and the students take what they are ready for.
I taught a yoga class at an Elementary school on the other day and, toward the end of class, while they were lying on their backs for a pose, I asked them to look at the ceiling and notice new things they had not seen before. We sat down and shared what they noticed. When performing the pose on the second side, I asked them to look at the ceiling again, notice what their friends shared and maybe even notice other things no one had mentioned. We then sat and shared some more, giving a chance to those who did not share anything on the first side. Of course, about two of them never shared anything because they were distracted with their hair or looking at their neighbor during that time. For adults, I tend to ask them to focus on feelings and sensations in their bodies while in the poses. For teenagers, I would recommend something in between the two examples I just mentioned.
I came across an article today and thought it was worth mentioning here. Check out item #4 suggesting to drop the expectations, just like I mentioned in the second paragraph above. This article is geared toward parents, but I believe it can help kids yoga instructors get an idea or two on how to implement mindfulness in their classes. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monisha-vasa/teaching-kids-mindfulness_b_6458950.html
“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” – Abraham Maslow
Books are a great addition to a kids yoga class, as I have mentioned before. We get to do poses representing animals and objects in the illustrations, but also get to think about the message in the book. Last week, I brought a very cool book to share with the younger ones at this Club I teach. To my surprise, they saw the cover and exclaimed, “Pete the Cat!” One of the students even said he had watched a video related with this book in his preschool! I had no idea Pete the Cat was so popular… My daughters are now teenagers and I have been out of the loop of “what’s in” for little kids, so I usually browse the library and pick up books that grab my eye.
Pete the Cat and his Magic Sunglasses, written by Kimberly and James Dean, is a fun book with a few sentences in each page and colorful illustrations. The animals in this book – cat, toad, squirrel, turtle, alligator, owl – can be imitated with yoga poses, and so can some actions, such as riding a motorcycle or skateboarding. The book has a great, deep message in it, which is well put in words, totally accessible to the preschool-kindergarten age group. The animals come to think they need special sunglasses to see the beauty in the world, when in fact it is real and you just need to pay attention to be able to see it.
In order to give the kids a chance to experience this concept, I brought in fun sunglasses for them to try on, see things in different shades and shapes, and then try to look at the world in a fun way without the sunglasses. And they said, “Whoa! This is so pretty!” while looking at the walls around them. I believe that when we let go of preconceptions and judgments, we are able to appreciate what is around us way more. To see the beauty and newness in life doesn’t have to be limited to kids only.
Here is a picture of two of my students enjoying a new view of the world:
The Rainforest Adventure book is a poem about the rainforest and creatures living in it. With beautiful illustrations, this children’s book shows many wonders from this type of forest and also presents suggestions for yoga poses correlated to animals and plants mentioned in the poem. By performing those yoga poses, I believe children will pay more attention to what the poem is about and therefore engage in learning about the rainforest while having fun at the same time.
As a mother and educator, I believe children need to learn about nature and how it sustains our life in this planet. This should start as early as possible. By encouraging the kids to do the poses in the book, read the poem and talk to friends about it, I hope to raise awareness about our rainforests, and how they are important for us, even if we don’t live very close to them. In the last 60 years, it is estimated that half the area previously occupied with tropical forests has disappeared. If it continues on this rate, by 2030 we would have only 10% of our forests left. To ensure a healthy planet we all can live on, we should all embrace this cause and start helping immediately. By supporting rainforests now and making sure today kids will keep doing it in the future, this situation can be changed for the better in a few years.
That’s why, as an author, I have chosen Rainforest Alliance to receive a percentage of the profit from my book sales as donations. As a non-profit organization, it advocates for the survival of rainforests by working to reduce deforestation and make sure sustainable practices are learned and implemented in communities around the world, among other projects. I believe that by raising awareness about rainforests among kids and donating to Rainforest Alliance will help make a difference in the world today and increase the chances of reversing our planet’s environmental situation for the better.