I was invited to be a guest blogger at Healthy Sense of Self. I had quite a few stories to tell about the theme they presented me, and I chose to talk about a 10-year-old boy who used to take class with me while I taught a studio in a nearby city. Click on the link below to get to the story:
Some friends have been encouraging me to create a video about my Kids Yoga classes for a while. Then a friend of mine, who is a videographer, illustrator, video-editor and who-knows-what-else-she-can-do, asked if she could come and film one of my classes. We thought it would also be neat to include an interview with one of my students and her mother. This 10-year-old student of mine, who has been doing yoga with me for more than one year now, agreed to share the benefits she has received from a continuous yoga practice; and you can hear and see her on the video. Meanwhile, her mom does most of the talking from a parent’s perspective.
Here is the link to the video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YPZON1AJlg
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
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
I had the honor to share my book at a studio owned by a friend of mine, who graduated from Yoga Teacher Training with me two years ago. Her studio does not offer Kids yoga classes yet, but some of her students mentioned they would love for their kids to try it out some time. So, when this friend invited me, I jumped in! We decided to offer a workshop with my book as an introduction to yoga for them, which I think is a great idea, since they get to take the book home after the class, being able to practice some more tat home with their family and friends.
As I drove to the studio, I brought my younger daughter along for many reasons, one of them being that I could use some company in the car while driving three hours to my friend’s studio. But a more important reason is that she gets to see the book we worked on together (she was the concept artist for it) being shared and enjoyed by other people; even those who had never done yoga before. As the kids started coming into the studio, my daughter pointed out to me that they were a bit older than she expected as the book is recommended for ages 3-10. I told her, “Not to worry; I can just offer more challenges in the poses”. And it is exactly what happened> Depending on the age and energy of the group, I offer different variations for the poses already in the book and call some extra poses to meet their level – of energy, physical readiness, knowledge and maturity.
We had lots of fun with individual, partner and group poses. Everyone got to laugh, and that fills up my heart. If the book can bring at least one smile to a reader, how great! There were actually many smiles and laughs as we learn to take it easy when we cannot accomplish a certain pose or stay balanced for more than one second – it’s all good!
At the end of the workshop, we had time to play the game (included in the book) as a group and to enjoy some relaxation (savasana) by lying down on the mats, reaping the benefits from the hard work doing the poses. I had some nature sounds playing in the background, encouraged them to relax, close their eyes and visualize themselves in a rainforest. Maybe they could focus on one animal sound they could recognize and try to visualize it, or simply try to identify as many animals as they could among the sounds being played. One thing I have learned from having done this before is to let them know, as we lie down, that the animals are not in the room with them, just the sounds, so they are able to relax more fully.
It is a great honor to share my book with other people – of all ages. When I decided to write the book, I had the vision of presenting it to groups like this one, and spreading the love for yoga to kids and their families and friends through my book. I feel grateful for having opportunities like this in my life.
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.
One of the 10 living principles of Yoga is ahimsa, which means non-violence, non-harming, and even compassion towards ourselves and others.
Teaching this subject to adults is relatively easy because you just talk about it and give a chance for the words to sink in with them; maybe they will grasp the idea during class, after class, or maybe they won’t. So you keep trying and one day they may get it. Now, when teaching yoga to kids, the language and approach have to be different. I like to observe and ask the children how they react to conflicts, so we can work on communication and collaboration into better ways of solving problems. Some children come with no knowledge about conflict-solving strategies other than physically attacking others to defend themselves. I figured that discussing this subject some time during a kids yoga class is a great way to bring new ideas while the kids are not in a defensive mode from getting in trouble trying to solve conflicts in some inappropriate way. I truly believe there is a peaceful way to solve issues, and learning that from a young age will sure come in hand many times during our lives.
Here is a great example on how a situation can be handled differently as pictured by this short film from Disney: