Water balloon warm-up

This time of year, kids come into yoga classes with energy to spare.

A warm-up game played to the song Water Balloon by the Okee Dokee Brothers is a great way to burn off extra wiggles while encouraging kids to notice how their bodies are moving, turn on their self-control, and explore the concepts tense and relaxed.

Here’s how we play:

•  First, we pretend to hold water balloons in our hands and talk about how they move and jiggle in a loose, floppy way. We stand up and practice moving our bodies that way, letting arms hang loose and allowing the torso and head plenty of give and sway.

•   I tell the kids that as long as they hear the Water Balloon song playing they can run around the room (of course, be sure the running they do is safe and appropriate for the space you’re in), letting the top part of their body move like a water balloon, muscles as relaxed as possible.

•   When the music stops kids run back to their mats and stand sideways, in Star Pose.Yoga Bunny star pose (tense) imageThey make every part of their body as tense as possible. I say something like: “Tense your feet and grab your mat with your toes! Tighten your leg muscles! Suck in your belly muscles!  Arm muscles tight, tight, tight! Tight fists! And squinch up your face like you just ate 300 lemons!  Hold tight for 3…2…1…”

•  When the music comes back on, kids continue running around with super relaxed “water balloon bodies.”

•  At the end of the song, we all return to our mats and “splat” belly down like a burst water balloon.

•  Because this is a very short song, I make the running-around bursts fairly short, and we usually do the song twice in a row.

•  The water balloon warm-up will leave you with happy kids laying on their bellies, breathing deeply, and usually more focused and relaxed than when you began.  You’re ready to transition into a quieter, more focused game or activity.

Have fun, and prepare for many requests for this song!

The me-too jar

The kids in my yoga classes like to talk.  A lot.

When I first started planning yoga classes for kids, I set aside 5 minutes at the beginning for everyone to answer a question, calling the group’s attention to that day’s theme and settling us into a class routine.

But we rarely finished answering the question in 5 minutes. Or 10 minutes. The kids wanted to share. To respond. To know more about one another. To say, “Oh, yeah!  Me too!” and weave in their own thoughts to what another student just said. Sometimes conversations were silly, and there was a lot of laughter in our circle. Other times, the tone was more thoughtful or even serious.

And something special was happening during these conversations. Kids shared their true feelings about what they cared about, at school and at home. Kids expressed their shared frustration about feeling left out or teased, their joy about birthdays and sleepovers and scoring a winning goal or getting a new cat. I heard them build on one another’s dreams about saving the planet and talk about who they want to be as adults.

Best of all, I saw kids connect with one another. With an adult there to provide scaffolding (stay somewhat on topic, be kind, wait your turn, can you say more about that?) and modeling, (“Wow, that must have been a really sad day when your dog got hurt”), conversations could be silly or serious, sometimes both, but always safe. Within that warm safety, hearts opened,  sarcasm evaporated, and kids listened carefully and responded with gusto.

At first I worried that we were spending so much of a yoga class not really “doing yoga.”

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these conversations support exactly what I hope kids will experience in a Friendly Yoga class – the growth of inner and outer friendliness and deep comfort showing up in our circle of mats to safely be exactly who they are that day, body, mind, and spirit.

Also, since talking is pretty natural for most kids, everyone starts class feeling at ease. The physical part of yoga comes easily for some  kids, especially the dancers and gymnasts and those kids who are just naturally rubbery or strong or kinesthetic learners. But most groups have a couple of kids who are stiff from years of hockey or sedentary play or who struggle with balance or have disabilities or who are just self conscious about moving their body in front of their peers. Having conversations that emphasize individuality and mutual support sets an important tone that lasts for the rest of class.

Once I truly believed in the power of the Friendly Yoga conversations, I officially incorporated them into our class routine in 3 ways:

I committed to keeping Friendly Yoga classes small. I occasionally teach 20 Girl Scouts or a big group at a community event, but I keep most classes capped at 12, 6 to 8 for my littlest kids.  I could fit more mats in the room, and keep a larger group engaged, but I can’t build the group dynamic as easily, and conversations lose their power.

I made Friendly Yoga classes a little bit longer to accommodate a 15-20 solid minutes of discussion.

I incorporated props to structure turn-taking and skillful listening.  Conversations go best with a minimum of interruption and off-topic diversion, and a physical object can go a long way toward keeping things on track.

One tool I sometimes use to build in this structure is a me-too jar.photo-1

The me-too jar couldn’t be simpler. I use a glass mason jar and craft store pom-poms.  The jar sits in the middle of our circle, and  before the day’s question is asked (What do you love to do on the weekends? If you could only keep one box of your stuff, what would you pack? What’s your favorite dessert?), I give each child and myself as many pom-poms as there are people in the room.

I remind the kids that they will each get a turn to talk, and I challenge them to say nothing out loud while another friend has a turn.  Instead, if what someone else says resonates, they can add a pom-pom to the jar.

The me-too jar is a concrete way for kids to show the speaker that a connection has been made and to practice active, encouragement-filled listening.  They enjoy the tactile satisfaction of holding onto soft pom-poms, and some movement is added to what can otherwise be a long (but profitable) period of sitting, as the kids move into the middle of the circle to deposit their pom-poms in the jar and then return to their mats.

When we’re done, extra pom-poms get put back in the jar, the jar is put away, and we are ready to move into our physical yoga as an even more connected, friendly, encouraging group.