Know Yourself, Grow Yourself – a new Friendly Yoga class for teens!

Two ideas have been buzzing around in my mind like friendly but insistent bees ever since Friendly Yoga became a reality almost three years ago.

1) Some tweens/teens in Friendly Yoga classes are ready to experiment with a more physically and emotionally challenging practice, but would still benefit from the comfort of learning with peers before moving on to an adult yoga class.

2) I wish there were more male yoga role models (adult students and teachers) for kids (both boys and girls) to look up to. There are some great ones out there, but also many studios with no men teaching and few men practicing.

So one day, when I was explaining to one of my favorite yoga teachers, José Torres, just what Friendly Yoga is all about, an idea crystallized, and I blurted it out. “Would you ever teach kids, José? We could teach a class together!”

José is serious role model material, not only because he’s a guy, but because he exudes positivity, fun, and kindness, and is an excellent teacher.  He is also a perpetual student, mixing many different styles of yoga and meditation in his personal practice.

José smiled and said, “Sure!” but I have to confess that I thought maybe he was just being kind and polite in the face of my enthusiasm.  I do tend to go all starry-eyed when I’m gushing about how much I love bringing yoga to kids.

But by the time I got home from class that day, José had messaged me, saying that he couldn’t get the idea of “giving back” by teaching kids out of his head and that he was super excited to give it a try.

Since then, José and I have put a lot of thought into designing a class that bumps up the challenge – and the reward – for teen boys and girls who would like to dive more deeply into a consistent yoga practice.

Know Yourself, Grow Yourself is a class especially for young teens, 13-15. (If you have an older child or an 11 or 12-year-old who you think would benefit from this class, please contact me through the Friendly Yoga Website– age is not as important as maturity level and enthusiasm.)

Class will be 90 minutes long and include group discussion, introspection, journaling, and a final relaxation. The centerpiece of the class will be a 45-minute yoga sequence, which will remain fairly consistent from class to class.

Homework (doing at least part of the series at home a few times between classes) will be strongly encouraged, but not required. One of the things we’re most excited about is having the kids see and feel mental and physical progress, and consistent practice will help them get there.  Homework will demonstrate to them that yoga is something they can do outside of class when they need to calm anxious feelings or give themselves a pre-homework energy boost.

We’ll be offering a 4-week session to start. Class will meet on Sunday afternoons from 2:00-3:30 at the First Parish Church in Groton, MA, beginning on Sunday, October 12.

Registration is open here.

And look at how much fun we’ll have!581321_10203187911042084_1349262096_nphoto-8

 

 

Yoga and literacy: popcorn theme

(I teach a weekly yoga and literacy class for preschoolers at a local library, and plan each 45-minute class around a specific book and related yoga/movement activities.)

What a treat to find this fun new book, Bob & Rob & Corn on the Cob by Todd McQueen!

In the tradition of Green Eggs and Ham, a cast of animals and and a silly robot try new foods. The rhyming text is jaunty, and the illustrations are original and lots of fun. I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to tell you that popcorn is involved. Hence the theme!
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Literacy Ideas:

Revisit familiar vocabulary: squirrel, rabbit, chicken, dog, duck,pig.

Explain new vocabulary: tofu, fondue, kabob. Print out photos from the internet to illustrate, since not all of these are illustrated in the book.

Connect with children’s prior experience: Ask who has had corn on the cob. Where? Did they like it? Do they put butter or salt on it or nothing? What does it sound like when you eat corn on the cob?

The title and text of the book provide plenty of fodder for emphasizing and playing with rhyming words.

Yoga/Movement Ideas:

Pop and stop: In this game, kids jump like popcorn and then try to do a balancing pose.

I like to give them a specific number of jumps. We might start with 6, and then get into our balancing pose. You could do something as easy as lifting one foot off the ground, or do a tree pose. Or, try “balancing Bob & Rob pose!” Pretend to hold corn on the cob up to your mouth, reach one leg (squirrel tail!)  behind you, bend forward, balancing on one leg in a modified airplane pose. See if you can balance there for 6 seconds to match the 6 jumps. Stretch those “squirrel tails” out behind you.  Work your way up to 10 jumps and 10 seconds.

CORN ON THE COB!!!: This game renames savasana or resting pose “corn on the cob” pose. We talk about how corn on the cob is long and straight and just lies there on the plate. I have cards that either say “front,” “back” or have a picture of corn on the cob printed on them.  The front/back cards also have a picture of a kid standing at the front or back of their mat, so that the kids can “read” them.  I flash the cards, and the kids go to the right places on their mats, quietly.  When corn on the cob picture comes up, they get to say (loudly!), “CORN ON THE COB!” and then quickly lay down on their mats, being as still as possible.  I wiggle the toes of the stillest corn cobs, and they stand back up. Do it again!

This fun popcorn game is always a crowd pleaser.

Happy popping!

Gathering sweetness: an on-the-spot meditation

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Michael Pollan’s Cooked in the car, and he’s been making me hungry. First for BBQ, then for soups and stews and braises, and now for bread. It’s a great listen (and a wonderful reminder that cooking can be a form of meditation).

This morning, Pollan described his newfound tradition of Sunday afternoons in the kitchen, prepping homemade meals for the week. He mentioned that his son, who is in high school, often brings his laptop into the kitchen and that they share a few hours of easy togetherness, sometimes in conversation, but often in side-by-side silence.

He referred to the “sweetness” of spending this time with a child who he knows will soon be leaving for college.

Sweetness. Yes. Not, this time, the sweetness of food, but the sweetness of being with another person.

I know what he means about those moments with children, and I bet you do too. It’s a special kind of grace-filled presence, a warm honey-suffused togetherness. Quiet, bright joy with a thin ripple of poignancy running through it.IMG_0272_2

Sweetness can’t be forced, just given space to emerge and then noticed and appreciated when it bubbles up.

Sweetness can’t be kept, but memories of it are the ones I would pay large sums to return to, even if only for a few seconds.

The moment when a baby trusts its way into sleep in your arms while fading sunlight paints the shadows of tree branches onto the bedroom wall. The times when you read a book to a preschooler and her weight feels perfect in your lap, and you would gladly read the same book four times in a row. The instant that you and your third grader both see the cardinal sitting right outside the window, and you smile but say nothing. The five seconds when a 12-year-old son reaches for your hand and gives it a quick squeeze while trees drop yellow leaves overhead. The moment when a group of 4th graders sits up from a long savasana and every face in the yoga room is smooth and open and calm, and one student rests her head on a friend’s shoulder and we all just sit without talking for an extra minute.

In moments of sweetness, life makes beautiful, benevolent sense. 

It has something to do with feeling safe, with appreciating right now, with relaxing into the world and toward another person at the same time.

Sweetness is here, but if we’re moving too fast, too glued to our screens, too worried about what we’re doing and how we’re doing, and what our kids are or are not doing, we might miss it.

Here’s an idea for this harvesting time of the year: gather the sweetness, the little raspberries and peaches and plums and drops of honey that you find with the children in your life, whether at home or in a classroom.

Buy a small notebook.

In the 112 days we have left this year, days that you will have no trouble filling with school and homework and activities, with Halloween and Thanksgiving, and the frenzy of December, with work and meals and all the goodies the world serves up on our glowing screens, take a few minutes to slow down and see if you can fill even a quarter of that book with 1-2 sentence reminders of sweet moments.

If you look, you’ll find them. Yum.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I feel like jumping for joy!

A gentle roller coaster of rising and falling energy. That’s the image I keep in mind when planning a yoga class for young children.

ImageThe peak of each upswing gives kids a chance to expend energy, to find themselves in their bodies, to express themselves and laugh and play and move.

And then we coast into a quieter activity that challenges the kids to slow down, relax, notice, and focus, externally and internally.

Friendly Yoga classes usually begin with a greeting song, and then a chance for each child to ring our chime or answer a question. For the youngest kids, that’s quite enough sitting still, thank you very much!

Time for an exuberant warm-up to get our muscles pumping, our faces smiling.

One song I love to begin with is Sometimes by Frances England. Sometimes is the first song on her first CD, Fascinating Creatures.

Intermission!! Three fun things to know about Frances England.

ONE: Her children’s music  – – melodies, lyrics, her voice  – –  is sweet, folky, intelligent, playful, and original. I play a lot of Frances England songs in my classes.

TWO: (I especially love this one) She recorded her first CD as a fundraiser for her son’s school, not expecting that a wider audience would ever hear it.

THREE: She also has a beautiful album of music especially for grown-ups.

Intermission over!! Back to fun yoga class planning!

Here you can find the lyrics to Sometimes, along with some drawings suggesting “moves” you might do with the kids during each part of the song.

Before we begin, I tell the kids that it’s a listening and doing song and that we’re going to listen to what the singer says about her feelings, and act it out with our bodies. The first time or two that we listen to it, I repeat or paraphrase each lyric to the group, as if I’m hearing it for the first time.

The major warm-up action comes during the chorus:

high, high diddy high hee hee

low, low diddy low hoo hoo

When she sings “high,high…” we reach up as high as we can, up on tiptoe, fingers wiggling to the ceiling.

When she sings “low, low…” we quickly flatten ourselves as low as we can onto the ground, like the beginning of a cobra pose. The kids love the challenge of moving quickly from up to down and back up again.

During the verse that begins, “The highs, they soar…” we’re already on the ground, so we stay on our bellies, and when she sings about the highs, we raise our arms and legs, in a flying “superman” pose.  When she sings about the lows, we rest our limbs back down onto the ground.

You’ll be surprised how out of breath you are by the end of this one! It ends with everyone deliciously tuckered out and on their bellies, and I usually say something like “Now rest on your bellies and turn your head to one side, with your ear on the ground. Can you feel your heart beating or your belly pushing into the ground when you breathe? Turn your head to look the other way, and take two more deep breaths, in and out.  In and out.” I then use a very quiet voice to transition them into a story, meditation, or quiet noticing activity.

Planning tip: It’s especially helpful if warm-up activities like this end with the kids in a physical/attentional position in which they are “with you” and ready to follow you down into a more relaxed, focused state.  This song/activity sets you up perfectly for that transition.

As always, enjoy, and feel free to share!

Constellation meditation – who do you love?

Last summer I went to a yoga workshop with Jay Fields of Grace and Grit Yoga. For one exercise, Jay had us begin in mountain pose, standing with our eyes closed.

Once we had done the usual (easy to parody, but truly important and powerful) “feeling our way into our feet, sensing ourselves grounded on our mats,” we were given a suggestion I had never heard before.

“Think about the people you love the most. Where are they in relation to your body right now? Can you feel the connection between you and those people, the shape that’s made by your bodies in space?”

I thought about my husband, at home 30 miles away from my left cheek. My kids, who were with my mother-in-law, 20 miles southeast of my right shoulder.

I thought about them and remembered my husband’s smile, my son’s laugh, my other son’s eyes wide in amazement, as they often are, and I felt myself in the midst of a constellation, triangular, with two dancing twinkles at the point where my boys were likely in their usual constant motion. And I instantly felt anchored. Held. Vividly aware of my un-aloneness. Safer in a room full of strangers with a teacher I’d never met before because of the loving relationships I carry with me.Image

I added a few friends to the starmap, some nearby in New England, one down in Texas, like the far edge of the big dipper’s handle. And the constellation grew more complex and bright.

I brought this meditation home with me, into my own practice and into classes with kids.  What I especially like about it is that it wakes up the knowledge that we always carry with us, but that we can forget: we exist in a web of relationships, and the love that we send and receive is palpable and powerful.

Here is a script you can use to lead children through a version of this meditation.

The script starts with feeling a connection with just one other person. If you do this with a group of children, I can almost guarantee that someone will ask if they can think of 2 (or more) special people, and someone will ask if they can choose an animal. Why not? Adjust and season as needed. Maybe start with one connection the first time you try it, and then build up until the kids feel themselves sitting right in the middle of their own love constellation.

Enjoy, and please feel free to share!