Listening and allowing

The first day I met one of my yoga kids, she told me that she is part wild animal. Her friends, wide-eyed and earnest, corroborated, “Yes, it’s true, she really is!” I probably said something like, “Great, wild animals are cool! Let’s do some yoga!”

She’s an enthusiastic and cooperative participant for most of class, but this student never lays on her mat during savasana. While the other kids find some kind of comfy way to be prone and relaxed under dimmed lights, she is on all fours or squatting, or curled up, legs folded underneath her. She’s still for a minute or so, and then moves to a new position. She is quiet, and even moving, she is mostly calm, with a dash of vigilance in her beautiful brown eyes.

Not one of the other 11 kids in class ever says, “No fair! Why doesn’t she have to lay down?” I find this amazing.

We’ve been meeting for a few weeks now. Today, as the other kids rested on their mats, this particular girl did a slow series of bends and bows, similar to a sun salutation. Her face was calm but serious.

At the end of class, she came up to me and said, “Did you see the movements I was doing?

“In wild animal language, those were bows of respect. I was honoring you for being the teacher. I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t listening, because you were asking us to be still. But when I’m in my animal side, I CAN’T be still.”

“I know just what you mean,” I told her.

There are times when letting one kid “do her thing” can devolve into chaos and make it very hard to teach (or is it just control?) an entire group. There are contexts in which I might need to tell this child that her “human child” side needs to come to class, no wild animals allowed in the room.

But when it’s possible to avoid forcing conformity on child, when I can allow them to express something that seems so important to them, it always feels like a victory to me.

Jumping All Day Long

It’s been a loooooooong, snowy winter here in New England. Early April, and yards and playgrounds are still covered in mud and snow, so kids are coming to class with plenty of energy.

I have Jumping All Day Long by Jennifer Gasoi on my playlist for those moments in class when it’s clearly time to amp up the activity level for a minute or two. gasoi2

The lyrics suggest body movements, and the actions change frequently enough that kids stay interested. During the instrumental sections, we either do “free dancing” (kids choose their own movements) or we try holding a pose (warrior I provides a powerful-feeling “resting place,” and two instrumental sections means you can do both sides).

With some groups, we do the whole song “feet on mats,” but in the right space, with kids who can handle it, kids are free to move wild and free! Woo hoo!

Preschoolers love this song, but school-age kids also happily boing around the room, and some of my goofier (totally a compliment!) middle schoolers even have fun with it.

You might get a request to “Do it again!!!” especially from younger kids, but eventually kids will happily collapse onto their mats. This is a great time to notice breathing, heart rate, sensations in big muscle groups, and to transition kids into a calmer, more focused activity.

 

Thank you for being you…

I love all the kids in my yoga classes, but there are always some who snag my heart extra tenaciously. Often they are kids who come to class with physical or emotional or behavioral challenges and are absolutely, vibrantly perfect. They broadcast who they are with an insistent signal, and even if they’re shy, they usually haven’t developed a thick layer of self-censoring. They speak their truth with their bodies and their voices, and, tiny teachers, they remind me what yoga is all about.IMG_1935

Like the little girl who concentrates hard to understand where her arms and legs should be in most poses, and who gets so excited when we play active games that she literally squeals with excitement. The girl who solemnly approaches me at the end of each class, looks right into my eyes, and earnestly bows an extra namaste.

The same little girl who absolutely needed to tell me, right in the middle of a game, that when she was born at six months, she only weighed one pound. One pound. Who then listed the surgeries she has endured. And who then straightened herself up into the most focused, branches-reaching, victorious tree pose I’ve seen her do. Tears flooded my eyes, and it was all I could do not to swoop all now-40 solid pounds of her up and swing her around and say, “YES!! You survived and you are here and let’s make sure you rock this world!” And then I would need to do that to every kid in our circle because aren’t they all amazements, miracles of survival in their own ways?

At the end of class, the kids rest on their mats in savasana, and once we’ve established the perfect lighting in the room (some kids calling out that it’s too scary and dark, others that it is too light and un-relaxing, me negotiating and calibrating) and done a sweet little meditation, I give anyone who wants one a gentle shoulder press. Almost everyone wants one. Their little faces are so perfect and calm and trusting, their bodies still and open. I remind them to take a deep breath in, and as they exhale, I help them soften their shoulders away from their ears, toward their mats. And in that moment of openness, although I am not ordained in any way, I offer a little blessing, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. Yesterday I told each friend, “Thank you for being you.” A few kids responded with a quiet, “You’re welcome.” And that tiny, heartfelt conversation is the point of showing up on your mat, no matter how old you are or how deep your postures.

Thank you for being you.

 

Who sings that song? Fall preschool edition!

Wondering about some of the music played in Friendly Yoga classes this fall?

I’ve listed a few favorites from the preschool classes below so that you can listen to them with your children at home. Play the yoga games we learn in class, lay down and relax for a song or too, or just sing your hearts out!

I’m full of gratitude for these wonderful artists whose music adds so much to Friendly Yoga classes.

Please support them by downloading favorite songs, and remember that most of them have CDs that make fantastic, meaningful, and beloved birthday and holiday gifts. And check out their websites to find out about touring dates so you can dance to their music live and in person!

You are my little birdMost of the music playing as you’ve arrived for class this fall is by Elizabeth Mitchell. Little Wing and If You Listen are from her album You Are My Little Bird, and Arm in Arm, I Wish You Well, and Circle of the Sun are on Blue Clouds (which was nominated for a Grammy).  You can find her duet with Alastair Moock (also a Grammy nominee), Take a Little Walk with Me, on Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids.

We’ve warmed up with Sometimes by Frances England (see this blog post from earlier this year) and played with Popcorn by  Barenaked Ladies (another post from this blog).

Dancing Bear by Bari Koral is from her album The Apple Tree and the Honey Bee. (Keep an eye out for Bari’s new kids’ show, Yogapalooza on Z Living this fall.)

I don’t think Laurie Berkner knew, when she wrote The Goldfish, that she had just penned the perfect beginning-yoga song. Kids of all ages love it (again! again! again!), and it’s a heart-pumping workout, with plenty of child’s pose resting in between bursts of activity. Laurie Berkner

And finally, the sweet song where your kids do yoga poses and then run over to give you a big hug at the end? That’s If I Were by Sammie Haynes and Lisa Flynn (of Childlight Yoga), and it’s from the album I Grow With Yoga.

We gear up for another session of Friendly Yoga in a few weeks, and I’m already gathering more good music to share during class, so stay tuned!

 

 

Yoga and literacy: dog 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.)

Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 11.22.20 AMSometimes a new preschool student will run into one of my yoga classes and announce, “I already know how to yoga!”

They then launch their little body into one of three poses.

Tree or…

Some kind of crazy-but-awesome, un-named, rubber-boned contortion or…

Downward facing dog.

Down dog is such a great pose to work on with children.  It ‘s fun to pretend to be dogs. It’s challenging to be halfway upside down and figure out where all your body parts should be.

And downward facing dog feels great, through the backs of the legs and the hips and the shoulders.

When planning a dog-themed class, I was so happy to find STICK! by Andy Pritchett.

Literacy Ideas:

Focus on the big, red letters on the cover. We might talk about which ones are curvy and which are straight, like sticks.

There is an exciting exclamation point to be noticed and played with! We practice saying “stick” in a calm way and “STICK!” with lots of enthusiasm. (Later in the book there is also a question mark to play with.)

The word “stick” is repeated MANY times in this book. I have the kids “read” it for me when they see it on the page. We might stop and explore what our mouth is doing when it says the word, hissing like a snake at the beginning, and making a the /K/ sound in the back of our throats at the end.

This is a great book for exploring vocabulary related to feelings. At different times the dog is confused, happy, playful, hopeful, sad, very sad, and curious.

 Yoga/Movement Ideas:

The little dog in this book has a very expressive face and body. Challenge the kids to imitate what he does with their own faces and bodies.

Bring in pictures of real dogs doing upward and downward facing dog. I like to print out large versions of these and laminate them so they can handle some wear and tear from class to class.  Have the kids try these poses, and add in some movement, puppy tail-wagging, and maybe even a three-legged dog (the kids think it’s hilarious to pretend to pee!).

Play FETCH!

After teaching the kids up and down dog,  add “stretching dog pose.” (I have a photo from a dog yoga calendar of a dog doing tabletop with one arm stretched out in front and the opposite leg stretching out in back. This is a challenging, fun pose for the kids to do!)

Bring out  sticks, dowels cut short, and “hide” them around the room while the kids watch. Kids 5 and under seem perfectly happy to have sticks “hidden” out in the open.

Explain that there is one stick per dog (reminders often required – in the fun of the game, some kids just start grabbing any sticks they can find!), and that once kids find theirs, they should crawl back to their mats, put their sticks down, and take a dog nap (child’s pose).

Sing this song, doing up, down, and stretching dog poses. (I usually sing it quite slow to give kids time to really get into each new pose). When you say FETCH!, it’s time to fetch those sticks!

Up dog, down dog

Up dog, down dog

Give a little stretch

Up dog, down dog

Up dog, down dog

Now…. it’s time to FETCH!

This one is a good workout and requires a lot of physical focus and concentration.  Enjoy!

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