Yesterday, I had an inspiring experience while being interviewed by Donna Freeman of Yoga in My School on her Blog Talk Radio program. (to hear the interview, click here). Donna’s work with yoga and schools first came to my attention by way of Facebook. I recall my initial resistance to getting involved with social networks a couple of years ago. I thought they were kind of creepy. And now, having made the leap with the help of Shanti Generation’s  brilliant community manager, John Riley, I have come to value these social networks that are truly helping to make strong connections between like-minded people and organizations.

Nearly a decade ago, when I first began to turn my attention fully to yoga for youth, I researched the available trainings and programs that could be found on the web. Perhaps I found a half dozen at that time who had visible websites. Now, social networks are helping to reveal the multitudes of people doing great work to bring yoga to schools and communities. It’s an exciting time. As our work moves up from “under the radar” and we begin to forge stronger connections, our movement builds and strengthens. I am heartened by the level of sharing and support happening among the many children’s and youth yoga organizations.

In honor of the many folks who dedicate their days and lives to uplifting youth through yoga, I will list a sampling of the many organizations supporting the work. If you see someone missing, please fill in the list in the comments section.

Yoga in My School Canada

Y.O.G.A. for Youth Los Angeles

Headstand San Francisco

Bent on Learning NYC

Street Yoga Portland

Under the Yoga Tree Hawaii

Karma Kids Yoga NYC

Next Generation Yoga California and New York

Mindful Practices Yoga Chicago

Childlight Yoga Maine

Kids Yoga Circle Rhode Island

Mini Yogis Los Angeles

Yoga Playgrounds Los Angeles

YogaKids Indiana

Yoga Buddies Los Angeles

Radiant Child Yoga

Yoga Ed Los Angeles

Buddhaful Kids Wellesley

Calming Kids Yoga Colorado

The Wellness Initiative Colorado

Young Yoga Masters

And, of course, Shanti Generation Los Angeles

This  is in no way an exhaustive list, only a sampler of the great work happening out there. Altogether, we can effect positive change in the lives of children and teens.

photo credit: Lissy Elle copyright 2009

Today is the Vernal Equinox. The day and night are in balance. Spring has sprung! Nature is celebrating the return of the light with a glorious array of colors, sounds and smells.

This morning my husband and I planted a small pepper plant and seeds of dill, lovage, shiso, cilantro and basil to bless our herb garden. While pressing the tiny seeds into the Earth, I felt their potential to become flourishing, flavorful foods for our family. I thought about the imagery I sometimes use when teaching Child’s Pose to children.

Being in Child’s Pose is like being a seed planted in fertile soil. I remind students to be still and slowly breath in oxygen to awaken their energy within. In this pose, we can imagine soaking in the nutrients and minerals from the rich Earth surrounding us. While we are still, our potential awakens, tensions fall away and we often feel the urge to sprout!

As we sprout, the Sun bathes us in life giving light, inspiring our ongoing journey.

To practice Child’s Pose, start with a soft surface like a rug, blanket or mat. For sensitive knees have an extra padded surface. Sit on the feet with the big toes touching. Make space between the knees. Fold forward placing the forehead to the Earth. Let the arms rest comfortably out in front of the head or beside the body. If the forehead does not reach the floor, stack the fists in a tower or place a dense pillow beneath the forehead.

Keep the hips pressing down onto the feet and allow the heels to splay open. Adjust the spacing between the knees until favorable. If practicing with a friend or family member, take turns gently pressing the lower back and side hips down towards the floor.

Find the breath and watch the inhale and exhale. Just as the day and night are equal on the Equinox, balance the length of the inhale and exhale. Feel your connection to Earth and surrender any worry.

For a few minutes, remain in the pose and visualize yourself growing into whatever plant or tree symbolizes your path for this Spring. See yourself sprout, grow and become the vibrant, life affirming part of nature that you are.

***For kids yoga classes, students can plant a whole garden! Have them make rows of seeds and sprout one at a time into their chosen plants and trees. Talk about growing into healthy foods that heal our bodies.

We are in full swing preparing for our March session of Shanti Generations’s Youth Peacemakers Training at Yogaglo. This month, we are thrilled to have Felicia Tomasko coming in as our special guest expert on Ayurveda. Mrs. Tomasko has a rich background on Yogic and Ayurvedic studies and is also the editor-in-chief  of LA Yoga and Ayurveda Magazine. In advance of this months workshop, Felicia published an informative article on nutrition tips from Ayurveda for helping teens find balance. With her permission, I have printed the full article here.

Ayurveda for a Fussy Teen

Written by Felicia M. Tomasko, RN
Throughout our lives, we experience times of increased vulnerability, change and even confusion. One of the most intense of these are the teenage years, puberty and the transition from childhood to adulthood.

According to Ayurveda, birth through the early twenties is the time of life dominated by the kapha dosha, the energies of water and earth. Just like the expansive period of new growth in the springtime, the kapha season of the year, our youth is characterized by years of rapid growth. To support this, it seems as though kids (and especially teenagers) ravenously eat – particularly high-fat, high-carb comfort foods.

These natural cravings can provide information as to what is actually needed. Carbohydrates give energy; healthy fats and oils are necessary for building the nervous, endocrine and immune systems and make up the building blocks for hormones and neurotransmitters. Good quality proteins, minerals and vitamins are also necessary. This is particularly true for teens. For example, studies show that the calcium intake and overall dietary habits of teenage girls are vitally important for building the bone density that will be crucial throughout her life.

While we may wonder what to do, here are a few Ayurvedic suggestions:

  • Offer high-quality complex carbohydrates to satisfy the need for sweet, building foods without turning to refined sugars: quinoa, brown rice, millet, oats, barley and buckwheat. Try mixtures of these. Sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin are also satisfying and healthy.
  • Encourage calcium intake. Sesame seeds are a good source of calcium, and the condiment gomasio, which contains ground sesame seeds, is a good way to sprinkle the seeds on everything.
  • Healthy, high-quality oils rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids satisfy the body’s needs for fats and may diminish the cravings for highly refined, low quality but high-fat foods like chips or cheeses. Flax, borage, avocado, walnut, purslane, almond, chia and Salba are a few of these.
  • Reduce soda pops, particularly those with phosphoric acid, which leaches calcium and other minerals from the body, and caffeine, which wreaks havoc with mood and the nervous system.
  • If pizza just can’t be avoided, try varieties with a whole-grain crust, no cheese or vegan cheese alternatives (soy, though, is also congesting). A cup of ginger tea or powdered ginger, ground black pepper and even cinnamon all help to reduce mucus.

For more suggestions, check out our e-newsletter, Living LA YOGA (sign-up online) or write edit@layogamagazine.com and let us know what’s worked for you.

Felicia M. Tomasko, RN will be teaching Ayurveda for Youth in the Shanti Generation’s Youth Peacemakers’ Training, March 27 at Yogaglo in Santa Monica: shantigeneration.com.

Click here to  link to the article on LA Yoga and Ayurveda Magazines website.

Teens love choices. And they enjoy getting to do things “on their own.” One of my students very favorite and most requested yoga activities is the Yoga Laboratory.

Mid-semester is a great time for the Yoga Lab. By then students have a basic understanding of alignment and safety. I would not recommend this activity for fresh beginners. Some yoga experience is required for success.

To set up the Yoga Lab, you’ll need an open space and yoga props for stations. This is a great way to introduce students to props even when you don’t have enough for every student. Here are some of the stations I like to create.

  • Floating Lotus and Flying Crow Station- Set up two mats with two blocks on each. Place images of Tolasana (Scale Pose, I like to call it Floating Lotus) and Bakasana (Crow Pose) near each set of blocks. For Lotus, the blocks are used to “raise the floor” so lifting up is easier. The hands are placed on the blocks. For Crow, start standing perched on a block.
  • Backbend Station- Place a large exercise ball on a mat to be used for supported backbends.
  • Abdominal Strengthening Station- Place a medium exercise ball on a mat for abdominal exercises such as crunches or jack knife.
  • Wheel of Poses- Set up a circle of 5 mats. On each mat place a yoga card with different poses. Basic poses like Downward Facing Dog, Triangle, Tree, Mountain and Cobra work well.
  • Meditation Station- Create a serene setting using a soft blanket, pillows or meditation cushions, and a chime, singing bowl or bell. I like to place an opened decorative umbrella on the floor to create a sense of privacy for the scene.
  • Relaxation Station- Place two bolsters on two mats for Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose or as we sometimes call it, Resting Butterfly).
  • Handstand Wall- Clear a space on the wall for students to practice Half Handstands or Full Handstand Kick-Ups.
  • Library Station- Place 5-10 great yoga books and resources on a blanket.

Have enough space between stations for students to be able to stay focused on their particular experiment. This activity works well when students are placed with a partner. Before allowing students to enter the Lab, go through each station as a class and demonstrate each activity. Show students how they can support each other.

Explain that just like in a science lab, we must respect each space and maintain a quiet, calm demeanor as not to distract other practitioners. Let students know that you will ring a bell or play music when it is time to transition to the next station and be sure they know which direction to proceed.

This activity allows the teacher the golden opportunity to assist particular students one on one during the Yoga Lab.  Ideally, one or two assistants are also there to help. In some cases, experienced students can be enrolled in a Lab Assistant role.

After going through the Yoga Lab one time, I like to have students journal about their experience in each station on a handout listing the experiments we participated in that day.

The Yoga Lab is super popular with my middle schoolers, so they are willing to keep the room peaceful. I find this activity empowering to youth. It shows them that they can practice on their own or with a friend.

Ahimsa Mandala by asiantees.blogspot.com

This past weekend marked the second workshop in our year long Youth Peacemakers Training at Yogaglo. February’s workshop focused on developing the meaning of peace and non-violence. To help us accomplish this task, I invited Dr. Christopher Key Chapple, Navin and Pratima Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University, to guide our teens in a workshop on the foundations of non-violence, ahimsa (Sanskrit).

Ahimsa, one of the Yamas (restraints) in the eight-fold system of yoga,  is sometimes referred to as the first step on the path of yoga. Dr. Chapple brought this essential aspect of yoga philosophy alive for our youth participants by providing an historical account of non-violent movements in America including those led by the Quakers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since all of the students were familiar with the abolishment of slavery and the civil rights movement, the information was immediately relevant. Then, Dr. Chapple traced back to the work of Ghandi in India before revealing the roots of ahimsa as developed by ancient Jain traditions.

Dr. Chapple, a celebrated and revered professor, modeled an effective system for teaching yoga philosophy to youth.

1. Create context. Before teaching the traditional meanings of particular aspects of yoga philosophy, present current or historical narratives that are relevant to the  knowledge base youth already possess.

2. Build a bridge. How do the ancient yogic practices relate to life today? Help students develop their own understanding of yogic philosophy by guiding them to make connections to their daily lives.

3. Reveal the Roots. Sharing the origins of yogic philosophy can be intriguing for youth once there is context and basic understanding. Many youth are inspired to learn that they are participating in an ancient practice.

To learn more about yogic philosophy, check out Loyola Marymount University’s Yoga Philosophy Program. You can also catch Dr. Chapple’s 1st Sunday talks on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras FREE on the Yogaglo site.

Great News: In the near future, Dr. Chapple’s presentation on ahimsa to youth will be available on Yogaglo as well! Stay tuned for details.

Check out Shanti Generation’s Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers DVD for examples of how to weave yoga philosophy into yoga practice in youth-friendly ways.