In recent weeks, I’ve received multiple requests for yoga games appropriate for middle school age youth. Year after year, the following game is a favorite of my students. This game helps youth develop strategies for coping with distracting and challenging situations.

*Disclaimer! This game works well with a group of students you know very well and trust to be kind to one another. Not recommended for a brand new group or a group experiencing unusual conflict. Students need to display enough maturity to understand the term “mean-spirited” and be able to show a strong degree of self control.

Step One: Ask students to name all of the different balance poses they know. Guide students to practice each  pose as they name them. List the poses on a poster or white board that is visible to all. As a pre-step, be sure to teach students a variety of balance poses in advance of playing this game. (i.e. Tree, Dancer, Half Moon, Crow, Eagle, Warrior 3)

Step Two: Ask for a few volunteers willing to try and keep their balance through a challenge. Explain that they are allowed to change poses and/or change feet, but that they are to be in balancing yoga poses through the whole challenge.

Step Three: Have the rest of the class develop a strategy to try and test “the balancers.” Be very clear that touching, screaming or any other act that could violate their classmates are completely off limits. Let them know the game will stop immediately if anyone behaves in a way that presents any danger at all, be it physical or emotional in nature.

Encourage the class to develop subtle, nuanced strategies like whispering funny words as they walk through the room or clapping in unison. They can also “tip-toe” through the classroom, or make wild animal sounds. Let them develop strategies and make sure they get your approval before playing. Let them know that you will ring a bell when the game is done.

Step Four: Position “the balancers” in the center of the room and ask the rest of the class to apply their strategies for distraction.

Step Five: After a few minutes, ring the bell and have everyone settle. Now, the best part, allow each “balancer” to talk about how they held their balance through the challenge and write them on a white board or poster. Some replies I remember from the past include:

“Hopping and Hoping:” A student said he would hop on one foot for a moment and then hope he didn’t fall!

“Keeping My Eye on the Prize:” Focusing on one spot.

“Staying with My Breath”

“Being Invisible”

“Staying Rooted”

“Just Being Strong”

and, finally, one students reply when asked how she kept her balance through the challenge was, “I didn’t. I fell a bunch of times, but I just got back up and kept playing and tried not to worry about it too much.”

And so, through this lively and age-appropriate yoga game, students developed a short list of coping skills and strategies that apply to many situations “off the mat.” We briefly discussed some of those situations and then students were invited to journal about specific times in their lives they can use their skills.

Depending on the length of your class time, the game can either be repeated to give additional students the chance to “balance,” or it can be played again another day. Be forewarned, your students may request to play this game over and over again! It taps into their need to let go and be silly on one hand, and also harnesses and hones their ability to focus on the other.

If you try it out, let me know how it goes!

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Childlight Yoga founder, Lisa Flynn, recently asked the kids yoga community for tips to celebrate Earth Day in kids yoga classes. Thanks for inspiring this blog post, Lisa!

Teaching yoga on and around Earth Day is always extra fun for me since Earth Day, April 22nd,  is also my birthday.  I love to offer celebratory, exploratory classes during the end of April.

Earth Connection  A great way to get started with Earth Day Yoga explorations is to ask students what parts of the Earth the connect to most. Ask them to think about the time they have spent in nature: on walks, at the beach, in the forest, etc. Guide them to contemplate if they feel more like the sky, an ocean or a volcano today. Or maybe they feel like rocks or trees or earthworms. Let each student share the part of Earth the feel most connected to and make a list on a poster or white board.

Now, act out each suggestion in a yoga pose. The poses can be variations of yoga poses they already know, or there may be opportunities for teaching new poses.

Earthscapes Create landscapes and scenes using as many of the suggestions as possible. One year, I had a few children creating a range of mountains (Mountain Pose), while others lined up to create a river running through the mountains (seated forward bends). Others became trees (Tree Pose) with eagle’s (Eagle Pose) nesting near them. There were small rocks (Child’s Pose) with lizards on top and snakes (Cobra Pose) slithering through them. The possibilities are truly endless. Creating these scenes allows students to choreograph a live homage to Earth with yoga poses!

Dancing with the Elements Ask students to name the different elements that make up everything on Earth. Explore each element with movement. Here are a few suggestions:

Water: Turtle Pose, Boat Pose

Earth: Child’s Pose,  Mountain Pose

Fire: Volcano Pose

Air: Crow Pose, Sailboat Pose

Earth Cradle This is a perfect time to enjoy a long Rest Pose (Savasana) and really explore the practice of letting go. Starting with the feet, allow each part of the body to surrender into the Earth, moving all the way up to the crown of the head. Guide students to feel the Earth as a “cradle” that supports them fully. There is no need to hold on, simply let the Earth hold you.

Be creative and get your students involved! Ask them how they would like to celebrate the Earth in yoga. Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments section.