Breathing exercises for young children focus on building awareness rather than actually manipulating or regulating the breath to the degree adult yoga may teach. Here a few ideas and pointers to make yoga breathing safe, fun and calming for little yogi’s.

  1. Little Lungs: Remember that little folk have a much shorter lung capacity than adults. When modeling breathing techniques for young children, modify the length of your inhales and exhales to account for this.
  1. Hiss, Hum, Buzz: Make breathing a fun activity by offering a playful way for children to interact with their own breath. Invite them to inhale deeply, then hiss like a snake on the exhale. End your hissing sound sharply to cue the children to stop. Then start again with a fresh inhale. Repeat, using a humming sound for the exhale and then a buzzing sound. Encourage children to feel the vibrations in their lips and cheeks. Always check to be sure children are inhaling between the sounds and stop the exhale in an appropriate amount of time.
  1. Feeling Breath Move: A wonderful way to introduce young children to the wonders of breathing is to let them feel the movement of breath in a partner’s back. Be sure to instruct them to use the lightest, most gentle touch, like they would use for a baby. Let them lay hands on the back of a friend in child’s pose and feel how the breath expands in the back of the body. Instruct the friends in child’s pose to breathe into the place they feel hands touching. Play soft music, perhaps harp or piano, to encourage slow calm, slow breathing.

Remind children often to use their breathing to relax in situations where they may feel angry or scared. I’ve had countless parents share adorable stories of their children using their “yoga breath” in all sorts of situations to cope with stress. Make breathing fun now, so children can utilize their awareness for a lifetime.

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Tiny Yogi’s Playlist

June 15, 2011

One of my greatest joys these days is rocking my 9 month old son to sleep in his room while listening to music. I’ve been using the playlists I’ve made over the years teaching yoga at pre-schools. Recently, one of my old favorites came on and a flood of beautiful memories filled my heart. I thought I’d share these musical gems with the community. These songs were chosen especially for young children, but can be enjoyed by all. All of these songs have been collected from special sources including my teachers, friends and musicians I’ve met along the way. Hopefully you’ll find something new and off the beaten path to enliven your teaching and/or practice.

For Yoga Play

Balinese Fantasy by Zakir Hussain

Maracatu  by Kodo

Daidi 4-4  by Solace

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 – I. Allegro

For Calm Yoga

Satie_ Gymnopedie #1 For Solo Harp  by  Sjur Bjerke, Ellen Sejersted Bodtker

Rag Pahadi  by Shivkumar Sharma, Brijbushan Kabra, Hariprasad Chaurasia

For Resting in Sea Star (Savasana)

White Sandy Beach Of Hawai’i by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Peaceful Valley  by Peter Kater & Nawang Khechog

At the start of yoga class, I make it a point to check in with each student to see how they are feeling. Here’s a typical conversation:

Teacher: How are you today, Hiro?

Hiro: Tired.

Teacher: How did you sleep last night?

Hiro: Oh, okay.

Teacher: Did you get to bed late?

Hiro: Yeah, pretty late. And I had to get up at 5:30am to catch the bus to get here.

One of the most common complaints among teens is being overtired, which leads to whole host of other issues including lack of focus, inhibited learning and just plain grumpiness. One reason teens miss out on a good nights sleep is the shift in circadian rhythms they undergo during puberty. By nature, teens want to stay up later in the night and sleep later into the day based on the changing hormonal situation in their bodies and brains. Their biological clocks literally slow down. Some schools have even tried responding to this teen tendency by re-scheduling the high school day from 11am-6pm, or just starting the day slightly later.

Fortunately, yoga practice offers an effective way to restore energy: Savasana (Sanskrit), or as it’s commonly known in the West, Corpse Pose. Savasana can be a wonderful tool that teens will gravitate to once they buy into it. At first, there may be resistance to the idea of “just laying there,” as the pose appears to suggest from the outside. Other students might have the tendency to fall asleep during the practice. The following five tips are meant to help teens develop the practice of Savasana as a skill they can carry with them through their lifetime.

1.  Savasana Appetizer

In most yogic traditions practiced in America, Savasana is dessert; a well deserved rest to savor after an hour plus of hard work. However, there are some schools, like Sivananda Vedanta, that offer Savasana first and throughout the practice. This technique works very well with teens. Give them 5 minutes of rest to begin class and enjoy a much more refreshed group of young people practicing yoga. Short Savasana “palate cleansers” can also be offered between poses to bring teens back to balance as well. For instance, between standing poses and floor poses, give a 2 minute rest. This will also help to avoid distractions during transitions.

2.  Play Music They Love

Music can be an effective way to calm the mind for Savasana. However, teens may not respond well initially to the same music that is commonly heard in adult classes. If the instruments and tones are unfamiliar, the music can actually be distracting and have the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than playing music teens hear as “weird,” ask them what they want to hear. Have a conversation inquiring about music that helps them feel calm. This does not mean you will play raucous metal music or inappropriate tunes. But, many teens find popular love songs relaxing.  Playing a song they like to get Savasana started is meeting them half way. Then, once the song is over, students are more likely to follow suit with a few minutes of silent relaxation.

3. Enhance the Environment

Darken the lights, spray the room with aromatherapy mist and light a candle. Better yet, assign theses tasks to students, with the exception of the candle. Flameless candles work fine in schools that do not allow the real thing. There are also many products on the market for infant nurseries that project stars and other patterns on the ceiling. These can also help to set a relaxing mood for teens. (More later on the parallels between adolescence and early childhood!)

4. Guided Relaxation

Give clear verbal cues on relaxing the physical body. For teens, cues like “let everything go” may be too vague to begin. Start with the toes and work up to the crown of the head, relaxing each specific part of the body. Once this technique is established, guided visualizations can wok very well and teens love them. Try to always give atleast one minute of silent time for relaxing even when using guided techniques. Slowly build on these minutes until teens can rest in silence for 5-8 minutes.

5. Try an Alternative Pose

For some youth, Savasana feels too vulnerable in the beginning. Try other postures to start. A few options here:

~Laying on the belly making a pillow with the hands. (Turn head to other side half way through.)

~On back with knees bent, arms draped across chest. (Known as Constructive Rest Pose. See our DVD for full instructions.)

~Legs up wall or feet on chairs.

Once students have a deeply relaxing experience and trust the process of Savasana, they will be more likely to practice the traditional posture with less special effects. In fact, I’ve heard from many experienced teachers that teens come in to class requesting Savasana, which is a wonderful indication that they are learning to listen to their bodies needs. There is an attitude among some adults that teens are lazy and just need to get with the program. I couldn’t disagree more. Teens bodies and minds are working overtime to keep up with the incredible changes they are experiencing. They need rest as much as any of us, perhaps even more so.

December marked the 12th month of Shanti Generation’s pilot Youth Peacemakers Training. Over the past year, a small group of dedicated teens and teachers have met monthly at Yogaglo to explore the topic and practice of peace. Our main objective has been to develop the meaning of peace and discover how to cultivate a peaceful culture in our lives. Each month, we were guided by masterful guest teachers. In January, Dr. Chris Chapple, professor of Indian Studies at Loyola Marymount University, shared the historical narrative of the peace movement, tracing some of the non-violent practices used in the civil rights movement all the way back to the Jains of India. Each subsequent month, our teens participated in powerful workshops to develop their peacemaking skills.

This month, I asked the group to reflect on the year and think about what motivated them to stay committed to the training. I asked them to simply sit and listen to the answer that would come from their heart. Listening to their answers as they expressed them aloud to the group turned out to be one of those shining moments a teacher never forgets. Each teen shared the same motivation in different ways. The monthly workshops provided a time and place to relax and just be themselves. Perhaps peacemaking is really that simple. Relax…be yourself.

The dialogue reminded me how important it is for teens to enjoy a place in their lives where nothing particular is expected of them. A place wherein they are not being judged, rated, graded or ranked. This peaceful place allows teens to connect to their inner world and learn to regulate emotions, finding balance. Activities like journaling, meditative walks and yoga provide non-competitive peaceful spaces in the chaos that can sometimes occur in teens lives.

Love and Gratitude to all of the parents and teachers who helped to manifest our monthly place of peace this year!

People often ask me for a list of the potential benefits of yoga practice for children and teens. Here I’ve provided a starting place for creating a comprehensive list. Please fill in with any additional benefits. I will compile them all into one list and repost for communal use. Please invite friends to participate!

Physical

  • Overall muscular strength and tone are increased
  • Increased muscular strength contributes to joint health
  • Aids in digestion and elimination
  • Boosts metabolism and weight loss
  • Improves flexibility
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Builds balance and coordination
  • Improves overall body awareness

Mental

  • Develops concentration and focus
  • Teaches students how to work with their minds
  • Releases tension
  • Improves quality of attention
  • Develops mind/body connection

Emotional

  • Promotes emotional awareness and ability to manage emotions
  • Encourages calmness
  • Teaches students to respond, rather than react
  • Promotes self control

Social

  • Boosts confidence
  • Teaches self respect and respect of others
  • Encourages altruism
  • Develops empathy

Spiritual

  • Encourages connection to inner self and innate wisdom
  • Enhances understanding and experience of interconnectedness

Academic

  • Enhances learning readiness
  • Encourages self-discipline

Teach kids about the health benefits of practicing yoga. Kids are more likely to be dedicated to their practice when they understand the immediate and lasting positive effects of yoga.

The medical field has consistently identified self awareness as a hallmark of life long health. The growing Social and Emotional Learning movement has also touted the benefits of clarifying awareness of states of being as a first step toward cultivating higher emotional intelligence.

Try this simple exercise, either in the home or classroom, to boost self awareness and contribute to a healthy day of learning!

1. Take a moment with your child or students to “check in.” How are you feeling this morning? How is your body feeling? How about your self? Describe the feeling as best you can.

2. Now that you are aware of your feelings, decide if this is how you want to feel today. If so, enjoy 5 deep breaths into your feelings, helping them grow and spread throughout your whole being.

3. If you decide that you want to feel a different way today, then enjoy 5 breaths while thinking about the way you do want to feel. Send that feeling  to every corner of your body and fill yourself up with fresh breath and fresh feelings.

This is a simple and quick way to raise emotional awareness and begin to self care. Try this over a few weeks to increase effectiveness and build a healthy pattern of checking in.

A Bowl Full of Yoga

May 5, 2010

This article is reprinted from the Kids on the Mat section May 2006 issue of  Yogi Times. Over the next week, I’ll be posting additional columns I wrote for the magazine.

A Bowl Full of Yoga

Sometimes when sharing with people that I teach yoga to kids, the response is: “That’s cool. Can kids really ‘do’ yoga?” With a deep breath and steady eyes, I reply that kids can not only ‘do’ yoga, they can BE yoga and, in fact, they ARE yoga. We all are!  We’re just all at different phases in the process of recognizing that beauty.

Investigation into the art of teaching kids yoga reveals that there are multitudes of ways to engage kids authentically in yoga practice.  In Deborah Rozman’s book, Meditating With Children, she offers the idea that imagination is the part of our being which lives closest to the soul. Most children still have direct access to their imaginative faculties, a gift that so many of us let weaken over time. To keep that channel alive and open is an important element of unification within our being.

Of course, there are challenges to sharing yoga with kids. For instance, encouraging kids to remain supine during savasana can be very interesting.   In search of creative ways to successfully facilitate this essential portion of the practice, the instinct emerged to imaginatively engage student’s minds during the process of letting go of the physical body. Hence the bowl full of yoga was born.

The next time you feel inspired to share a bit of calm, relaxing time with your young ones, I invite you to read the following meditation aloud slowly, pausing for a few seconds between sentences. Start sitting on the floor and have a blanket handy.

Cup your hands as if you are holding a special bowl. This is your yoga bowl and right now it is full of yoga.

Slowly lie down on your back and place the imaginary bowl on your belly. Be careful not to spill the yoga. Make your body comfortable while you take deep, smooth breaths. Feel the bowl moving gently as you breath in and out.  Rest peacefully and still while you picture in your mind what your bowl looks like.  Remember, if you wiggle around the yoga could spill out one drop at a time. If you are very still, you will have a bowl full of yoga when we are finished.  Visualize what the bowl looks like and what it is made of.  Imagine what size it is and how it feels.  Notice its’ color and any designs, patterns and textures.  Look inside of the bowl to see what your yoga looks like.  Pretend that you are resting inside of the bowl now and experience what it feels like to be surrounded by yoga.  Now take a couple of deep, slow breaths. It’s good for the bowl to move with your breath, in fact that makes the bowl stronger and more able to hold yoga.  Imagine that you can offer this bowl full of goodness to someone who needs it. Who will you offer your bowl to? When you are ready, take the bowl into your hands and put it beside you. Roll to one side and use both hands to lift yourself up to sit.

Enjoy a few moments of sharing the visions of the bowl and have art supplies on hand to create a memory of the experience. Invite students to think about sharing their bowl of yoga with others.

Below the drawing one of my students made of her bowl of yoga, she wrote: “I gave it to the warrs. To talk out their problems and not get hurt. To stop shouting and killing.” Julia, 8