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.

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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!

Type of Pose: Standing

Level: Blueprint

Appropriate for Ages: All

Mountain Pose is known as a “blueprint” pose. The alignment and physiological dynamics of this pose are found in many other postures. Some yoga teachers say that once Mountain Pose is mastered, other poses will come more easily. While from the outside, someone in Mountain Pose may appear to be “just standing there,” from inside the pose, one can feel a strong sense of grounding, as well as extension. Far from being an easy pose, Mountain requires great mental skill and physical endurance.


For Youth

Create context with a discussion about what it means to “stand for” something. Talk about the causes and people that students are willing to stand up for.  Make a list of qualities that are required to make a strong stance including clarity, commitment, stability, perseverance and courage.

1. Stand tall with feet hips distance apart. Place feet parallel. Spread toes and press centers of heels into Earth. Take time to cultivate the connection of the feet to floor. Lift arches.

2. Firm leg muscles, pressing tops of thighs back.

3. Extend tailbone toward heels, lengthening lower back. Firm abdominal muscles.

4. Stretch sides of body, lifting back ribs away from hips.

5. Spread across collarbones, drawing upper armbones back and shoulderblades onto upper back.  Reach down through fingertips. Lift top of chest.

6. Lengthen back of neck, keeping throat open and relaxed.

7. Extend upward through crown of head.

Be a mountain. Remember what you stand for and feel your connection to the Earth and Sky.

For Young Children

See previous post: Jellyfish-Mountain Game

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.

Type of Pose: Seated Hip Opener

Level: Beginner-Intermediate

Appropriate for: All

The literal translation of Baddha Konasana is Bound Angle Pose, sometimes referred to as Cobbler’s Pose. When teaching this pose the kids and youth, I like to use a more playful and familiar moniker; Butterfly Pose.

For Youth

1. Sit on floor or mat with soles of feet together. Hold ankles or feet. Draw knees apart.

2. Press sitting bones into floor while lifting chest to sky.

3. Draw shoulder blades onto back while spreading across collarbones.

4. Continue to open hips and allow knees to descend towards floor without pushing. Stay in the pose and breath for 1-3 minutes.

5. Once the hips feel open and spine is fully extended, a slow forward fold can be added. Maintain the spinal extension while folding. Keep sitting bones connected to floor at all times.

Benefits:

  • Increases flexibility in hips, legs and back.
  • Builds strength in back muscles.
  • Teaches spinal extension.

For Young Children

See previous post: What Color is Your Butterfly?

Many years ago, I heard the call to create more opportunities for schools to engage in yoga programming.  The benefits to students and teachers alike were so clear in the schools I visited and worked with.  Knowing that school budgets are usually very tight and hiring yoga teachers is not always an option, I teamed up with a WSR Creative production company to make a youth yoga DVD fit for classrooms. It’s been a year since our DVD hit the market place and we are thrilled to have found a channel to offer this program to school teachers FREE!

National Yoga Month supports an initiative called Yoga Recess which raises funds to provide free yoga DVD programs to schools across America. To date, over 4,000 teachers have requested free DVD’s for their classrooms. That’s 4,000 teachers waiting, ready to bring yoga to their students!

The next step is to fill these orders through the generosity of folks who know yoga can make a difference in the lives of students.

To join this movement, visit:

http://www.firstgiving.com/shantigeneration

If you can, please make a donation. Every $15.00 brings yoga to 25 students!

If funds are tight, please share this opportunity with others in your community who may be supportive.

We’ll take care of mailing the DVD’s to teachers, all you have to do is donate. How easy is that! Just a few minutes to make a difference in the lives of youth.

Our goal is to fill all orders by the start of the 2010-2011 school year!

Image by Ilyah Duzhina

Reprinted from Kids on the Mat column, Yogi Times, October 2005

For all ages

What you will need:

  • Space to move
  • Music
  • Your family, friends or classmates

Step One: Choose the music. Pick 3 or more songs that you love.

Step Two: Create a space. Find an area that has some open space. Carefully move away any delicate or breakable items. Ask for help if you need to move anything heavy. Set up a cd, tape, record player or radio. Collect a few items that remind you of a forest such as leaves, pictures of trees in books, toy trees or live plants.  Place them in the center of the space.

Step Three: Gather your family and/or friends. Pretend that each person is a tree in the same forest. Everyone shares what kind of tree he or she would like to be.

Step Four: Play! Take turns being in charge of the music. While the music is ON, everyone gets to dance or do any yoga poses they wish. When the music STOPS,everyone stands tall and still with feet together in mountain pose. Next, take a deep breath in and out. Then, slowly begin to grow into a tree.

  1. Grow millions of roots into the Earth. Spread your toes apart. Feel your roots reaching down and drawing in nutrients from the soil of the forest.
  2. Make your center as strong as the trunk of a tree.
  3. Place the sole of one foot on the inside of the other leg, either below or above the knee. Find your balance by keeping your roots spread wide and your center steady.
  4. Use the forest objects in the middle of the space to focus on. Try to look at one item the whole time. When our eyes get still it is much easier to balance.
  5. Grow branches up and out in all directions.

After a few moments of tree pose, start the music again and begin be a dancing tree. Repeat as many times as you wish. BE SURE to change legs each time you practice tree pose. Remind each other when the music stops to switch sides.

FUN TIPS:

  • Try lots of different kinds of music. All kinds of music can work; slow and peaceful or fast and rhythmic.
  • One variation is to keep the feet rooted to floor while the music is on and move the rest of the body like a tree bending in the wind.
  • If tree pose is easy, try closing your eyes!
  • Name your forest.  Imagine what kinds of creatures and plants will live there.
  • Try this game at birthday parties, sleepovers and even at school.
  • You can also play this game in a real forest making your own music with instruments and voices.

To  learn lots more games and meaningful ways to share yoga with children, join our teachers training course in May in Los Angeles or June in New Orleans. Email abby@shantigeneration.com for more info, or visit www.shantigeneration.com