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

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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.

Cobra Pose: Bhujangasana (Sanskrit)

Type of Pose: Backbend

Level: Beginner-Intermediate

Appropriate for Ages: 4 & up

Cobra Pose is a completely natural posture for the body. Think about the pictures you’ve seen of infants pushing themselves up from laying on the belly. There are multiple ways of practicing Cobra, depending on age and physical condition.

Basic Cobra Instructions

1. Begin lying on the belly with forehead on the floor. Place hands, palms down and fingers spread, underneath shoulders. Align fingers a few inches below collarbone. Draw elbows up toward ceiling and in towards each other, engaging the upper arms muscles. Simultaneously press fingertips into floor.

2. Press tops of feet into floor. Extend feet, reach through the big toes and spread all toes. Work to press each toe nail into the floor. While extending and pressing feet into floor, lengthen leg bones and engage leg muscles.

Hands, arms, legs and feet will be working fully by now!

3. Roll thighs in toward the midline of body so the inner thighs gently uplift toward sky. Press into 5th toes.

4. Engage abdominal strength to help lengthen the lower back such that the tailbone extends toward heels. Tilt the pelvis to create more length in lower spine.

5. Breath and check in with all of these points once more.

6. Gently press forehead into floor, lengthening back of neck. Reach through the crown of head. Back of neck is long and throat is open and relaxed. Avoid smooshing chin into neck.

7. In final preparation for lift off, draw upper arm bones toward the back of the body. Engage shoulderblades onto the upper back. Stretch across the collarbones.

8. With an inhale, press feet and hands into floor while extending the chest out and upward. Keep the head and neck aligned. Move from the core of body through to the crown of head.

9. Draw upper arm bones and muscles in toward midline. Keep shoulderblades alive on the upper back. Be sure the shoulders don’t rise toward the ears. Upper back and chest spread and expand as a Cobra’s neck.

10. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Inhale and exhale fully through the nose. Release slowly on an exhale while maintaining all alignment points.

For Young Children

Obviously, above are way many instructions for young folks. For ages 4-7, set up the pose as best as possible. Focus on hand and foot alignment. Then, lift up into Cobra for a breath or two and release. Repeat 3-5 times. Remind them that Cobra’s don’t have arms, so they need to use their back and belly strength. The legs become like the tail of the snake.

For Older Children and Teens

Practice holding pose for 3-5 breaths. Repeat 3-5 times. Integrate instructions over each repetition, rather than giving them all at once.

For Everyone

Be sure to do a counterpose after practicing Cobra. Child’s Pose is a good one.

Benefits of Cobra Pose from Yoga Journal

  • Strengthens the spine
  • Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen
  • Firms the buttocks
  • Stimulates abdominal organs
  • Helps relieve stress and fatigue
  • Opens the heart and lungs
  • Soothes sciatica
  • Therapeutic for asthma

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!

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.

The final installment in a series of 5 posts on teaching mindfulness to youth. These techniques are geared especially for youth ages 11-15 years.

So far, we have:

  • created a reference point for mindfulness by transforming a mundane activity into one that requires focus. (Part 1)
  • invited students to notice and label the sounds around the room. (Part 2)
  • guided students to pay attention to the sensations with their bodies. (Part 3)
  • directed students to follow and count the cycle of breath. (Part 4)

Now it’s time to bring it all together! Once students have a little experience with each piece of the puzzle, the full activity will be much more successful. Take your time leading your students through the first four phases. When your students give you the indication that they are ready to bring all of the steps together, move on to the full technique. Here are some indications to look for:

  • Increased and prolonged focus evidenced by less fidgeting and more stillness. It is not necessary that students stay perfectly still, but look for students to cease extraneous movements.
  • Students ability to keep attention within own “space.” As students become more adept, they will be able to maintain a more steady gaze, or keep eyes closed, rather than looking around at classmates.

The culmination of these steps are found in the following mindful awareness exercise written as a script for you to read.

Please sit on the floor or in a chair. If you are seated on the floor, please cross your legs and find an easy, steady position for your body. If you are in a chair, place both feet on the floor if possible.

Place your hands gently on your thighs with your palms turned down.  For the next few moments, pay attention to your body. Allow your body to settle into this position. Feel the soles of your feet, relax them. Let your legs be heavy. Feel your sitting bones grounded on the floor or in the chair. Feel that you have a steady, stable seat in this position.

Now, please bring your awareness to your center. Let your belly move with your breath. Allow your belly to be soft and relaxed, yet still supportive of your back. Find your tailbone rooting into the Earth and begin to draw length up through your entire spinal column. Gently draw your shoulder blades onto your back, so your chest is uplifted. Feel the crown of your head  quietly reaching toward the sky.

Now, relax your face. If it feels right to you, close your eyes or gaze softly at one spot.

Relax your jaw. Allow your shoulders to soften a bit. Feel the energy in the palms of your hands.

Now, please listen to the sounds around you. If you are inside, listen for the sounds coming from outside of the room. If you are outside, listen to the sounds around you.

When you hear a sound, notice what that sound is, then listen for other sounds.

Now, listen for sounds happening closer to you… in the room, or right around you.

Notice the sounds you hear, then listen for other sounds.

Now, listen to any sounds happening in your body.

Begin to notice any sensations in your body. When you notice a feeling, be aware of what the feeling is and then move your awareness to other feelings in your body.

Now, bring your attention to your breathing. Let’s count 5 breaths together.

Inhale- Exhale 1

Inhale- Exhale 2

Inhale- Exhale 3

Inhale- Exhale  4

Inhale- Exhale  5

Now count your own breath. Start with the number one. When you notice that you have lost count, simply start over again at number one. With practice, you’ll be able to stay with your breath for longer. Begin counting now. (pause for 1-2 min).

Notice what number you are on now.

Bring your awareness back to your body.

Listen for any sounds around you.

And, slowly open your eyes and bring your attention back to the space around you.

You can use the breath counting meditation anytime you need to connect to yourself and your life.

*** An audio version is available on Shanti Generation’s Yoga Skills for Youth DVD.

copyright Gregory Beylerian.com

Valentine’s Day reminds us of the importance and joy of reaching out to our loved ones and letting them know we care. Fortunately, there is a growing movement in education to extend this practice beyond the calendar holiday and into the daily lives of students in schools.

As my Valentine to you, I am excited to share a sampling of resources I have discovered in my research on the subject of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). For parents, teachers and community members who wish to make an impact on the climate in local schools, there is growing support. Here are a few places to start.

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as:

A process for helping children and even adults develop the fundamental skills for life effectiveness. SEL teaches the skills we all need to handle ourselves, our relationships, and our work, effectively and ethically.

These skills include recognizing and managing our emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically. They are the skills that allow children to calm themselves
when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices.

How do we know SEL works?

The movement to implement SEL in schools is not based on speculation. To the contrary, scientists and education theorists have been hard at work over the past decade researching the far reaching benefits of SEL. For a powerful and inspiring primer on the extensive body of research, enjoy the following interview with psychologist, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence.

What does SEL have to do with Yoga?

Practicing yoga deepens self awareness and enhances our ability to self care, both fundamental aspects of SEL.  In this month’s Yoga Journal, Trudie Styler (wife of Sting), says yoga practice ” is an exercise in listening…it teaches you to tune in to your relationships.”  The ability to  listen deeply is essential to developing empathy, another core component of SEL. While most dedicated practitioners of yoga will enjoy these benefits if studying with a qualified teacher, in my experience, these benefits are greatly enhanced in yoga classes for adolescents due to the nature of class experience. Time spent in dialogue, journaling and self-expression help youth discover ways to transfer their yoga education into daily life situations.

For folks interested in learning more about the connections between yoga and SEL, Shanti Generation’s Yoga Skills for Youth Facilitator’s Training offers a well spring of experiential learning on the topic. We have trainings coming up in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

The Trailblazers of Social and Emotional Learning

Here, I would like to honor a few of the individuals who have courageously carved the path toward Social and Emotional Learning in schools.

“Education is a social process. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey

“What will transform education is not another theory, another book, or another formula but educators who are willing to seek a transformed way of being in the world.” ~Parker Palmer

“We’re finally learning that it is not an either-or situation … Feelings and learning and emotion are all very integral to each other.” ~Linda Lantieri

“No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.” ~Paulo Freire

There are way too many incredible leaders in the field to mention here. In closing, I’d like to pay tribute to  one last trailblazer the movement lost this year, Rachel Kessler (1946-2010). Kessler’s The Soul of Education is an excellent book that is sure to upgrade anyone’s knowledge of SEL.

“Kessler celebrates the diversity of beliefs in our free country…But she wisely understands the spiritual emptiness of our times and knows that we ignore the souls of our children at their peril, and ours. Children need encouragement and guidance in struggling with the deeper meaning and purpose of life in a society that glorifies the material over the spiritual.” ~Marian Wright Edelman

A new era of care and compassion in the classroom is coming. I am heartened by the many ways that yoga can help teachers and parents achieve our goals for creating harmonious, loving environments for our youth.