Breath and Relax

Consider Your Self and Your Life

Where would you like to feel more Balance?

Teen Yoga RitualHow will your life feel when you create that Balance?

Name an attribute that will aid you in achieving Balance.

Under the Full Moon, on the Eve before the Equinox,

And in the Sunshine of the Day,

Be the Balance.

As the Spring Equinox grows near, the moon is waxing into fullness and the light of day shines in brilliance as a reminder that now is the time to plant our seeds. Now is the time to focus on what we want to create in our lives. For some teens, this can be a challenging concept. The adolescent mind can become mired in what the individual wants to destroy or escape from, including peer,familial and global stressors. The coming full moon and equinox provide an opening to shed light on what is desired; an opportunity to turn the mind from what isn’t working to what is.

Yoga practice offers multitudes of ways to shift from deficit thinking to thoughts of abundance. Allowing the ebb and flow of the natural world to guide the practice is in alignment with the initial creation of the yogic systems. There are times for letting go as in the waning of the moon and the coming of winter. And NOW is the time of building, becoming and bringing into being!

To help teens discover what it is they want to create in their lives, give them some time and space to contemplate their inner being. Bring them into a comfortable pose either laying down or seated. Ask them to breath and relax, quieting the mind. Then, guide them to consider parts of their lives where they’d like to create more balance. Explain that the coming Vernal Equinox is a time when the Earth’s axis is balanced right in between it’s usual tilts toward or away from the Sun. Once they identify the aspect of their lives where change is desired, ask them to reflect on how it will look and feel different when balance is achieved. Give them time to name an attribute that will contribute to that balance. In other words, what ways of being will be allies on the path.

Give examples along the way to help foster understanding. For instance, if a student wants to create balance in peer relationships, they may choose an attribute such as patience, loyalty or courage. Or, if a student wants to balance out their academic life, they might choose discipline, clarity or wisdom. Many teen girls seek balance physically which may be about confidence, health or acceptance.

Once an attribute has been chosen, provide a piece of cardstock the size of a business card. Let the teens write their word on the card and ask them to “plant” this seed in a special place where they will be reminded of their commitment to balance in their lives. Some teens might tape the card to a mirror or place it in a drawer. Others might paste  it inside of a folder or tuck it away in an iPod case.

If desired by the group, allow students to share their attribute aloud. Let the group suggest yoga poses and practices that embody each attribute. Create a yoga sequence integrating their ideas. At the end of the sequence, during rest time, ask students to choose one pose or practice from the sequence that really speaks to them and reminds them of their attribute. Suggest that they take a moment under the Full Moon during the Spring Equinox to do that practice with their attributes in the hearts and minds knowing that at that moment, they have become the change they have wished to see!

As an added bonus gift, nature has given a special moon this Equinox: a SuperMoon! The Moon is as close to Earth as it’s been in 18 years. So, for teens, the Moon will be  as close as it’s ever been n their lives! What better time to step outside and make communion with the Earth’s celestial partner? The Moon, Sun and Earth all support us in different ways. We can really feel that support in our yoga practice as we naturally connect to the ground using the forces of gravity and step into gratitude for the light that warms us.

Extra Credit Exercise: Working in small groups or with a partner, students create a physical metaphor for the Equinox using yoga poses.

SuperMoon: March 19, 2011

Vernal Equinox: March 20, 2011

For fascinating information on the celestial events abound, visit Cosmic Navigator.

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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.

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.

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!

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!