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.

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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?

This post is part of an on-going series sharing time-tested and effective Early Childhood Yoga Experiences.

Sitting with the soles of the feet together, holding the ankles, is a classic yoga pose called Baddha Konasana. For young children, many yoga teachers forego the literal translation of “bound angle” pose for the more child-friendly Butterfly Pose. This a wonderful pose for young children to aid in hip opening and pelvic alignment. In the following playful approach, children are guided to focus more on the upward extension of the spine and uplifting of chest, rather than the forward folding.

For classes of 10 or less students

Everyone takes Butterfly Pose.

Teacher asks one student at a time, “What color is your butterfly?”

Student answers, “Purple with silver sparkles.”

Teacher: “Let’s all breath in a big purple breath and stretch our wings high into the sky.”

With the exhale, release arms and hold the ankles again

This continues until everyone has had a turn. Take short breaks, hugging knees together to release the stretch when needed.

For larger groups

Ask 3-5 children at a time to add one color to a big butterfly we are all creating together, then breath in all of those colors at once, stretching arms out and up like wings.

Repeat until all have had a turn.

Besides being fun for students, this approach encourages students to hold  Butterfly Pose a little longer and repeat more frequently than they may want to without the imagination involved. Imaginations are wildly alive in many young children! As yoga teachers, we can utilize this developmental milestone to guide them deeper  into the practice.

By the way, what color is your butterfly?

This post is part of an on-going series sharing time-tested and true Early Childhood Yoga Experiences.

Respected educational theorists, including Lev Vygotsky, Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner,  teach the importance of play in a child’s development. The same holds true in yoga education for early childhood. Imagine asking a group of 3-4 year olds to stand in Mountain Pose for 10 breaths. Without a well balanced structure of play to facilitate the task, the children will likely not comply. Play gives children motivation to engage in new experiences. The Jellyfish-Mountain Play draws on young children’s boundless energy to playfully guide them to a place of sweet stillness.

This game works similar to “freeze dance.” Explain to students that while to music is on, we are jellyfish playing in the ocean. Use billowy music that evokes fluid, free movements. (I like DeBussy: Arabesque #1 for Solo Harp). Allow the children to become their own style of jellyfish: slow, fast, tiny, enormous. Give them 30-45 seconds to explore their jellyfish moves. Then, pause the music and ask students to find their strong Mountain Poses. Demonstrate how still and quiet a mountain can be. For this game, ask children to hold Mountain Pose with the arms overhead and palms together in a “peak.”

Let them hold the pose for 20-30 seconds before starting the music again. While they are in Mountain Pose, ask students to look inside for strength and stability. This is a wonderful teaching moment to introduce the concept of stability, as you will have their attention. You can travel around the room helping students to find more extension and grounding where necessary.

Repeat the Jellyfish-Mountain Play 5-7 times.

“Play is the work of the child.” ~Montessori


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!