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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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.

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

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?

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?

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