Category Archives: Kids Yoga

Kicking off Kids Yoga for Winter/Spring 2015 with Yama-Based Rules

Kids Yoga RulesThis week marked the beginning of my kids yoga classes this winter/spring term. I love the butterfly-stomach feeling I get before the first class in a series. Around 1pm on Monday, that butterfly feeling returned as I prepared for my first class of the session at The International School.

For years, I have taught kids yoga using rules from other teachers. My background in elementary education taught me that it’s okay to build on the work of others. Indeed, one of my mentor teachers in grad school encouraged me to steal what worked from other teachers. And yes, steal was the word she used. So I have been willing to adopt what worked for others in my own classes. Before this semester my rules were:

1. Be kind to yourself and others.
2. Leave the mats down. (This is a big problem with fidgety kids!)
3. Do your best and have fun!

But this year I have decided to switch it up a bit. I thought, “Why not base the kids yoga rules on the ‘rules’ that govern adult yoga as well?” Those rules are the Yamas and Niyamas, principles of yogic behavior that ancient yoga teachers traditionally taught before any physical postures. I talk a bit about the yamas (social observances) and niyamas (personal observances) here.

One thing to keep in mind: the yamas and niyamas are not black and white rules. Growing up with the ten commandments as ethical guidelines in Catholicism, I rankled against the all-or-nothing element. Thou shall. Thou shalt not. That’s it. No in-between. And that meant that there was no need to be involved with the ethics personally. I really love how the yamas and niyamas are much more gray. They encourage us to constantly think about how we can improve as human beings. The most important yoga “rule,” ahimsa, means non-violence. You can begin where you are with ahimsa and continually improve your relationship to it. That might start with a personal vow not to use your words to hurt others. Or you might begin by going vegetarian. There are always more ways to become less violent, and there is always room to push your understanding of what it means to move through the world peacefully.

This year, I decided to bring my student yogis into the wonderful world of yoga ethics. I decided to base my kids yoga rules around three of the yamas:

Yoga Yamas/Rules
How Yogis Behave

1. AHIMSA = Non-Violence.
Treat yourself, others, and the yoga tools with kindness.

2. ASTEYA = Non-Stealing.
Take turns speaking.

3. SATYA = Truthfulness.
Be honest with yourself and others.

As I move forward into this semester of kids yoga classes, I am looking forward to using these rules with kids. Knowing how kids are, I am sure I will refine my understanding of these yoga principles, as my students share new ways to think about each yama. I hope that my littlest yoga students will remember these rules and use them across their lifetimes–as one of my friends on Facebook put it, these rules are “Not just for kids!”

Calm Kid, Happy Brain, Happy Learner.

Brain based education discussion whiteboard notes

White board showing our session notes–the triune brain on the left, and participants goals on the right.

This weekend I presented at the Southwest Washington Special Education Conference and Fair, a wonderful Vancouver, WA event for parents and teachers of special education students. This was my second year presenting at the conference, which I find to be chock full of caring, wise parents and teachers, eager to find effective ways to help children learn. Like last year, I presented on Neuro-Parenting and Neuro-Teaching, my buzzwords for using brain-based techniques when working with kids. Based on feedback from last year’s participants, I expanded my session from 1 hour to 2 hours in duration.

In the first hour of the session, we discussed how the brain responds to stress. I hope the participants took away two major points:
1) When the brain goes into stress mode, the most advanced, rational parts of our brain areĀ  deactivated. This means kids (and adults!) literally CANNOT think rationally in the middle of an emotional crisis. Hence: we must first get calm, and feel safe. Then the most human parts of our brain will come back online.
2) The brain and body function aim for homeostasis at all times, balancing between the sympathetic nervous system’s response (AKA, the stress response) and the parasympathetic nervous system’s workings (AKA the relaxation response). We want to spend as much time in the parasympathetic zone as possible. This is when our bodies are able to better digest food, fight off bugs–and often when we learn best.

SPED education exhibitors at the 2014 SW WA SPED Fair

Exhibitors at the 2014 SW WA SPED Fair

By the way, we do need the sympathetic response–there’s even some research that stress hormones such as cortisol can improve learning outcomes, but only up to a certain point. The bottom line is that today’s students are WAY more stressed out than the primitive humans this stress system was designed for. So as educators and teachers, we must first help students feel safe (Maslow wouldn’t disagree here) and then we can move onto teaching content.

Once we had covered the brain research, we took a short break to set up the room as a mini yoga studio. I had brought mats and blocks, and we laid everything out in a circle. (Always my go-to shape for my Portland kids yoga classes; I like the way a circle creates equality among participants.) The following hour was spent learning and personally experiences yoga-based techniques for helping students calm down and release stress. We practiced yoga poses for confidence, calm, and releasing anger/excess energy. Breathwork (pranayama in yoga) exercizes covered in the session included bumblebee breath, three-part breath, and more. And we also practiced singing songs from yoga. (Singing has an incredibly positve effect on the brain–it causes the release of feel-good hormones such as Oxytocin.) The session participants asked me to post one of the songs we practiced, Sa Ta Na Ma. So here it is:

This dynamic mudra is just one of the songs I incorporate in my kids yoga classes around town. If you’re enthusiastic about helping youngsters feel calm and ready to learn, take my upcoming kids yoga teacher training. I am partnering up with Allyson Copacino of Move Yoga to write an extensive curriculum. As we are both kids yoga teachers AND elementary school teachers, our teacher training will be ideal for classroom teachers, parents, and yoga teachers alike. To learn more about our teacher training, please fill out the form below: [contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form] . Thank you and Namaste, ~Colleen

Kids Say the Wisest Things

My kids yoga students never fail to amaze me. It’s a cliche among yoga teachers that we learn more from our students than they do from us, but with the little yoginis it’s really true. This afternoon I was teaching a group of six elementary school students. All of them have had at least one semester of yoga with me, so I’m starting to direct their attention to yoga philosophy. For instance, today I introduced the Sanskrit word “Svadyaya,” which refers to yoga’s concept of self study. Then we went around the circle and said in one word how we felt, as a way to “study” our emotions.

After doing the Sun Dance (a kid-friendly version of sun salutations), we settled back in for a second mini discussion about yoga. I had written two questions on the board. Below each you’ll find my students’ responses.

1) Is yoga new or old?
–Old! At least 3000 years.
2) Why do we practice yoga? What is the point?
–Because it’s awesome!
–Because it makes us flexible.
–It makes our bodies strong! Muscles get bigger when you do yoga.
–Because it makes us calm.

Now the quick answer for the first question was from a girl who has been taking yoga for at least two straight years. The answers to the second question really impress me! Indeed, they represent the different layers that many adults discover as they practice yoga. Americans are often drawn to yoga initially as a great way to exercise. Improving flexibility or strength are typical goals. And with all the slick advertising around yoga, it makes sense that people would be drawn to it as something “cool” to do. But for many yogis I know there is a shift toward practicing for more internal reasons–because it makes them better people, ultimately. Better, kinder, more aware human beings. As I like to say in my classes, human beings, not human doings.

Another “Aha!” moment came during craft time. The kids were coloring mandalas, and I was explaining how monks in Tibet create intricate, beautiful sand mandalas, which they allow to blow away and disappear. Right on cue, one student asked why the monks let the mandalas blow away, and instead of answering I turned the question around on them. Why do they let them blow away, do you think? I asked. “Because then the beauty goes everywhere!” one girl answered.

It is moments like that that overwhelm me with gratitude for this life!