A Return to Winter & a Child-Like Joy

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

It snowed today. Soft flakes now spread over the evergreens and add white caps to the forest leaves turned brown. The return to winter’s cold brings a sense of calming peace with it. Like a big sigh has been released and we can settle back into normalcy for at least a little while. How long it will last is anyone’s guess.

Before lunch, I walked the roadways with the dogs and picked up other people’s garbage. The snow had not yet started to fall, but the sky was the gray of an impending storm. Ice replaced the puddled water at the end of my driveway. Frozen into cracked veins waiting for the next thaw. I found myself hoping it would be awhile before the water flowed again. Today, the birdsong is not so loud. Juncos gather droppings from the trees and blue jays rush overhead in their showy displays to be seen. And heard.

But the air is mostly quiet and still, and while I walked with my dogs the world around us appeared more balanced. Perhaps I saw what I wanted to see. The land cleared of artificial debris by my hands left a feeling a satisfaction inside of me. A small act, like dusting the sills of a window to make it clear again. It may not last long, but there is power inside deliberate moments.

After we arrived back home, I found myself pulled into the news while I ate a lunch of leftover dinner. Headlining the front page of the Sunday paper was a story about local teachers afraid of their students. I had to read it three times before it sank it. They were not talking about rebellious teenagers, but preschoolers and elementary age children. Young kids driven to violent acts of rage on a regular basis. Some fingers pointed to drug use by caregivers, others to unspeakable violence that must have been witnessed. While I read, I find myself wondering if we are all grasping at straws, unable to hold on to stability. There is the impulse to spiral into disbelief and despair when one reads such things.

Exposure to harsh elements can damage a living being if improper nurturing does not occur. Are we wrapping our babes in our chosen world of violence? Turn on the TV and chances  are you will find rage or horror in some form. Exposure to violent acts harms the mature heart. Now we are seeing the real effects of what it does to the tender young souls whose eyes are exposed to more than they should see. We shatter ourselves and those we love when we expose without heed to the harsh elements outside of us. And sometimes, when we linger too long with them, they become a part of our being.

Beside this article, was one piece on funding being stripped from schools. In my town, there are often complaints about how the bulk of our budget goes to the education. If we don’t invest in our future, what can we expect it to look like? If we don’t infuse the warmth of love into the hearts of our children, instead of constant exposure to hatred and violence, can we really call ourselves “caregivers?”

The snow began to fall while I read, bringing the solace that could not be found inside the news. For a moment I started to place blame, pulled into the world of accusations that filled the news before me. There was a momentary feeling of frustration when I read the words of the superintendent I had tried to work with for years to bring a mindfulness-based supplementary education to our schools. Perhaps I had given up too soon. Maybe his mind was now changed, but one grows tired from pushing through resistance.

Instead, I looked forward to the two groups of youngsters who were waiting for me at another school. I thought of their exuberant bodies and excited young minds. Sometimes  wild, but always lovable. I thought about how it’s taken me a year to grow into the comfort of teaching the balance of yoga to within the realm of the unpredictability of  young children, and that sometimes there are still moments of frustration. A temporary frustration that, I have found now easily melts into joy when I step inside the child-mind and find the wonder of joy.

Later, dancing and laughing without care of judgement I found this joy. Freedom is a natural state of the child-mind and I am grateful to have the excuse to let it run loose. When you become like a child, you give the child you are with permission to let their true self shine through. Together we danced into animal poses and stomped the floor as though it was Earth. A little too loudly, perhaps, as it brought a teacher up for a moment, but we didn’t really care. Nor did she. Instead, we muffled, ever-so-slightly, our footsteps and danced some more. When we rested into our makeshift circle, we talked about what we loved, like unicorns and pegasus, rainbow socks, and dragon slippers. All things magic that are real to a child’s eyes accepted as truth, because in the end all that matters is the joy wrapped inside love.

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Mindfulness Techniques for Kids in the Classroom or at Home: Part 1: The Bubble of Joy #mindfulness

This post will be part 1 in a series designed to help cultivate mindfulness practices in the classroom and at home. It’s based on techniques I use in my mindfulness workshops and yoga classes for kids. We’ll begin with the “Bubble of Joy.”

The Bubble of Joy

Ideally mindfulness is a way life, and cultivating it as a daily practice becomes easier to do if you start and end your day with a mindful activity with your child or children. I begin almost all of my yoga classes for kids with an exercise that I call the “Bubble of Joy.” The Bubble of Joy uses the technique of pranayama (breathing), combined with visualization to generate a sense of calm and strength. It is also a form of empathic shielding, which is especially important for children who tend to unconsciously exchange and absorb energy from their surroundings. It is beneficial to children and adults alike, and is a great way to share a mindful exercise to begin your days together. If you are in a classroom setting, you can either have your children sit in a chair or on the floor in a circle.

Steps to Creating a Bubble of Joy

  • Sit in a comfortable seated position. For children, I ask them to do “criss-cross applesauce” legs.
  • Close your eyes and rest your hands on your lap, one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart, or use Namaste hands in prayer position at your heart center.
  • Visualize in front of you a beautiful rainbow. Spend some time seeing in your mind’s eye all of its beautiful colors.
  • Keeping your eyes closed, take a deep inhale from your belly all the way up to your heart and breath in all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Imagine those colors filling your heart and your whole body with joy.
  • Exhale as you bring your arms up and around you and imagine the rainbow now wrapping you in a Rainbow Bubble of Joy.
  • Repeat two more times. Inhale the hands down to the heart, bringing inside the colors of the rainbow. Exhale arms up and around to wrap the rainbow bubble of joy around you.
Empathic shielding for children
Simple Steps for Creating a Rainbow Bubble of Joy

Through this simple exercise, you and your child have created a beautiful shielding energy inside and around you that will help ward off negative feelings and instill a sense of joy and wellbeing. It can be repeated throughout the day, and is also a good practice to use before falling to sleep. The arm movements can be omitted, especially for a bedtime practice.

 

 

What Should a Yoga Practice with Kids & Teens Be? #Yoga #KidsYoga #TeenYoga

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Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

This week will mark the end of my first sessions of full-immersion into the world of teaching yoga to kids. What has felt like an initiation by fire, with five different classes of kids ages 3-17, has left me with more questions than answers. What is, I find myself wondering, the “correct” way to teach yoga to kids and teens? Or, is there one?

Each day is different. You can arrive with a lesson plan, sets of props, and a bag filled with yoga-themed goodies, and some days this will be grand. On other days, you may as well throw it all out the window. At least that’s how it was for me.

Humans are creatures driven by their emotions, which can be impacted by not only their own internal state of being, but by the emotions of those around them, and the energy pervading the planet. Children, in particular, are highly empathic beings, easily influenced by the inner and outer emotional body.

Some days, I would arrive to a yoga class and find the energy of peace and happiness pervading the classroom. Joy easily filled us, and our yoga practice would flow like a stream of clear water. On other days, the air would be thick with humid emotions. Restless bodies trapped in an airless room were all striving for release. Who could blame them? If I were five, I too would rather be outdoors running free. Heck, even at 45, my body prefers freedom when it feels trapped in a space of confinement.

So what does one do on these days? I don’t have all the answers.

Ideally, yoga would travel to meet us where we are, at any given time. We would take it outdoors when the weather calls us to plant our feet on the grass and align our pulse with Nature’s. But, sometimes we must make do with what we are given. Closed, airless rooms.

There are days when I pretty much gave up. Threw in the towel, you might say, and mostly observed and accepted, as best I could. Taking the few precious moments when they arrived to engage a wild child in a yoga asana or breath.

They became moments of self-observation too. I would notice my own emotions, tipping toward frustration, futility, and sometimes anger. Unruly children can be cruel and disrespectful, often without intention. I found myself searching for the rare moments when I could reign them in, and teach them that there is more to yoga than moving the body into animal-like postures to find the seed of goodness within and grow it.

Even the kindest child can turn into a monster when their peers are unruly. It is not fun to watch. It is, just the opposite. Yet, we learn and grow from these moments as best we can. Moments when I found myself resisting the urge to yell. To take a small body and shake it into awareness after it reached into a bowl to grab a helpless fish, or stuffed tissues up its nose while grinning wickedly in my face.

Oh yes, there were those days when anything and everything that felt like it could go wrong did, and I would wish for a miracle that never came. Although I don’t believe in corporal punishment of any form for children, I do believe children in the society I live in tend to be over-indulged and, for the most part, lack an understanding that there are consequences to actions, even though punishment of any form is not given. And herein, perhaps, lies the gift for me.

I have found, as much as I try, that although I love to make yoga fun in creative ways, I am not a yoga teacher who finds home in the make-believe. Elaborate stories filled with action, songs, and props are not my thing. When I create these types of classes, I find that the children easily get bored unless you change the scene and plot each week. To me, this takes too much effort and feels contrived. It feeds the over-stimulated mind I am working to calm.

This, to me, is not yoga. Yoga, for me, is finding the seed of each essence held inside those restless bodies and allowing it to bloom into being. In whatever small, or big way, it is willing to bloom. And, sometimes we simply need to take away what does not work, including the children who are not ready, or wiling to engage in the practice of yoga. In each class I taught, there were always at least two children who were not ready, or interested in yoga. At least not this stage in their lives. Or, with Miss Alethea. And, that is okay.

On those rare occasions when these children left the classroom, the energy transformed.  Children who would normally follow the reckless leader(s) when present, were now engaged  and attentive. Their sharp mind tuned to my soft words inviting them to find their own yoga dance as I gently guided them along.

Sometimes an entire group needed to leave. Last week, I found myself down to two students in the last fifteen minutes of one class. Two five-year-olds who could be as unruly as the rest, remained with me while their four peers left, one-by-one, to join their other classmates on the playground. They were fifteen magical minutes. Two bright minds focused on my voice as they danced from pose to pose. “Show me how you would go from Dog Pose into Cat Pose?” “From Warrior One, into Warrior Two?” I simply sat, watched, and gently asked as the magic unfolded through their bodies.

Sometimes, the ideal yoga class is two students. Sometimes it is only fifteen minutes. And that is okay. More than okay.

The same thing happened during my middle-school yoga class last week. More than half the students were not present, due to a sport’s commitment. A group of five girls, all friends, who would rather socialize and fool around with each other than practice yoga together were absent. Instead, I had four students, two boys and two girls, who were engaged for an entire class without interruption. It was a thing of beauty.

And so I find myself asking if it is unfair, or fair, to request true engagement in the form of commitment to yoga when the person is a child? I think, perhaps, it is. From what I have seen, even a three-year-old can be engaged. There is a reason I have not mentioned my two preschool classes in this post yet. They are my largest classes, but they are also my “best” in many ways. Yes, there are challenges. The wanting to hug the teacher, and sit next to her. The friends who need to sit apart least they wrestle the entire class….but, for the most part, they are perfect in their imperfections. The students young enough to listen to their teacher without resistance, still hold a desire to please and learn. It’s easy to release the inner child when there is joy dancing around you, and a half-hour passes quickly with these children.

And so, I find myself at that point of endings that calls me to assess and evaluate before I can determine the next path to take. Still, there are more questions than answers before me, but I know I want to keep walking the path of yoga with children.

 

I Begin my Adventures Practicing Yoga with Kids… #KidsYoga

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

I thought I would be writing another post about my recent travels to Italy, but instead my mind is filled with yoga. In particular, yoga with kids. Two Februarys ago, I felt a calling to move from my long  comfortable role as a yoga student, to that of a teacher. Although I could sometimes see myself standing in front of a classroom of students teaching yoga, I had never really given teaching serious thought. That is until the relentless  inner voice called without ceasing…

And so here I am, more than two years later. A certified yoga teacher, who, as of last week, has taught (or has attempted to teach) yoga to students from the ages of 3 to 80+. Just when teaching yoga was beginning to feel as comforting and familiar as preparing and drinking a warm cup of tea each morning, I have now leapt, once again, off the cliff of The Fool into the rocky terrain of the unfamiliar.

And, it’s okay. It’s what I signed up for. But, oh how much I have to learn as I stumble my way along. My week of full immersion into the spectrum of younger ages has left me feeling tired, hoarse, and a bit bewildered. What do I do know? I keep asking myself.

Let me see if I can attempt to explain why.

I’ll begin with my first non-adult class of the week.

It’s Thursday. Another rainy day in a long string of rainy days. The school day is just finishing at the Montessori nearby where I live, and I am lugging my bucket filled with Beanie Babies, animal yoga cards, a Bluetooth speaker, roster sheets and a chime that would prove to be woefully useless. Eleven preschoolers await me.

They’re adorable, as all children are at that age. Almost irresistibly cute. A near equal mix of boys and  girls with glowing faces perched atop restless bodies. Wholly mine for 30 minutes. Thirty minutes that I have tasked myself to teach them yoga, in some form. My mind swirls with ideas. Over the past few months I have watched videos and read books. I have dug out my notes from teacher training and know games and props are essentials for this age group. What I can’t recall learning, as I spin through the whirlwind thirty minutes, is that a loud, assertive voice is also important, or that the power to choose should not be an option…Or maybe I just forgot, because it’s not in my nature to place restrictions and to shout.

Nor is it in my nature to sing in tune, which is also a great gift to have for kids’ yoga, but I thought playing the voice of the lovely Kira Willey would be an adequate compensation.

I soon discover no one really cares about the music coming from my speaker. They care more about the props I have brought.

I’m pretty sure I read to only bring one…

We begin in a circle that defies all definition of a circle, but it’s good enough. All eyes are turned to me as I introduce myself, then roll my magical color ball to the child next to me and ask him his name and if he’d like to tell me one thing that makes him happy. We move smoothly along, at first, passing the ball down the line until our circle is 2/3 complete. A girl with vast blue eyes stares at me and tells me her name and then goes silent. She cannot come up with something that makes her happy, even though I can tell by her outer appearance that she is likely well-loved and cared for. Instead, she appears to be caught off-guard and stumped. Rendered mute in a way that makes us both feel uncomfortable and searching for reprieve.

I give her space to think. Distracting chatter begins to erupt within the circle, and the blue eyes continue to stare back at me. “Would you like to think about it some more? It’s okay if you don’t want to answer.”

I can tell she is torn. That she wants to find an answer for me, but somehow she can’t retrieve it. Perhaps it’s contagious, because the next child is also unable to come up with one thing that makes her happy.

And so I begin to question my choice of a mindfulness introduction. I thought perhaps some children would struggle a bit, but with gentle suggestions and listening to the words of their peers, they might easily slip into that space of joy.

And, I realize how desperately, perhaps, that I want to bring them all to that state of joy. To make them realize how fun yoga can be in its myriad forms. That it can be both individual and shared. But not something that takes striving and competition…

So we begin to play our games. Soon tiny bodies are hoping about and vying for my attention in their efforts to show me how much yoga they already know. When the illustrated pose cards come out, there is a scramble to have just the right one.

There is even some arguing.

“I don’t want this one.”

“That’s not how you do flower. That’s butterfly.”

Oh my, I have much to learn.

Follow the leader with the chime goes smoothly until someone decides to skip the line.

Then the chime is rendered useless. The noise of voices too high. My own is already growing hoarse and unheard, and I am at least grateful I have brought along my water. I have another class waiting for me after. And, it’s 45 minutes long…

When I open the tub filled with stuffed animals, five million hands reach inside. Suddenly I’m feeling the weight of my 45 years of life and I count the minutes left.

Do not leave room for choice. Of any kind. I file the lesson inside my tired brain.

I think perhaps I should have brought along a gong. You know, one of those enormous ones that you can’t hold and need a mallet to bang?

And a miracle.

I’m not Kira Willey. Not even close. Nor am I the beloved and talented Jamie of Cosmic Kids who knows how to keep the overstimulated minds of young kids engaged while practicing yoga through her wonderful videos.

I am also not a drill sergeant. Nor do I want to be.

I’m simply Alethea, searching for her own magic cards to bring to the circle of young eager faces.

And I think, perhaps, I need to stop looking in the bags of others, and dig inside my own…