Often we are asked what our children's yoga classes actually look like. What are we teaching? Are we just practicing movement? Where does the mindfulness come in? Do kids actually calm down?
Below is an overview of the five elements that we consider essential aspects of any child's yoga experience. Activities that explore these five elements are supported by the structure of an opening and closing ritual that remains the same in every class. This consistency offers children the predictability that helps contribute to a sense of safety and reliability in the class.
Connect: Connect activities foster connections for children internally and externally. They help students make sense of their own emotional experiences, and also ground them in an awareness of their environment and the needs of others. Connect activities are primarily based in mindfulness practices, and incorporate facilitated discussion. The emphasis is on connection to yourself, to others and to your environment.
Breathe: The breath is one of our most powerful tools for self determination, and teaching children that they have some control over their own emotional and energetic state is an empowering lesson. Breathe activities help children learn to reduce anxiety, stabilize energy and create a sense of safety and peace in the body.
Move: Yoga poses may be used in a variety of ways as tools to channel student’s energy, improve their health, build their confidence and for many other purposes. A central tenet of our program is that no child will ever be forced or pressured into any posture that they feel uncomfortable with for any reason. The emphasis in our movement practice is on exploration, not competition. While we encourage students to work towards achievements, activities are designed to ensure that all children experience many more successes then failures.
Focus: Children are often asked to focus, and rarely taught how. Our focus activities are designed to allow children to experiment with what it means to focus, and repeatedly practice noticing when their mind wanders, and bringing it back to the task at hand.
Relax: All students of any age will benefit from learning to relax and restore. Our children are exposed to an overwhelming amount of sensory stimulation, are chronically sleep deprived, and generally have no idea how to calm themselves down. Relax activities provide the opportunity to rest both the body and the mind.
Crossing the Line is a group activity that has a very strong impact on both children and adults. It is a quiet, meaningful experience of recognizing our similarities, and is a great way to reinforce a sense of community within your class. We use it most often with teens.
Stress and anxiety are often caused or made worse by the feeling that we are alone in the world—that no one understands us or what we are going through, and that no one has had the same experiences we have had. Although sometimes this is true, usually there are many other people going through similar challenges. Knowing this can be a very reassuring and calming force in our lives. This is a group activity best done with eight or more people.
Begin this activity by dividing into two groups and having people form two rows facing each other, about eight feet apart. Place a line (using string, masking tape, etc.) about three feet in front of each group.
There should be one person who is the caller or director. When that person says a statement, anyone for whom that statement is true crosses the line into the middle. When you cross the line, take a moment to silently make eye contact with the other people in the middle, acknowledging your shared experience.
This game can be as simple or as meaningful as you choose to make it. The following statements are just suggestions, and you should change or add to them based on the needs of your group. Be sensitive to any issues that may arise, and carefully match your choice of statements to your capacity to support anyone in the class who may be upset by them.
Some Suggestions: Cross the line if you _________
Have brown hair
Can wiggle your ears
Love to read
Are an artist
Were born in New York
Like to play sports
Feel peaceful today
Have helped someone this week
Speak more then one language
Are a big sister
Feel beautiful today
Have been embarrassed ever
Have made someone feel bad
Have been afraid of another person
Have done something you are ashamed of
Have done something you are proud of
Have hugged someone today
Have cried this week