Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hooray for You!


The final classes of the sessions are always a celebration! A celebration of "You-ness"! Kids love to have fun. Kids love to play and let go. And giving them the chance to do this is to give them the chance to be themselves! It's their "you-ness"! The Alluem Kids love a good Obstacle Course, which is exactly what we did this weekend! They moved through the Block Creek, to the Toe-Ga Mat, across the Balance Beam to the Tree Stand, heart rate up with the Jump Rope, heart rate down with the Breathing Ball, Crab Walk, Frog Jumps, Plow Ball Pass, Animal Card pick, and through the Downdog Tunnel! Phew!
Marianne Richmond says it best in her book, "Hooray for you! A Celebration of You-ness" - "You-ness" is something quite hard to describe, it's your style of being, your rhythm or vibe. It's the grand sum of you that sets you apart. Your body and brains plus your spirit and heart." Beautifully said! An empowering book for all ages!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Breath of Fresh Spring Air

Spring has sprung this weekend! We've opened the doors at the studio and let the air flow through! I love this time of year! To take advantage of this fresh air, the Alluem Kids focused on the breath. They know the breath is important. Increasing our meditation time to 3 minutes, we simply focused on our breath. Often in meditation, our minds wander, which is why I like to give the kids a focus. This time around I had them to simply focus on their inhalations and exhalations. I asked them to say to themselves, "Breathe in. Breathe out." over and over. When their minds started to wander, they were to bring it back to the breath.
After meditation, we revisited the Hoberman Sphere, or as we now call it - the Breathing Ball - and worked on slow, deep breathing. The kids each took turns leading their small groups through deep breathing that they are becoming more familiar with. There are so many benefits of Breathing Exercises, such as the one we do with the Breathing Ball:
- promotes relaxation
- improves mental clarity
- lowers anxiety
- decreases stress
- increases blood flow
- combats allergies
- honors the calm space in your heart
Kids can use deep breathing at anytime anywhere - before a test, before a game, before a recital, before bed. The list is endless.
While the Breathing Ball represents our lungs and their function inside of our bodies, this weekend we had a little fun with the ball, too! The kids are familiar with the game Silent Ball often played in schools. This weekend in class we played Silent Breathing Ball! Starting in a close circle we silently passed the Breathing Ball from one to the next, focusing on a deep breath, expanding and contracting the sphere representing our lungs. If someone dropped the ball or threw a bad pass, they were out and were able to take a restorative pose, while the rest of the kids spread out further increasing the difficulty of the passes. It was a fun time for all!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Families

The Alluem Little Kids are right at the age when they start experiencing many changes in their lives. At age 4-7 years old, children are testing their independence, discovering new feelings, increasing motor skills, developing their imaginations. Some of them are in their first year of school. Some of them are adjusting to a family addition.
Family is where I brought the focus this past weekend. We started with the book "All Kinds of Families" by Mary Ann Hoberman. It's a great book that not only focuses on the development of our own families, but about the importance of the families that are all around us. Sitting in the studio, we are a family of yogis. Outside in the river, there is a family of ducks. Up in the trees, a family of birds. I broke out my "Curious Bag" filled with toys, stuffed animals, and trinkets and dumped it in the middle of our circle. I let the kids freely sort through the cars, rubber ducks, stuffed animals, Fisher Price Little People, etc. It's interesting to see how they worked together dividing the objects into groups by types, colors, or size.
Moving towards our asanas, we thought of all the different families we could be using the yoga poses we knew - a school of fish, a bed of snakes, an army of frogs, a pack of dogs, a pride of lions, a parade of elephants, and a forest of trees. The kids thought of all sorts of families!
Then we thought of our own families. Who are the people in our family? Who lives in our house? Are we the youngest child? Oldest child? Middle child? Only child? How does that make us feel? What is the importance of our family? Our families play an important role in our lives and at this young age, kids have an unconditional love for their families. The Alluem Kids made some beautiful homes and drew their families inside keeping them close to their hearts.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Little Lights

The first video dedicated to the Alluem Little Kids!
video

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can Children Meditate?

After a long week (yes, yogis have long weeks, too), I am finally catching a break with a day off from my 9 to 5 desk job! I started my Friday morning with Gina's 10:30am Meditation Class at Alluem. What a wonderful way to start the day! With the doors open at the studio to let the sun shine in and the sound of the water from the river flowing, Gina lead us through a most relaxing guided meditation. Meditation takes practice...whether you're a seasoned meditator or a beginner, the key is practice. Practice quieting the mind. Practice conditioning our bodies to be still. Practice focusing on what's truly important - this moment. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, not even 5 minutes ago - now. When we realize that this moment is what matters most, we can let go. We can trust the space we are in, the air that we're breathing, the ground supporting us, the emotion we are feeling, the condition our bodies are in. We can observe all this, embrace it, and then let it go. The question is, can our children experience the beauty of all this? Yes. They are the gurus of it.
I believe children are natural yogis. I believe we are brought into this world with the innate ability to be in the moment. You see this in babies - crying one moment, laughing the next. You see this in children - mad at you for turning off the TV one moment, and loving you completely the next, because all you wanted was to spend some time with them - the attention that children need most. I saw this in the children this afternoon during a school visit with a Pre-School Special Education class. With teachers not knowing what to expect, I lead a class of 3-5yr olds through Storytime Yoga. The children were completely engaged with the stories I was reading, following right along with me. Breathing deep with instruction and moving their bodies, some on their own and some with a little help from the classroom aids. All that mattered to them was this moment - barking in Downward Dog, roaring through Lion's Breath, mooing as they arched their back in Cow Pose. They giggled, they moved, they relaxed in Savasana, eyes shut, waiting for the moment when a butterfly to land on their bellies. Kids get it.
As adults, our lives are filled with lists of things to do and where to go next. Our minds are filled with worry about family and friends, illnesses and job security. Our society clogs our visions of how to look, how to act, how to be. When it is our youngest of children who remind us what it's like to have a free mind, to get on the floor, to just play...to just be. At what point did we forget how to just be? I believe it creeps in slowly...the more we are exposed to in life, the more we get lost in it. It happens. Life happens. It's expected. We can't run from it and hide. We have to learn how to be in it. We have to learn to accept and deal. But it's when we get caught up in it that may throw us for a loop. With the amount that children hear and see from day to day - in schools, on tv, from the mouths of adults - there is no avoiding it. Kids will be exposed to life, but it's the skills that we instill in them to help deal with it all that matter most. It is the learning how to breathe, to relax, to accept the abundance of feelings that our bodies will experience, to deal with them, embrace them, and let go of them. It's the learning how to stay in the moment by remembering how important it truly is. This is when they will learn to sleep more soundly, build confidence, focus better in school, deal with emotions, and accept their ever changing bodies and growth. And if they can hold onto these skills through the teenage years and into adulthood - then there is no telling how amazing the children of today will be, how tall they'll be able stand and rise above whatever comes in their paths.
As I explore the avenue of my own meditation practice, while bringing into the lives of the Alluem Kids, I'm anxious to see how the children will grow with the practice and how it will effect their lives. Thanks to one of the Alluem parents, I'll be attending a lecture at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC next weekend, which will focus on emotional intelligence and the development of children's brains. The lecture will be held on March 27th @ 3:30pm with Linda Lantieri, author of Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in our Children. She will be raising the question - "Can Children Meditate?" My answer...absolutely - and we have a lot to learn from them.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We are the lucky ones.

According to Celtic tradition, a shamrock is said to represent "Belief in your heart. Faith in your mind. Trust in your body." When I read that this week while preparing for class, I thought - this is yoga. Yoga is "union" - union of the heart, mind, and body. What an awesome way to tie in the upcoming St. Patrick's Holiday!
This weekend at the studio we focused on all the symbols of St. Patrick's Day. With the Alluem Kids 4-7yrs, we focused on rainbows and the pots of gold that we can find at the end. Gold is great, but today we filled our pots with more then just gold. After reading "Lucky Tucker" by Leslie McGuirk, we find that after rolling in a bed of shamrocks, Tucker has a very lucky day! And at the end, he's happy to follow his rainbow to a pot of dog biscuits! Oh, btw, Tucker is a dog. I asked the kids if they could fill their pots of gold with anything in the world, what would it be? They colored in their pictures with everything from family members and friends, to sunshine, flowers, shamrocks, to hearts representing love. It was really beautiful.

With the Alluem Kids 8-12 yrs, we went even deeper. Beginning our class with a 2 minute meditation, we focused on the word "Luck". What does it mean to be lucky? And what are we lucky to have in our lives? At this age, kids can start thinking about the bigger picture. There are people in the world that have less and at times we may forget that and take what we have in our lives for granted. I wanted the kids to think even about the obvious things - a roof over our heads, food on the table, a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear....even family and friends, love and support, health, education. These are things some people don't have the luxury of having. We are the lucky ones.
Of course the kids got to let go and have fun, too, today! (As one of my 9 year olds told me, "You come up with some really fun games!" I take that as a huge compliment!) Today we played Clover Patch with the Parachute. Chanting "1,2,3,4 Pick a clover off the floor! 5,6,7,8 Hurry up before it's too late!" One at a time, the kids dashed under the parachute, picked a clover, and scurried out. Then one at a time, they taught the pose written on their construction paper shamrock. It was a bit of a pop quiz of poses as the others had to guess what pose each kid was teaching. Always a good time - body, mind, and heart!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Speaking of Trust...

The focus this past weekend for the Alluem Kids was "Trust". When I asked the children what the word "Trust" meant, they responded with, "To rely on someone or something.", "To believe.", "Something you have to gain." and my favorite answer was from a 9 year old, "Something you have to give in order to get." Beautifully said. Kids trust their parents, their grandparents, their teachers, their pediatrician. When you're a kid, it seems as though you have to trust everyone older then you because they are the wise ones. They are the ones that have the knowledge. They are the ones who have been through it before. I personally believe kids also have to trust themselves - body and mind. After having the kids meditate for a minute on the word "Trust" and what it means to them, we played a game called "The Trust Walk". The kids paired off and one child from each group was blindfolded. The job of the "seeing" child was to lead the blindfolded child safely around the room. The "seeing" child used verbal commands - turn left, turn right, step over, stop - while being led by their elbow. The job of the blindfolded child was to trust. Trust their partner to be their eyes and lead them around the room without getting hurt. Trusting your peers can be more of a challenge then if an adult was leading them around, so I was interested to see what came up. After they circled around the room stepping over bolsters and dodging the other children, they lead their partners back to their mat and each instructed the other into a yoga pose of their choice while still blindfolded. Often when I instruct, I see the children relying on me to lead by doing rather then just my verbal cues. This was a good opportunity to test that. Their partners were to talk them through the pose and not allowed to move them into the pose. The blindfolded child had to listen carefully and use their spacial awareness to move into the poses.
The discussion part of the class I raised some questions:
-Is it easy to trust someone?
-Why is trusting someone so important?
-What did it feel like to be lead around the room having to trust your partner?
-What did it feel like to lead someone around the room having that person trust you?
As discussions often do, one topic lead to another - what it would feel like to be blind. If we lost our sight suddenly, we would have to completely rely on and trust other people to be our eyes and guide us through life. We would have to trust in our other senses which are often heightened when we lose one. We would have to trust our intuition to keep us from harms way.
After our discussion, the children worked on acrostic poems using the word "Trust". Each letter in the word is made into it's own word related to the word "Trust". Below is an example of one of my 10 year olds:
T - Truthfulness
R - Resting on a promise
U - Understanding
S - Senses
T - To believe
When we trust each other, we have the ability to do great things. I hope this activity really sticks with the kids. Trust is important in this world - trust in others and trust in ourselves.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Restorative Yoga for Kids

Thanks to an inspiring article by Heather Fontenot, co-editor of Rhythm of the Home, recently published in Yoga Living Magazine, the Alluem Kids enjoyed a peaceful Restorative Kids class today. I had never tried Restorative with the kids before. I often wondered how they would take to it. But after reading the Children's Yoga for Healing article - I was convinced they would love it...and they did!
I don't have any children of my own, but I have seen the childrens' schedules of my friends - whoa! Kids are constantly going! From school all day to after school clubs, band, sports, dance, gymnastics, and scout meetings. Not to mention homework, time with family, and social engagements. It's non-stop! No wonder these kids are tired! We also must realize that it's not just the physical exhaustion that kids feel, but also mental. Kids are exposed to so much more then we were as children. There are the stressors of the media and society, peer and family pressures, parents getting divorced, parents losing jobs. These kids are using tons of mental energy.
I tell the children in my class that just like in any other yoga class - listen to your body. If you become tired or need a break, come down to Child's Pose. Take some deep breaths and join us again when you are ready. And they do. As I've been observing my classes, I notice some kids can stick with the instruction the whole way through, while others need more frequent breaks. One would think, Bah! Kids have TONS of energy! But the more I observe and talk to my kids about all the activities they are involved in, the more I realized, these kids need a break!
I asked the kids this weekend how often to they take time to themselves to just relax and be quiet. I got a moment of silence followed by the voice of an 8 yr old, "When we sleep!" And that would be it. I explained to them how giving back to their bodies is so important. Our bodies do so much work that we don't even realize. We need to give back to it by eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, and resting when we need to rest!
Introducing Restorative Yoga for Kids. My initial hesitation about trying it with them lay with premonition that maybe they would be bored or restless. But when I tell you these kids MELTED on to their bolsters, I mean I thought I would have to peel them off! The Alluem Kids embraced Restorative Yoga with open arms and open hearts. Reclining back, bolster under knees, one hand on the belly, one hand on the heart...they relaxed. Putting focus on the belly, watching the breath rise and fall, I spoke of how important the breath is. How slowing down the breath brings internal focus, calms us down, and really allows us to relax and release. Putting focus on the heart, feeling the heart beat slowly while reclined and relaxed. We watched how our breath can work in direct correlation to the heart rate. When we breath fast and shallow, our heart rate increases which can make us nervous and anxious. Keeping the breath slow and even can do wonders for our bodies and our minds. We even did a 60 second silent and still meditation to relax the mind. I gave them a word to focus on incase their minds started thinking of other things. Their word this day was "Trust". What does trust mean to them and why is it important. Focusing on that word, they were completely still. Their responses:
"Can we keep going?!", "I can sit still even longer then that.", "My leg had an itch, but I ignored it.", "Next week can we meditate for 2 minutes?"...and we will.