Category Archives for Yoga

Yoga IN School?

Growth of yoga for children being offered in school has paralleled the explosive growth of yoga for adults being practiced in studios, gyms, and community centers around the country.

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Benefits of Yoga for Children

Even elementary school kids deal with a lot of stress these days. As I let my 3rd-5th grade after-school yoga class into the room this past Wednesday, one of my students had near-panic written on her face. Before she even walked through the door, she asked if she could do her homework instead of participating. "I'll never get it all done tonight," she pleaded. I cocked my head to one side and looked at her. "Yeah, you're right. I need the yoga," she said and headed for a mat.

The highly controversial book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards by the New York Times' William Broad summarizes the studies on benefits of the practice for adults. A similar book on studies about the benefits to kids would be mighty thin. Parents and teachers who witnessed those benefits will tell you that yoga is great for kids.

Preliminary research on child-specific benefits include reduced problem behavior, test anxiety, and anger and increased feelings of well-being, self-regulation, and focus. The video below discusses the results of a pilot study with 4th and 5th graders in Baltimore.

What is a School Yoga Class Like?

Yoga classes offered in studios may be structured very much the same as a class offered in a school, but they are often very different.  Michelle Kelsey Mitchell from Yokid wrote a very nice blog post on the subject after hosting a writer from the Chicago Tribune at one of their classes. Yoga classes in schools tend to be noisier and more chaotic and the environment often isn't ideal, but the objective and results are very much the same:

"Studio: students who achieve a quieter mind, enjoy relaxation and appreciate the time “away” from their busy and stressful lives. Students who get that much closer to their True Self…….      School:  the exact same thing."

What Do Kids Do in Yoga in School?

While many of the poses will look familiar to adult yogis, there's much more emphasis on games and social interaction in a kids class.

Tween-yoga-school-girl-meditate

We always do a physical warm up to get the body moving and calm the mind. Then we might play a game, act out a story, or do partner exercises. Toward the end of class, we'll wind down with some more poses and do a final relaxation or guided meditation.

In that 3rd-5th grade class I mentioned above, we focused on stories this past week. After we warmed up, I told The Magic Pear Tree from Sydney Solis's Storytime Yoga. We identified the characters and actions and assigned yoga poses to the story and then we acted them out.

After that story example, I passed out yoga pose cards and the students worked in small groups to write their own story. We could have done this exercise for much longer than the time availabe. It was quite the hit last week.

In other classes, we'll get silly and try to pass a hula hoop around the group while everyone holds hands, pass a balloon using only their feet, or blow cotton balls across the floor.

I love the photo of the girl "meditating" in this post because I recognize the attitude and it could easily be one of my kids. Upper elementary school kids are starting to put up emotional walls as they near adolescence. Approval from peers becomes more and more important. When everything is working in yoga class, they get to let their guard down a bit and just be.

What is Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tykes or preschool yoga class?

If you’ve never taken your 2-year-old to an Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tykes or preschool yoga class, you might have trouble imagining what we do there. If you just don’t think your active toddler will stay on a yoga mat for 45 minutes, you are totally right and it’s totally ok! In Tykes yoga, we MOVE! We march; we hop; we skip; we gallop.

We do yoga poses, but that’s only part of the magic (and when you’re in a room full of preschoolers in warrior pose shouting “sunshine” at the top of their lungs, it is definitely magic). We act out stories like jungle safari or trip to the beach, using very little Sanskrit to describe the poses we are doing and no detailed alignment adjustments. Instead, we engage children in fun games as they explore their bodies and develop strength and coordination in the poses.

We embrace the kids where they are at: some are watchers who might wait for the safety of their own homes to break out what they saw in class; others want to do every pose and make up their own; still others may need to burn off steam running in circles in the room and might only join the group when we do their very favorites. For parents, Tykes yoga is very much an exercise in yogic parenting: releasing our attachment to particular outcomes and being present to this moment we have with our child. Of course, my husband says his favorite part of Tykes yoga class is, hands-down, legs-up-the-wall at the end (with bubbles for the little ones).

See my current class schedule to the right and come check it out for yourself!

For more on Itsy Bitsy Yoga, check out this interview with its creator, yoga teacher and child development specialist Helen Garabedian.

Itsy Bitsy Yoga in DC – Capitol Hill, Logan Circle, Foggy Bottom

Original Post, August 27, 2011:

Have I told you about my new job?

A couple weeks ago, I gave notice at The Nature Conservancy.  While I've enjoyed the last two years writing newsletter articles about their global conservation programs, I'm finding myself more and more drawn to teaching yoga, specifically to kids. So starting this fall, that's what I'm going to do.

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tykes - Tree Pose

Some of my classes have already started. Recently, ten three-year-olds and I went on a trip. We packed our bags, took an airplane ride, went swimming on the beach, and went dancing in New York City, all without leaving their colorfully decorated classroom in Northwest DC.

Partial class plan for Planes, Trains and other Mobiles:

pack our bags

  • wash our clothes: twistee
  • dry our clothes: nahbi
  • hang them on the clothes line: half moon
  • iron the fancy stuff: moon toe
  • fold the shirts and pants: toes to nose
  • put everything in the suitcase: forward bend

pack the car: in-out breathing

drive to the airport: red light-green light x2 or x3

check our bags at the airport: ring around the yogi

airplane ride: play The Airplane Song: jump, spin, gallop, dance (Laurie Berkner)

visit the beach

  • make a sand castle: wide angle forward bend & variations
  • read book: sing These Are My Glasses (Berkner)
  • take a bicycle ride

train ride home

Sure yoga teaches patience and mindfulness and is a physical exercise that's good for kids, but it's also wildly fun.

Updated schedule, August 2012:

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Babies

for 4 week old to nearly crawling babies

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tots

Weekend Classes
for Tots! 

for crawling babies to 2 year old toddlers meets

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tykes / Little Families Yoga

for 21 month toddlers to 4 year old preschoolers meets

Weekend and
Afternoon
Classes! 

for 21 month toddlers to 4 year old preschoolers with younger siblings welcome meets

Mom & Baby Yoga

for mom with 6-week old to nearly crawling baby present meets

Contact me for more information about upcoming classes or join my mailing list by following the link or liking my Facebook page.

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Photo credit:
Preschooler demonstrates tree pose, a pose taught in Tyke Itsy Bitsy Yoga. Yoga Girl photo by Flickr user naturalmom / CC BY 2.0

Why I love kids yoga

Last Wednesday morning, ten three-year-olds and I went on a trip. We packed our bags, took an airplane ride, went swimming on the beach, and went dancing in New York City, all without leaving their colorfully decorated classroom in Northwest DC.

Partial class plan for Planes, Trains and other Mobiles:

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tykes - Tree Pose

pack our bags

  • wash our clothes: twistee
  • dry our clothes: nahbi
  • hang them on the clothes line: half moon
  • iron the fancy stuff: moon toe
  • fold the shirts and pants: toes to nose
  • put everything in the suitcase: forward bend

pack the car: in-out breathing

drive to the airport: red light-green light x2 or x3

check our bags at the airport: ring around the yogi

airplane ride: play The Airplane Song: jump, spin, gallop, dance (Laurie Berkner)

visit the beach

  • make a sand castle: wide angle forward bend & variations
  • read book: sing These Are My Glasses (Berkner)
  • take a bicycle ride

train ride home

Sure yoga teaches patience and mindfulness and is a physical exercise that's good for kids, but it's also wildly fun. Join me in new classes this fall:

Mondays at Capitol Hill Yoga
Itsy Bitsy Yoga

  • 9:30 am – Tots, crawling to 2 years
  • 10:30 am – Tykes, 2-4 years

Register for my next Itsy Bitsy Yoga class session.

Contact me for more information about upcoming classes or join my mailing list by following the link or filling out the form to the right.

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Photo credit:
Preschooler demonstrates tree pose, a pose taught in Tyke Itsy Bitsy Yoga. Yoga Girl photo by Flickr user naturalmom / CC BY 2.0

Softening into Intensity through Utthan Pristhasana – Lizard Pose

This post was originally published as Capitol Hill Yoga's February 2011 Asana of the Month.

Lizard pose is one of my very favorite asana, but it hasn't always been so. The pose is an intense hip opener that, as a runner with tight hamstrings and IT bands, I used to find excruciating. It was not, as asana is supposed to be according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a comfortable, steady posture (2.46).

deep lunge on forearms
photo flickr user YoGeek Mami/Creative Commons license

What I learned by working with lizard pose is to find ease in something that is difficult. By hugging compassionately to the midline of my body, embracing my tight hips with muscle energy, while softening my resistance and shifting my focus to opening my heart and organically extending my spine, I found that, while the pose was still intense, the struggle and suffering dissipated. And that is the yoga.

Getting in to Utthan Pristhasana – Lizard Pose

  • From all table pose or downward facing dog pose, step one foot to the front of the mat into a lunge.
  • Lift and spread your toes, embrace your muscles to your bones drawing power from the earth into the core of your pelvis.
  • Keep hugging to the midline as you use the strength of your inner thighs to take your the tops of your thigh bones back and apart. Pay special attention to inner spiraling your back leg as you draw the hip of your back leg forward and the hip of your front, bent leg back.
  • Keeping the alignment and commitment in the legs, bring both hands to the inside of the front foot.
  • Draw your tailbone down and in to engage your core.
  • Leading with the heart and extending through the spine, bring your elbows down to the ground or onto a couple of blocks.
  • Once in the pose, hug to the midline and recommit to your legs: Press into the heel of your front foot to further descend your front thigh bone further toward the floor and, at the same time, charge the muscles of your back leg to maintain the lift in your back thigh.
  • With each breath, soften your heart and extend your spine, melting any resistance to the pose.
  • To come out of the pose, root down through the feet as you press into your hands and come back up into a lunge.  Step your front foot back into table or downward facing dog and rest for a few breaths before switching sides.

Tips for Utthan Pristhasana – Lizard Pose

  • One of the keys to finding easeful alignment in Lizard Pose is carefully aligning both hip bones in lunge to be parallel with the front edge of the mat before bringing your elbows toward the floor.
  • Keep your head in line with the spine to help extend, rather than collapse in the pose.
  • If you opt to drop your back knee to the ground in the pose, isometrically drag your knee forward and front foot back to maintain muscle energy regardless of whether you tuck your toes or place the top of your foot on the ground.
  • An alternative to doing this pose with blocks but still not bringing your elbows to the ground would be to simply bend your elbows, drawing your shoulder blades toward each other to open your heart as you descend toward the floor.

lunge thigh stretch backbend 2
variation, flickr user YoGeek Mami/Creative Commons license

 

Cultivating a Sense of Wonder

image from www.flickr.com
 “I ride the metro with God.”

That was the thought that struck me at the end of chapter 7 of Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life. The thought drove home the magnitude of creation, the sheer magnitude of Grace manifested into the diversity of this reality and its potential for constant rediscovery of the Self.  Two instances are not enough to capture an awareness of Grace over a day, let alone a month, but this is my attempt:

The bicycle commute: It’s cool, cold even, when I start my hour-long ride from Capitol Hill to Ballston, VA. I’m usually running late, so I peddle hard and the blood begins to pump faster through my veins, warming my whole body. My breath quickens. Often I can see it moving in and out, becoming me and becoming sky again, rushing past. Birds and airplanes soar overhead. I marvel at the contrast – that both can fly at all; that the rest of us don’t simply float away [1]

The toddler: A good bit of two-year-old anxiety is related to the process of defining identity. Where does she begin and end? She tells me, “I’m a butterfly today,” and retells the same stories, processing events of her day. “I fell down on my head and it went POP!” is a current favorite.  She’s magnetically drawn to the drama of human emotion, pointing out whenever anyone in earshot is sad (one of the more easily identified emotions). “The baby is sad” or “The little boy is sad,” she empathizes and looks to me to assure her that it’s ok. As she learns how she is separate from others, I hope she doesn’t completely forget that she is not.

 


[1] See January 20, 2010 – Astronomy Picture of the Day for a mind-blowing illustration of Grace. 

Originally drafted in response to a yoga teacher training homework assignment. Posted in response to today's #reverb10 prompt by Jeff Davis.

Combating the Lure of the Snooze Button


We sleep (3)
Originally uploaded by Studiojmm.

My solution to the challenge of accomplishing anything while looking after a three-year-old and juggling work and household tasks is to get up very early. My alarm goes off well before the crack of dawn and I stumble out of bed, leaving Mac and Maya to sleep while I practice yoga and get in some writing before the demands of the day hit.

Or at least that's how it's supposed to go.

In order for the early morning routine to be sustainable, Maya and I need to be crawling into bed for bedtime stories – pajamas on and teeth already brushed – by about 8:30 p.m. But between a late napper and evening commitments several nights a week, bedtime tends to creep later and later around here. We're lucky if the crawl into bed thing happens before 9:30, and since neither of us fall asleep quickly, that results in not enough sleep for mom and makes that snooze button very, very tempting.

In his #reverb10 prompt this morning, Leo Babauta asked: "Writing. What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?"

Eliminating the snooze button is really a commitment to bedtime, so that's what I need to work on.

Transition

transformation

In her #reverb10 prompt this morning, Gwen Bell asked participants to define 2010 in one word. Mine is "transition."

While 2009 was actually the year in which I left my full time job, it was in 2010 that I really attempted to figure out what that meant. I began a yoga teacher training program and teaching kids yoga weekly, and I began to explore a new identity, separate from full time environmental advocacy.

The year involved a lot of casting about and feeling somewhat lost, not unlike a certain polliwog in one of Maya's favorite library books: The Caterpillar and the Polliwog. He learns that, like the boastful caterpillar, he will transform into something else when he grows up, but nobody tells him what.

The word I will project on 2011 is "focus."

transformation photo © 2005 Noyes | more info (via: Wylio)

Yoga and the Political Activist

Among the first things I did when I got up this morning to proofread my paper on The
Bhagavad Gita

for yoga teacher training  was check Facebook (don't we all now?), which lead me to a book
review on Green
LA Girl
on Yoga
for a World Out of Balance
. It's nice when this
particular tamasic act
actually directs me back to my task.

Excerpts:

In the weeks leading up to yoga teacher
training, I read Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living, as assigned. Enormous portions of the book
resonated with me and I found myself enthusiastically underlining passages and
writing in the margins, until I got to this paragraph:

“When we slow down, we
create a conductive environment for kindness and thoughtfulness to flourish. We
find that it isn’t necessary to join our local peace demonstration. We can
demonstrate for peace by being peaceful.” [p. 54]

My immediate reaction is, “Um, no.
That doesn’t work.”

My
reading of the Bhagadvad Gita didn’t lead me to the conclusion that Donna
should be attending peace demonstrations, that’s certainly not for me to
conclude. My reading of the Bhagavad Gita is that Krishna’s call is for us each
to learn to differentiate between actions, to look to our true nature to
identify not only selfless action, but our own particular Dharma, and act upon
it selflessly. That is the yoga.

… In the passage quoted, Farhi was musing on
the need to slow down and take time for solitude, mediation, and silence, not
on the effectiveness of demonstration at bringing about peace. But her words
suggest opting out of a political act, and then telling yourself that you are
not, and that’s where I take exception.

We live in a
representative democracy. Our elected officials make decisions, in part, based
on how they believe it will affect their chances of re-election. The purpose of
a political demonstration of any kind, from physical gatherings to collection
of petition signatures, is to demonstrate the potential impact of a particular
political option and encourage the decision maker to choose the one the
demonstrator prefers.  It is an
inherently different act than being peaceful in ones daily interactions.

One of my concerns about the community of yogis and of lifestyle-oriented
environmentalists in the world is the tenancy to accept the notion that
personal action somehow exempts one from political action – that the
idea that the personal is political means they are the same. I would
argue that this is a delusion, in incorrect interpretation that confuses the decision about whether and how to act.  Few would actually argue that
because they reduce their carbon footprint by eating locally, limiting meat and dairy, shutting off the lights, or biking to work that their elected representative would
somehow know that they support clean energy and ending our dependence on
oil. But, that sentiment seems to pervade.

My reading of The Bhagavad Gita is that, to the extent appropriate to
each of our abilities and personal situations, we should be working
toward harmony between our personal and political values and actions. Full participation in the world according to each yogi's particular
circumstance and calling (svadharma) among those born into a democracy
and with the resources and privileges possessed by most of us with the
luxury of studying yoga is likely to involve some level of political engagement, even if simply as an informed voter. The yoga of the political activist is to, without judgment, attachment or selfishness, create opportunities for thoughtfulness and more full engagement of fellow citizens.

So, anybody read Yoga
for a World Out of Balance
? Thoughts?

Free Itsy Bitsy Yoga classes a Willow Street in Takoma Park on Friday

Babies, toddlers, and preschool-age children derive many of the same benefits from yoga that adults do:
increased strength and flexibility, improved body awareness, and relaxation. In addition, a kids yoga class encourages children to move
creatively in a non-competitive environment while honoring each child's
unique expression of the poses and having fun.

Itsybitsyyoga_jen Willow Street Yoga's Summer 2010 classes
run from July 23 to September 3. Free preview
classes
will be offered on July 16
(led by me) and 18 (led by Rebecca Gitter).

  • 9:00 am – Tots,

    for crawler babies to 24 month-old toddlers
  • 10:00 am – Tykes,
    21
    month-old toddlers to 4 year-old children
  • 11:00 am – Babies,
    3 week-old to pre-crawling babies

Each
class features dozens of child-oriented yoga poses, games, and songs
that parents can enjoy with their children anytime. No yoga experience
required for parent or child. All classes will be held upstairs in studio 2 at the Takoma Park studio, but please check in at the front desk.

Itsy Bitsy Yoga has been a huge part of our parenting experience

That I spend every Friday morning leading newborns through preschoolers and their parents
through games, songs, and yoga poses at Willow Street Yoga Studio in
Takoma Park has been seriously underrepresented on this blog.

I started taking Maya to local Itsy Bitsy Yoga classes before she could
even hold up her head. When I went back to work, Mac took Maya to what sounded like a very fun Tots class while I hunted the metro area for a class that worked with both my work and Maya's nap schedule.  I ended up getting certified to teach instead.

As Maya grew, yoga became one of her favorite activities.  She's one of those non-participatory kids in class.  She hangs back, runs around the room, does some poses and watches others. And then she does them all at home, makes us perform them on her baby dolls (we went through a phase where anything with legs and a face did toes-to-nose multiple times a day), and asks whens we're going back to class.

That both Mac and I took her to classes turned out to be very useful.  As a pre-verbal toddler, there was a language all three of us could speak in the games and movements of Itsy Bitsy Yoga. Maya would light up when one of us did a pose with her outside of class, as if saying "I know this!"

As she became verbal, Tots and then Tykes yoga became even more fun. Yoga poses became a way to change the mood, break her out of tantrum, entertain her during an adult-oriented wait for something, or just have fun.  One night, she got something stuck to her foot and went to wipe her foot on her other leg.  She was whining a bit about whatever it was until she realized that she was in Tree Pose, and then she was totally tickled as she laughed and said, "Mommy, Mommy do tree pose, too."  She would often strike a pose and have me name it. "What's Maya doing?," she'd ask until I answered.

So if you are in the area with your little one, join me on Friday and for the rest of the summer.


Itsy Bitsy Yoga logo Itsy Bitsy Yoga® is a unique blend of yoga postures,
child developmental movement, and parent/child bonding. Itsy Bitsy Yoga was created
by Helen Garabedian, an infant developmental movement educator, yoga
teacher, and mother. Jen studied with Helen in 2008 and 2009.

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