Said in my deepest, most convincing movie-trailer voiceover actor voice:
Imagine a world where yoga is a required subject in public elementary schools
Imagine a world where kids learn to enjoy having a body instead of feeling critical about themselves or only engaging their bodies in competition.
Imagine a world where kids can recognize and cope with their emotions without resorting to violence or drugs.
And where kids have tools to help deal with the stresses and anxieties of growing up.
This is exactly what nonprofit organization Headstand has been working toward for the past eight years. Founded by a longtime yogini and schoolteacher, Katherine Priore, Headstand offers yoga and mindfulness curriculum to kids at low-income in the Bay Area.
Katherine is a friend of ours and a student of Jason’s and I wrote about Headstand for Yoga Journal a few years ago. (You can read the story here.) Last week, I went to a class in a San Francisco elementary school to help support Headstand as they raise funds during their Mindful May Challenge.
There I met second-grader Sasha Chan and her teacher Hope Van Sciver and I was reinspired to help spread the word about Headstand. If you’d like to support Headstand, you can either donate directly to their Mindful May Challenge — just a dollar a day in May provides yoga for one month for a student like Sasha.
The other option is to become a fundraiser. Fundraisers who raise more than $2500 will be entered in a random drawing to win a free YogaWorks teacher training in Northern California. (Ahem: Mr. Jason Crandell still has a few spots left in his July YogaWorks teacher training module.)
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun for you to meet Sasha (photographed below) and to hear some tips from Hope on teaching yoga to kids!
Meet Sasha Chan
Favorite pose: Wheel
Least favorite pose: Crow Pose
Favorite class: Science
Favorite book: Thirteen Story Treehouse
Favorite color: Pink
Why she likes yoga: “I like really challenging stuff that I want to learn.”
How yoga helps with her schoolwork: “It calms me down.”
What she does to stay calm: Bubble Breath, where you sweep your arms out and clap them together overhead, like you’re popping a bubble. Then bring them together at your heart.
Hope’s Tips for Teaching Yoga to Kids
1.Tailor Your Class According to Age and Ability
For her Kindergartners, Hope uses lots of animal names for poses and won’t hold Planks or Side Planks like she would with her older kids. But she finds that kids of any age can learn breathing exercises — and they benefit from them!
2. If Kids are Fidgety, Have a Go-To Pose Combo
Hope notices that jumping from Mountain to Star to Mountain to Star is a great way to help kids burn off energy and settle down. (Star is when you stand with your legs wide apart and arms oustretched). It’s something that kids of any age can do.
3. Try Breathing Buddies
Breathing Buddies are small, colorful puffballs (beanbag animals work, too). Priore started using them when she noticed that kids would suck their bellies in when you told them to inhale. When you place the Breathing Buddies on their bellies during Savasana, they can watch them move up as they breathe in and down as they breathe out.
4. Engage All Of Their Senses
Along with the Breathing Buddies, Hope brings a singing bowl and a “peaceful spray,” which is just a small spray bottle full of water and a tiny drop of eucalyptus oil. The kids know that once they’re calm in Savasana, she’ll spray just a little bit around them.
5. Figure Out Ways to Let Kids Participate
On days when focus is hard-won, it can be helpful to let kids choose a pose or two. Partner poses also work well for kids and you can make them fun — try having them sit in Upavistha Konasana with their feet touching. Then they can hold hands and act like they’re mixing up a mixing bowl. Or even simple self-inquiry engages kids — ask them to notice how they feel after doing a pose and make sure they know that it’s safe for them to have any answer.4 comments Add Your Own
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The holidays are a mixed bag for most. They’re so often fraught with memory and expectation that it’s as though the frequency of our daily unconscious emotions get turned up to 11. We’re surrounded by messages that it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” But if you’re nursing heartbreak or confused by your family dynamics or exhausted by your intense workplace, those messages can just amplify your loneliness and anxiety.
I have a little holiday “hack” I’ve used for years and it’s this: Do your yoga practice regularly throughout your holiday season with the idea of creating “good space” for yourself.
It was Richard Rosen who sparked this idea of creating good space through yoga practice. He introduced me to the translation of sukha as “good space” – su meaning good and kha meaning space.
Think of it this way: We have this yoga practice where we stretch, breathe, and move life force to the furthest corners of our body in order to create “good space” physically. You can take that physical space you’ve created and hold onto it. You can think of this space as an inner alter – a place within you that’s solid and sacred and totally at ease. I imagine my inner alter lives around my heart and expands with every conscious breath.
Your inner “good space” doesn’t get penetrated by petty conflicts, old grievances, by self-criticism or even by loneliness. It’s your “true Self,” if you will – it’s joyful, omniscient, and full of potential. When you create this space within yourself, you can remind yourself of it if you’re sad or when you’re faced with a difficult moment. Instead of snapping like a twig when your Uncle complains that there’s no cranberry sauce, you can access a part of you – even the teeniest, tiniest part – that’s still flexible and flowing like a big, willowy branch. You can breathe into it, feel it, and know that you can capably manage whatever you’re feeling or facing without losing your true Self.
Throughout the holiday season, revisit this good space often. On days when you can’t do a full asana practice or sit, revisit the space through your breath, or while you’re on the train, or while you’re doing the dishes. Because no matter what you’ve been through or where you’ve come from, you are alive right now and you’re allowed to feel happy, full, complete.
Here’s a sequence that Jason created to help you create your holiday “good space.” It mobilizes the hips and is perfect when you don’t have time for a full 60- or 90-minute practice. Stay for 5-10 breaths in each pose and do both sides before moving onto each pose in the sequence.
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If you’ve followed me for the past year, you know that I’m a breast cancer survivor. Lately, I’ve been noticing how much I simultaneously want to forget that the whole thing ever happened–and I also want to remember. I want to forget because I’m human. I want to push away the pain of the doctor’s visits, the tests, the physical changes, the worry about recurrence.
But, I sense that sweeping it under some mental rug isn’t the best idea. Because if I remember my breast cancer diagnosis wisely, then I remember how grateful I am to be alive.
The truth is, I never quite felt the aliveness of life until this diagnosis. Once I could palpably feel how this life will go away someday, it was like a switch flipped and the simple acting of living just seemed ridiculously fun. Painting my nails pink or eating sushi with friends or going to a yoga class. Worrying about my “career” or why my kid won’t let me brush her teeth or what kind of flowers to plant in my garden–I now see how all of these things are a giant privilege. Some days it feels just plain silly how much amazing stuff we get to do in the course of a life.
I still get grumpy more often than I should. I still bitch and moan about ridiculous shit. I still worry uselessly. But when I remember, when a little voice kicks in that says, “This could go away at any moment…” I wake up again. And I’m grateful.
And here’s the micro list of what I’m grateful for. I like using my Instagram feed to look back over my year. For the past few years I’ve used Artifact Uprising to create a yearly Instagram book. I highly recommend this. They do a beautiful job and it’s super easy.
When I look back at my feed I remember how all of those small, mundane moments are so meaningful. So here goes. I’m grateful for:
• All of our travels – to LA, London, Ohio, and Hawaii.
• Saturday mornings at home and cozy breakfasts with our family.
• All of the fun things we get to do now that Sofia is older like making sparkly Easter eggs, going to high tea at Fortnum & Mason, or looking at fairy gardens.
• Rainy day boots and toddler topknots and Sofia licking ice cream cones.
• Spring peonies and palm trees, palm trees, palm trees.
• Women who make me laugh and who inspire me and who are kicking ass at making the world a better place. (Hello Amy Schumer, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown.)
• Ladylike shoes and Onzie printed yoga pants and great outerwear. (I live in a place where you must love great outerwear.)
• Coming back to my yoga practice full force and feeling how magically the body heals itself.
• My husband. Because. He’s the best.
• Sofia Sofia, Sofia, Sofia. I’m grateful that she’s growing so tall and eating butter by the handful. I’m grateful for how she grabs me and kisses me at random times. I’m grateful for how often she says she wants to spend “allllll day with you Mama.” And I’m grateful that she spends half the day in preschool so that I have some time to work on projects of my own.
I’m grateful that she has a little toy laptop that she enjoys “taking to work.” (I like that’s already planning her career 🙂 I’m grateful for how connected she is to her Dad. I’m grateful for the sound of her voice first thing in the morning.
I’m grateful for the other day when we were playing grocery store and she was leading me around our living room by the elbow. It wasn’t just the game, it was that I could imagine us traveling through Europe someday, her leading me around by the elbow and showing me the sights. I imagine she’ll be simultaneously comforted and totally annoyed by her batty old mom. And me? I’ll just be…grateful.
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If you and your loved ones want to face similar challenges to the pie chart above, save the date for Jason’s annual Maui Retreat, October 18th to 24th, 2016. Registration fills quickly, so send an email to [email protected] for registration and deposit details!1 comment Add Your Own
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The idea of being fearless—on or off the yoga mat—doesn’t resonate with me. Neither does the notion of conquering my fears. I understand and appreciate these concepts, but they don’t feel realistic.
I’d rather change the narrative to this: Instead of trying to live a “fearless” life, I’m trying to live a life where I understand, manage, and respond to my fears with greater compassion and skill. I’m under no illusion that my fears will permanently go away. I am, however, optimistic that I can continue to get better at working through my fears so that they don’t unconsciously control my behavior.
I have countless fears, but I don’t live in fear. There’s a difference. Here’s a partial list: I’m afraid of bees (yep), I’m afraid of turbulence (sweaty palms from takeoff to touchdown), I’m afraid of bodies of water where I can’t see the ground, I’m afraid of losing my loved ones, I’m afraid of failure (hello, therapist), and I’m afraid that my style of teaching will become irrelevant or that teaching yoga will no longer be a viable livelihood for me.
I also get little twinges of fear when I practice deeper backbends like Kapotasana or when I’m getting dropped back into Urdhva Dhanurasana. File both of these under postures I’d rather be teaching than practicing. Fortunately for my wife, I’m not afraid of spiders.
The reason that I’m sharing all of this is because I witness so many students feeling guilty or ashamed when they practice postures that trigger experience fear in the classroom. When we’re afraid to acknowledge and feel our fears, it only makes things worse. Instead of trying to “fake it ‘til you make it” or stuff your fears, I invite you to use yoga room as the perfect place to witness your fears and become more skillful at working through them.
Here’s a step-by-step process for you to try:
1. Accept It
Remember that fear is a normal, natural part of the human psyche. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty because you experience fear—everyone has fears except for psychopaths and you don’t want to be a psychopath, do you? Being ashamed of your fears will only inflate them and make you less able to manage them.
It can also lead to feelings of separation, as though you’re the only person in the room with fear and that something is wrong with you. You are never the only person with fear in the room and there is nothing wrong with you. Got it?
2. Demystify It
When you become fearful in your practice, try to drill down and identify what you’re actually afraid of. Let’s say you’re afraid of Handstand. Take another step and try to figure out the specific fear you’re experiencing, such as the fear of falling on your head. Being more objective with your fear will help you start to demystify it. This will begin to lessen the fear. Even more, it will identify the challenge that you’re trying to solve.
3. Ask For Help
Asking your teacher for help does two things: First, you take some of the pressure off of yourself. You reduce the burden that you’ve internalized. (And, no, you’re not adding to your teacher’s burden. This is what we’re here for.) Second, you actually get help when you ask for it! Your teacher might not know that you need a little extra support. When you ask for help, they can usually give you the physical and mental support that you need.
Lengthen your exhalations. Lengthening your exhalations will settle you, focus you, and soothe you. Once you’ve lengthened your exhalations, take an “Everything’s gonna be alright” breath. You know what I mean.
5. Use Support
The first wave of support should come from your teacher. Remember, you’re going to ask them for help, right? But, you may also benefit from using more props, like the wall, bolsters, and blankets. If you’re afraid of Handstand, stay at the wall without feeling guilty that you’re not in the middle of the room! If you’re afraid of falling on your face in Bakasana, put a bunch of blankets on the floor in front of you.
6.Don’t Stay Long
Don’t stay long in postures that scare you. Staying too long in stressful situations usually increases aversion. Try staying for a breath or two — it will give you confidence to know that you can do the pose. But if you know that you’re only going to do the pose for a couple of breaths, you’ll be much more willing to repeat it.
7. Rinse and Repeat
Repeat the postures that scare you—for brief periods and with proper support—more frequently. The longer you avoid postures that scare you, the bigger the aversion becomes. Instead, repeat the postures with adequate support as frequently as you can. This repeat exposure—and success in the postures—will help you reframe your relationship to your fear.