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Spotlight on: Headstand

Kipp_Summit

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!

Sasha Chan in Wheel Pose

Meet Sasha Chan

Age: 8
Grade: 2
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.

Triangle Pose

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.

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Essential Sequence: Refine Your Headstand

Yoga Headstand Sequence | Sirsasana Sequence | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method

WHY THIS YOGA HEADSTAND SEQUENCE WORKS

Let me start with a big caveat about this practice: This yoga headstand practice is NOT designed to teach you Headstand.

Rather, it’s designed to help you refine your Headstand by breaking down the elements that comprise good, skillful sequencing for the pose. It’s only intended for students and teachers who are already proficient in this posture. If you’re not regularly practicing yoga Headstand, please learn the pose in the presence of a qualified instructor. If you have never done Headstand, please don’t attempt it alone at home. Instead, you can choose to replace Headstand with Dolphin Pose in this sequence.

From a purely mechanical perspective, Headstand is a simple posture. Like all postures, Headstand contains plenty of nuances, especially with regards to the action of the shoulders and placement of the head. However in my experience, the most challenging aspect of the posture is becoming oriented upside down. Unlike deep backbends or forward bends, you don’t have to focus on a ton of strengthening or stretching to prepare for Headstand. Rather, you have to prepare your body, mind, and nervous system for the finer points of being aligned while you’re upside down.

Let’s break it down a little further:

POSES 1-3

The sequence starts with Cat Pose in order to bring your awareness to your shoulders and upper back. It’s nice to release tension in this region and bring your focus to your shoulder blades when you’re preparing for Headstand. The sequence continues with Plank and Forearm Plank in order to engage your core. Core strength is not as important in Headstand as it is in Handstand and Forearm Balance (Pincha Mayurasana) since the posture is less mechanically stressful for your midsection. At the same time, it’s important to be mindful of the role that your core plays in keeping your pelvis, spine, and ribs vertically aligned in Headstand.

POSES 4 – 7

Poses 4 – 7 prepare you for Headstand by turning you upside down. Since Down Dog and the forward bends are slightly inverted postures, they can help you adjust to being upside down prior to Headstand. These four postures may also promote the focus and attention needed to tune into the finer points of Headstand.

POSES 8 – 11

You don’t need exceptionally flexible shoulders to do Headstand, but you do need to have a clear awareness of what your shoulders are doing in the posture. Postures 8 -11 are a progression of shoulder-opening postures that will mobilize your shoulder joints and help you focus your attention on your upper body. Baddha Hastasana, Gomukhasana, and Down Dog with your hands on the wall prepares your shoulders for the flexion that is required in Headstand. Garudasana complements these postures by preparing your shoulder blades for the protraction that is required in Headstand.

POSES 12 – 13

Most of the sequences I provide here conclude with the peak, or featured posture. I want to help students and teachers understand how to make challenging postures more accessible with smart, effective, and safe sequencing. Headstand is no exception, but the final posture in this sequence is Child’s Pose, not Headstand. It’s important to follow Headstand with Child’s Pose in order to help decompress the neck, relieve muscular tension there, and provide you with a few moments of stillness to savor the effects of the inversion.

Want to practice this sequence at home? When you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you free printer-friendly PDF of the sequence above!

AND, if you want to feel more confident and knowledgeable about your sequencing skills, check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. It’s great for yoga teachers and students who want to better understand how the body works and how to stretch and strengthen effectively.

{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

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