It Looked Like Spilled Milk…but it was really yoga

I’d seen It Looked Like Spilled Milk  listed as good book to use for teaching kids yoga so I decided to give it a try.

The book went over well with the kids. I think one of the reasons it works well is that it leaves a lot up to interpretation by the kids. The class interjected periodically when they thought the picture looked like something else entirely. You can then riff off of what students find and have them get creative with taking the shapes that they see in the pictures.

Here are some ideas for incorporating yoga with the story:

Rabbit: Try bunny breath (big inhale, three bunny sniff exhales through the nose). Take hops in a squatting position with hands up as ears and a forward bend with floppy ears (shaking head and arms). Kids can also be rabbits in a hutch (kneeling with head rounding to knees, hands on heels).

Bird: All kinds of options here. Try making bird wings with the arms and balancing on one foot with the other knee bent and foot up towards standing leg. Or fly around the room and land in airplane (warrior three) pose back on your mat. Be a squatting bird or a bird flying south (half moon pose).

Tree: Go beyond the basic tree pose and ask kids what kind of tree they’d like to be (i.e. cactus, palm, swaying tree, etc.) or what they think the tree in the picture might look like.

Ice cream cone: Start off with your ice cream cone by standing with arms out in a “V” shape. Then bring hands together and slowly scoop your ice cream as you roll down into a ball and roll all the way down to the back and then back up to your standing “V”. Make it a double or triple scoop by taking another roll. One of my students decided that she’d slowly melt down from her “V” all the way down to a puddle on the mat.

Flower: Grow up from a seed (child pose) to a flower, spreading arms out. Or take flower pose by sitting down, lifting legs and threading the arms through bent knees. Make a group flower circle by joining each of your hands in flower pose with the other flowers next to you. Practice smelling your flower by making a flower shape with the hands and taking a big breath in to smell your flower and exhale out, “Ahhhh.”

Pig: Pigs often roll around in the dirt. Roll kids up in the mat like a pig rolling in its sty. Get a curly pig’s tail by crossing the legs and coming into a laying-down spinal twist.

Birthday Cake: Bake a cake with a partner by taking a wide-legged seated position with feet connecting to the feet of your partner. Add various ingredients, reaching forward and over to the sides in your forward bend. Mix the cake by taking your partners hands and circling around, using the pull from your partner to come forward and back. Put the cake on the oven rack (legs up to table top, modified boat pose). When oven dings, take the cake out and frost it (stretching out into forward bend). Then of course, eat it!

Sheep: Walk on all fours. Sheep often move in herds so you can make a herd of sheep with each student holding onto the ankles of the person in front of them to make a big line. One student can even be the sheep dog (downward dog) to guide the herd.

Owl: Take owl pose (squatting on toes with hands clasped behind the back, arms reaching back). Get still, turn your owl head from one side to the other. Let out a hoot or a little jump, landing back on the toes.

Mitten: Take wrist stretches by bringing fingers together, then turning the hand open and stretching one finger at a time. Bring the arms out to a “T” shape and then one finger at a time, make a fist with the hand to test out each finger of the mitten.

Squirrel:We tried bounding like a squirrel, hopping the feet to hands from downward dog and then taking hands forward.This one is very open for interpretation, however, and my students had some very different ideas of what a squirrel pose might consist of.

Angel: Make a halo with hands interlaced overhead, rise up onto toes and float on tiptoes, perhaps flying around the room.

If timing works out, the end of the book makes a great segway into final relaxation. The spilled milk is revealed to be a cloud. You can take kids through a floating like a cloud visualization as they come into savasana/ending quiet time.

Other ideas? I’d love to hear ’em!


Seeing energy

Recently I had an powerful experience, like nothing I’ve ever experienced teaching yoga.

To back up, one of the things I learned a lot about in my Forrest Yoga teacher training and the subsequent process of getting my certification was learning how to see energy and empath. As you breath and bring your focus on feeling, you attempt to see energy and empath (i.e. get a feeling sense of where your students are at; what their energy is like). Sometimes this is just sensing when the class is struggling or if the energy is sluggish and you need to adjust the poses you are teaching (or how you are teaching them) accordingly. The next layer of seeing is noticing what kind of energy you feel from individual students and what that might mean for their lives. Sometimes what you hit on is your own projections but other times it can be surprisingly accurate.

If this sounds a bit out there, trust me, I wondered about that too when I started to learn about it and practice it in the training. Sure, Ana is amazing at reading the energy of a class and sensing right when you need that supportive assist, but Ana’s kind of expertise is a rarity. Yet Ana continually reiterates that everyone has the ability to empath and see energy–it’s just a matter of tuning into it and it’s a skill that can be honed.

Despite her insistence though, I struggle in this area as a teacher and find myself uncertain on what I’m sensing from students. I question whether or not I’d ever get to the level of expertise I find with the Forrest Yoga senior teachers I’ve experienced.

So I was amazed at what happened the other day while I was teaching at juvenile hall. My colleague, Sandy, and I were teaching the maximum security unit. There was a kid there who was reluctant to do any of the poses we were doing. It took constant coaxing on our part to get him to at least try the poses. Initially I just felt frustrated with him, but tried to focus on the small successes when he’d attempt a pose.

At the end of class, we gave the boys a neck assist, which is an adjustment to help release the neck in savasana (final relaxation pose). As I was giving this boy an adjustment, I felt this deep wave of energy from him. It was a rush of both apathy and deep remorse. Certainly this boy had committed a major crime to warrant being in maximum security, but I couldn’t believe the level of sorrow and shame I sensed from him. I kept breathing and took my time giving him a long assist and gradually I could sense him relaxing more in the pose. At the end of class there was a noticeable shift in his energy and a little more lightness to the way he carried himself.

I could still feel fiery energy pulsing through my hands after class and grounded myself by pressing into the concrete wall for a few breaths to release it. I truly sensed, “Hey, I made a difference, however small, in this kid’s life.”

So when I’m doubting myself as a teacher or wondering whether anything I’m teaching kids is sinking in, this profound experience is something I can draw on. I am capable of empathing and making a difference (again, however small) through teaching yoga. And that matters.
Image credit: CHE

Penguin Yoga!

Penguin Yoga.

Yup, it was inevitable that a penguin nut like me would do a penguin theme one of these days with my kids yoga class. I taught this theme to a few different classes this week and thought I would share some of my class ideas.

Walk like penguins! Waddle around with webbed feet on your heels and flap your flippers. Or, as one child pointed out to me, penguins have to move their feet mostly together, so you can hop around with feet together or try to walk this way, inching the feet forward.

When penguins are excited to see each other, they flap their flippers and let out a big squawk. Kids can take a deep inhale and exhale out a big squawk when they encounter other penguin friends.

Penguins build nests and when they lay eggs they keep them warm by holding them on their feet so their feathers can warm them. You can practice balancing a small ball on the feet while staying very still in a squatted position.

Penguins sometimes have rocks to waddle around. Several children can be rocks by coming into mouse pose with a little bit of space between each child. Have several others be the penguins and waddle around the rocks. Then switch so penguins become rocks and rocks become penguins.

Have children be the frozen icicles in Antarctica by bringing hands together overhead, interlacing the hands and reaching pointer fingers up. Become a jagged iceberg by leaning from one side to another. Imagine the sun coming out and slowly melting the ice into a puddle while kids slowly lower to a squat, then all the way down on the mat. You can also make a big iceberg with a partner by facing each other with hands together and making an arch like the tip of an iceberg.

There’s a ton of penguin kids books out there, but the one I used, Flip and Flop by Dawn Apperley, is a great choice. We did a number of penguin activities along with the book.

Just like the Flip and Flop, we played “Boomba” where on the count of three everyone jumped and yelled, “Boomba”, then rolled down like a ball onto the back and then all the way back up. For an added challenge, we tried a “no hands” Boomba.

Another game the penguins play is sliding down the ice. Everyone made a slide (purvottanasana, which looks like a reverse plank pose). I went around with the little penguin in the picture above (who is on the round side) and rolled the penguin down each child’s “slide”.

And of course, penguins go swimming! Stand at the back of the mat to get ready to dive in. Reach flippers up, then slide all the way down through a forward bend and onto the belly. Swim by lifting up and bringing flippers back. Kids will get creative, maybe wiggling forward as they swim or bringing the arms out the side and then bringing them forward and back to steer themselves along. Come out of the water by pressing up into the hands and walking or hopping the feet forward to the front of the mat and stand on land again.

For older kids, you might try the book The Emperor Penguin’s New Clothes by Janet Perlman, which tells the classic story of the emperor’s new clothes only with penguin characters. I haven’t had a chance to try this one out yet on a class, but it strikes me as a good one for exploring the themes of the story and how this relates to yoga (speaking the truth, humility, danger of putting someone up on a pedestal, etc.).

More penguin pose ideas? Do share them here.

Happy waddling!



Circus yoga class for kids


Image credit: Deviant Art

I recently did a yoga class with elementary school students where we went to the circus.
Throughout the class I tried to weave in the theme of focus and working together in a variety of different partner and individual activities. Here’s some of the circus ideas I had for the class:

Elephants: Warm up with elephant pose as you interlace hands together into a forward bend letting head and neck hang. You can lift their trunk up then down again to eat peanuts or take a shower and walk around with heavy feet.

Unicycle: Laying down on the mat, bicycle the feet. Or start bicycling from a seated position (trying with no hands) pedaling forwards and then backwards. For even more challenge, try pedaling all the way down, then back up to sitting. Did you have to focus especially when you changed what direction you were pedaling?

Lions jumping through a hoop: Take a few rounds of lions’ breath, then stretch up into downward dog. One at a time, everyone can jump through a hula hoop by placing hands on the other side of the hoop and jumping the feet forward from downward dog. How did different parts of your body have to work together to help you make it through the hoop?

Tightrope: Walk heel to heel along the edge of your mat or along a strap or string. At the end of the “rope”, take a balance pose. This could be dancer pose, airplane, or bringing a knee up and then extending the leg straight. Combine different balances together for a more difficult balancing routine. And of course there’s walking backwards to where you started. What did you have to do to help you keep your balance? What helped you keep your focus?

Juggling: Sit in a circle and quickly pass a small ball around the circle. Then start passing a second ball of a different size in the opposite direction and see how well the group can work together to “juggle” the balls going around. How can you still keep your focus when two different balls are going around?

Trapeze: With a partner, face one another and hold onto each other’s arms and take airplane pose. Come up and take a partner chair pose while facing your partner and holding arms. You can try this with other partner poses with one partner leaning forward and the other partner gently pulling their arms back to give a chest and shoulder opening or making partner table.  Notice how you had to work together to help your partner (and you) balance, stay safe, and enjoy the poses. Another way to be a trapeze artist is to use a wall and take upside-down “L” pose. Feel how being upside down challenges your balance and focus in a different way.

Magician’s hat: Wave a colored scarf over a top hat and turn it into a rabbit. Everyone can then take rabbit pose and/or practice bunny breath. You can also pull out multiple scarves from the hat for some creative movement using the scarves.

Circus music could go well with these activities. Be sure to ask your performers as they may have some great ideas for some acts to add to the circus.

I’d love to hear any further ideas you have for a circus-themed yoga class.



Halloween Yoga Ideas for Kids

Photo credit: wwarby

I decided my last kids yoga class of October would be a Halloween theme. They got such a great kick out of all the decorations that were up at the yoga studio that I thought some Halloween yoga to go along with it was in order. I incorporated some of the great ideas from Yoga in My School along with my own brainstorms.

Here’s some of the activities and games I came up with and used with the kids:

Boo breath: Take a big breath in and then lett it out slowly making a “boooo” sound

Skeleton Warm-up: Warm up each body part by shaking each part of the skeleton (fingers, hands, wrists, etc).

haunted house imageHaunted house: Get creative with anything you might find on your visit to the spooky house:

  • Walk through the doors: two kids make a house by facing each other and bringing hands together making an arch like the top of the house, then everyone else walks underneath.
  • Crawl through cobwebs: Walking cobra, moving the hands forward as you come up and down from cobra pose
  • See spiders inside: Walking like a spider in crab walk or downward dog; can move hands and feet to weave a web.
  • Look around the corners of the hallway: Sidebends
  • Stir a witches brew: With a partner, bring feet together in wide-legged seated position and grab hands and make a circle with each partner going forward and back
  • Stumble upon mummies: Lay on your back with arms crossed over the chest, legs straight. Pop up with the torso to sitting, then come to standing without using the arms. Have everyone become a mummy by rolling each child up in a yoga mat. You can even let them escape by unwinding themselves and starting to mummy walk by walking with straight legs and arms reaching straight out.
  • Discover a black cat: cat pose, complete with a stretch and maybe a scary hiss or pounce
  • Find bats: kids fly around like bats. Since bats sleep upside down, everyone takes downward dog on the wall. If any bats are up for it, you can help spot them up into handstand
  • Have something jump out at you: Do a little leapfrog jump and have the kids what creature it was

But the best part was “The Monster Mash”. Everybody mashes until the music stops and then freezes in a yoga pose.

And of course, we ended with corpse pose.

I hope that gives you some great ideas for some kids Halloween yoga. One little girl claimed it was the best Halloween party she’s ever been to. Or was that me?