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The Ninja and the Warrior

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This quote inspired me to try  a new game with my little yogis that I call the ninja and the warrior.

Objective: For the ninja to bring the bell back to their home-base.

One child lays down with eyes closed on a mat pretending to be asleep with a bell next to them.  This person is the sleeping warrior.  The other child is across the room in a side lunge with their hands in prayer position (ninja pose).  The yoga ninja walks quietly to the bell, picks it up, brings it back to where he/she started, and returns to ninja pose.  If the warrior  hears the ninja walk up to the bell or hears the bell ring, then the warrior wakes up yelling out “warrior” and goes into warrior pose.  This prevents the ninja from taking the bell.

This game is a fun way to get younger children to become more mindful of their movements.

Unitasking: Sneaking Mindfulness into a Busy Schedule

multitaskMy job (like most people’s today) requires a lot of multitasking and I fancied myself quite the multitasking queen.  I was surprised to learn that research shows chronic multitasking can have harmful, long-term effects on the brain and that heavy multitaskers perform worse on tests at task-switching ability.  This reminded me of the recent Sharon Salzberg lecture.   She mentioned unitasking as a simple way to sneak mindfulness in to a busy day.  Instead of sitting at your desk to eat lunch while you listen to a conference call, answer emails, work on 2 spreadsheets and 3 documents; give yourself permission to focus on just one thing.  Chances are you won’t even remember tasting whatever you shoveled into your mouth during your multitasking marathon.  Instead, challenge yourself to experience the taste, smell, and textures of each bite.  If the thought of “wasting” 20 minutes on your lunch when you have so much work to do gives you heart palpitations,  try it for a few minutes with something like a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.  Just sit, drink and focus on each sip. Your brain will thank you.

When the Student Becomes the Master


As the old English proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention”.  I forgot my yoga clothes at home today, was wearing a dress to work and had a kid’s yoga class to teach.  The class I teach is on campus where I work, so I did not have time to go back home. Since many yoga poses aren’t dress-friendly, it occurred to me that today would be a good day to have the kid’s teach the class.

At the beginning of my children’s yoga teacher training, the facilitator  “BB” Shabdpreet Kaur told us that a good way to explain yoga to young children is to tell them that we all have little teachers inside of us and doing yoga wakes up our inner teacher.  We’ve tried this with several of our classes and the kids love it.  Their faces light up and they feel empowered since they spend the majority of their day being taught things and told what to do.

Today, my little yogis had a chance not only to wake up their inner teachers but also to embody them.  Each child that was interested in being the teacher had the opportunity to teach one portion of the class.  They would come to my mat and lead the group.  They loved it!  Kids that usually have a hard time paying attention were all of a sudden completely focused.  Kids that often don’t exude high self esteem were sitting straight and tall.  Soft-spoken children transformed into leaders.  Overall, it was a successful class and I learned a lot from my little yogis.

There is No Failure

Bh-26wXCcAA9_VLAs mentioned in a previous post. I recently had the privilege of attending the Mindfulness, Compassion, and Real Happiness lecture by Sharon Salzberg which was part of the UMindfulness Lecture Series.

She outlined three keys to mindfulness meditation.

1. Concentration – When your mind starts to wander, bring yourself back to the breath.  Don’t be overly critical about what distracted you, just let the thoughts pass and bring yourself back to your breath.  According to Salzberg, “bringing yourself back is the transformative moment”.  Letting go gently and coming back to the breath helps you to become much more centered and present.

2. Mindfulness – This describes a quality of awareness where the perception of moments are unbiased.  It is not a distorted perception of the moment.  It allows us to connect in the present moment and realize the distinction between what is actually happening and the story that we play in our minds.

3. Compassion – Loving kindness (including to ourselves).  For example, when you realize that your mind has wandered, be kind to yourself don’t beat yourself up about it.  It is transformative because it isn’t easy.  The rules of kindness apply to everyone.  With practice, we begin to realize that we are all connected to a larger picture.

The main thing I took away from her talk is that there is no failure.  Sharon Salzberg has been teaching meditation for 40 years.  She says that when people hear this about her, they often say that they tried meditation, but weren’t good at it so they stopped.  But, her response is you can’t fail at meditation.  Everyone’s mind wanders.  We sit there judging ourselves (“I’m not doing this right“, “Follow the breath, what does that even mean?“) or  become fixated and replay something that happened in the past (“I can’t believe I/they said/did that“, “Why would anyone do such a thing?“) or worrying and obsessing over something that may happen in the future (“I’m going to march right in there and…“, “I’m going to say this, and then he’ll say that and then…“)  If we are able to tear ourselves away from all this chatter in our brains and bring ourselves back to the moment and feel even one breath, then we are successful because it’s working.

“Life is Full of Surprises” Gratitude Exercises at Home and in Class

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I had the privilege of attending the Mindfulness, Compassion, and Real Happiness lecture by Sharon Salzberg which was part of the UMindfulness Lecture Series.  I will delve more into her amazing talk in a future post.   But, in one of her stories, she mentioned the popular idea of keeping a gratitude journalResearch has shown that acknowledging what you’re thankful for can lead to a happier, healthier life.  This got me thinking about how to share this simple, yet effective mindfulness tool in an interactive way with kids.

At Home:

Around the dinner table or at bedtime, have everyone list and discuss 3 things they are grateful for that day.

We tried this with our family last night, and our 9-year-old was so excited.  We have often played the high-low game where you go around the table and say the high and low point of your day.   But, this he seemed to enjoy so much more.  It really opens up the door to have interesting conversations you might not have had if you just asked, how was school? or how was your day?  It also gives us the opportunity to show gratitude for the little things we often take for granted.  Not everyday is going to be a great day.  On those days, we may really need to dig deep to find something to share, but that is when the little things will shine forward.  This is where mindfulness will really come into play because we always have something to be thankful for.  Like Sharon said at the seminar, “life is full of surprises, when we pay attention”.

In Class:

The gratitude exercise we do with our little yogis is that we sit in a circle and share one thing we are grateful for that day.  We usually do this exercise towards the end of class, prior to going into relaxation. There are many different ways to do this and incorporate yoga.  Go around the circle and as they say what they are grateful for each child can:

  • do their favorite yoga pose
  • create a pose that represents what they are grateful for
  • do a heart opener like bridge pose or wheel
  • pass a ball to each other using just their feet to improve their balance and core
  • or just sit in easy pose (criss-cross applesauce)

This is a really fun and interactive way to incorporate gratitude and you will get some pretty creative and surprising answers.  My favorite answer so far was by a four-year-old boy that said he was grateful for aliens and proceeded to make up alien pose.

 

The Sunset Challenge: Soak in the Sunset

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Looking for an easy way to incorporate some mindfulness into your everyday life?  This evening, try this sunset challenge.

First get rid of any distractions.  If you are on your way home, then turn off your radio and get off your cell phone.  If you are already home, then turn off the TV and step outside or gaze out the window.  Take a moment to contemplate the sunset. 

Recognize that this exact sunset will never exist again.  Clouds will form and drift into different shapes and different locations.  The pattern and hues of blues, oranges, and pinks will change tomorrow, perhaps ever-so-slightly.  Revel in the experience of  living art courtesy of Mother Nature.    

We get a fixed number of sunsets in a lifetime.  So, make them count.  Soak in all the beauty and blessings of that moment.  Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, what do I see? Then, what do I feel? If you are with your family or friends, ask them to join you. 

Feel free to share your experiences or photos of your sunset with us. 

 

Mindful Reminders

A mindfulness meditation practice essentially teaches us to be present in the moment and accept that moment without judgement.   If you are relatively new to meditation, it is usually recommended to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day.  There are some days that I can do just this and it is blissful.  However, most days I feel accomplished if I can steal away 5 minutes to focus on my breath and even with just 5 minutes, I feel and see a big difference.  That’s why I love the Mindfulness Bell app.

According to the app description: “The Mindfulness Bell rings periodically during the day, to give you the opportunity to hold on for a moment and consider what you are currently doing, and in what state of mind you are while you are doing it.  According to the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, this is an effective means of developing mindfulness.”

I have mine set from 9AM to 9PM and it rings at different times everyday.   The tone of the bell is soft, so even if I forget to put my phone on vibrate and it goes off during a meeting or my child’s nap-time, it is not disruptive.  In this often disconnected, digital age where everywhere I turn I see people absorbed by their phones and tuned out of the world around them, it’s nice to use technology as a reminder to tune in.

“It Feels Like Butterflies”…a Meditation Exercise for Kids

 

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Twice a week, I teach yoga to a dozen or so 3-to-5-year-olds at the Debbie School.  Getting kids this age to stay quiet, lay down and close their eyes during mediation can be challenging, to say the least.  So, last week I decided to try something new.   I asked for volunteers or “assistants” and had the children that volunteered take turns lying in the center of the circle.  I asked them to close their eyes, place their hand on their tummies and take three deep breaths while the other children in the room observed their friend in relaxation.  Then, I asked three questions:

1. What do you see? This got the observers to pay close attention to the physical changes that occur in the body as the breath moves through it.  It was interesting to see that most of the kids showed movements in different places.

2. What does it sound like? This made the observers get real quiet and lean in close.  The most common response for this question was wind.

3. After the third breath I asked the volunteer, what does it feel like?   This was a way for me to instill a little mindfulness into the meditation exercise.  Their responses were great.   A few of the kids said things like the “calm” “relaxed” or “nice”.   One little girl opened her eyes with a big smile on her face and  replied, “it feels like butterflies.”

Next time your little yogis are a little restless during meditation, try this exercise and revel in their wondrous responses.

 

 

The Power of the Mat and the Mind

Clearly, I believe in the boundless benefits of yoga and mindfulness.  I work in pediatric clinical research and I teach children yoga for the pediatric integrative program there.   So,  I love coming across and sharing scientific research that proves it.  Recently, PBS NewsHour featured the amazing work being done at Stanford University School of Medicine with at-risk youth coping with the daily stress of homelessness, gangs and school.

To read the transcripts click Teaching students how to combat traumas of poverty on the yoga mat.