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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Yoga off the mat when working with teens

I am asked every morning by colleagues of mine as I walk across the high school campus with mat and blanket to the gym how are you doing. I love this exchange. First thought, I am so grateful to have another day of breath. Next thought, I am so happy to be connected to the over six billion human beings on the planet, and then all the sentient beings. Next thought, what a difference a smile and a kind tone creates in a vast sea of teenagers. Next thought, since the greeting how are you doing makes such an impact on me, how much will it have on my students.
Plenty it turns out. With just under 200 students in the classes and different disciplines I teach this semester, a sincere acknowledgment daily of each and every one of them may seem somewhat daunting, but to me is the most precious gift I receive. During the first week of school, students readily acknowledge me. During the second week, many of the students are already caught up in the angst of homework, the drama of peers and expectations, and it is the opportunity for me to seek them out as I cross their paths. Sometimes it is a grin we exchange, sometimes a wave from across campus to each other, sometimes it includes exchanging names (they forget mine as well), and always it is eye contact.

In this day and age of connectedness to objects, such as electronics, I notice students have developed coping skills such as being plugged in while crossing campus to lend support for their isolation tendencies. Sometimes I honor that, and many times I purposefully step into that. You see, for me, it’s all about relationship. Call it Love, or Consciousness, but relationship is what we are all here for; walking the planet, living our lives, being the human experience. Each time I apply this philosophy to each student I greet (whether they are enrolled in any of my classes or not), I am rewarded with an exchange that is both memorable and deeply important. The opportunity to have hearts connect on a personal level in a setting known for its impersonal is extraordinary. How many of us went through our high school experience feeling invisible. Even though at times we may have been quite well adjusted to the armor we donned each morning to get through the day, occasionally there were kinks in it we most likely relive even today.
I start each of the four yoga classes I have the honor of teaching at this high school with quotes, comments, poems, readings, aha moments, or opportunities for focus in the practice. The students are quite aware this is my tendency. The mind thrives on sequence; the body thrives on ritual. The ritual I enjoy practicing with my students always includes practical ways to learn to deal with the teen experience, and to approach it with an open heart and sense of ease, starting with connecting to our breath before acting or reacting. These quotes and readings I will share along the way during our journey together in this blog over the school year. Seldom is there a set pattern to these or a typical sequence of unfolding, nor does one quote apply to each of the classes. My intention is always to sense the energy in the room, and begin from there, as all of us do when we teach what we love so much, Yoga.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Yoga as PE in the high school setting-part 1 :)

So begins the third year of yoga as a PE elective in high school, and a weekend long labor of love. Currently there are four classes scheduled for first semester with an average of 32 in each class. School starts on Wednesday, so there will be more added. I am washing and drying 36 mats, organizing by coiling up the 40 heavy duty straps, and checking for language scrawled into the foam blocks from last June for appropriateness.
The boiler for the gym was replaced over the summer. I have been assured the heating system in the wrestling room (with a 2 inch thick mat) will work now. This means less ‘adventurous’ yoga because we don’t get to practice in sub 50 degree temperatures anymore. Some days we focused on our breath, which we saw, and practiced in coats. The students were reminded that there are yogis and yoginis simultaneously practicing all over the world. Let’s imagine how high the Himalayan Mountain range is, and imagine practicing at the North Pole in an igloo! Now let’s visualize Hawaii!
You see, I have the distinct honor of offering yoga to high school students. I am certified to teach agriculture education and physical education in the public school setting. More recently I have been assigned more physical education courses, such as volleyball, soccer, tennis/badminton, and health fitness walking. I began to notice some disturbing trends. More students were struggling with self-esteem including but not limited to weight, family dynamics, peer pressure, sleep deprivation, and chronic injury. Some students were experiencing extraordinary stress studying for advanced placement courses and tests (we are an AVID school), and others were working so hard to fit in they forgot who they were from childhood. They lost themselves. Enough students were showing signs of depression, fatigue, isolation, hyperactivity, weight issues, poor food choices-too much or even nothing, addictive behavior, and mood fluctuations that a friend of mine suggested we begin the process of offering yoga. It had to be approved as a new course, we needed to figure out the equipment budget, an appropriate dress code, and a space to practice. And I was to answer the question, “What do we do if 200 students sign up for yoga?” I said, first, bless them. Second, let’s broach that subject when it occurs. When school started, 198 had signed up for the year.
And here we are. The school board blessed the new course. We located a somewhat more quiet area in the gym with doors. It has natural lighting through old skylights which is heavenly. My friend used a grant to get equipment, and helped pay for my first two courses of training-Level One and YogaFit Kids. I had never attended a class nor practiced yoga, ever. During the spring and summer before yoga was to be implemented, I learned, had several misgivings, and then thrived, and have practiced ever since. I currently hold a 200RYT with Yoga Alliance, having received the YogaFit certificate, and have also taken Yoga Therapy, Pre/Post Natal, and Plus. I also have a home practice which includes asana and meditation, work with a master teacher twice a week, teach one class a week at a studio, and another class once a month at a fitness center. I offer ‘staff’ yoga after school to interested district employees, and another at a community center as my Karma Yoga courses!
The reason I am speaking to all of this is for the many people interested in offering yoga in the high school setting beyond a community service opportunity for after school sports (although this is a perfect start). I encourage anyone who feels lead to help 14-18 year olds develop as successful members of the earth to pursue working with teens in any way possible. While it may be a challenge, it is the most rewarding application of a yoga practice imaginable. And these cherubs are so worth it! Now, back to the washer and the dryer. Two more mats done.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tween/ teen Ownership

Greetings All!

Well its been craziness since the Hood River conference with our drive back to Nevada, with a sleep and a hike stop at Crater Lake, a day and a half of teacher meetings and then off to another workshop in San Francisco, this time for my main discipline- acting. promised...I'm going to focus on giving periodic ideas about yoga, kids ,yoga plus acting and yoga plus other cross discipline ideas.

So today's really fun tip! Teens and Tweens like nothing better than what? Yes, I know Taylor Lautner ( have you seen his abs????). Well I was actually thinking... their music. And I do mean their music..the stuff they listen to, share, and basically think any adult is crazy if they don't love it while at the same time think we are sort of crazy when we do. And who can possible keep up with the trends? Sorry too busy.

I know I get really jazzed when Masterclasses have "Good Day Sunshine" and the like. So why wouldn't they buy into classes with more enthusiasm when it's their music.

And how to get that music, you might ask???

As an acting exercise I asked my teen acting students to make me an 18 song mix on a CD- which I provided. Now for the acting end I asked for "The song that would be your theme song right now.", " The song that reminds you of your best friend", "A song that evokes an emotional memory"... But guess what else was on there? "The song that wakes you up and gets you moving" (Mountain 1), " The song that's really gets you pumped" (Mountain 2), "The song that calms you down" (Mountain 3). For the Savasana...I'm letting myself be surprised by some of the other acting questions I asked. But for a non acting class why couldn't you also ask for "The song that speaks honestly to you, about yourself". Oh-oh...just slipped in a Yama.

Then the fun. I took these home and made yoga mixes tailored for each class on ITunes as Playlists. I'll also use other tunes throughout our year for house music at our productions, and got a State Standard out of the exercise in using other mediums to express ourselves in the Dramatic arena.

Amazing results. They were so excited to make the CD's. Eager to hear their song played and sharing something of themselves with us all.

Hope this gets some equally great results for you all.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unleashing Creativity Documentary

This would be a good piece to share with older children and teens about the power of creativity and what creativity is.   Its $20 to play/share, 25 minutes long, and all proceeds for playing it go to an awesome arts program for at-risk kids in Arizona.

The Hawn Foundation - MindUP

I wanted to let you all know about a great curriculum you can download for mindfulness meditation for kids.  It is based on research in neuroscience - here is a link and what some have to say about the program:

What Researchers Say about MindUP™
“I must say I was skeptical at first. But I was surprised when I saw how quickly the kids (and then the teachers) bought into the program and practices. The kids just got it right away, and they seemed hungry for something that would help them manage the stresses in their life.”
-Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, Associate Professor of Education at University of British Columbia

What Teachers Say about MindUP™
“The program is amazing! I loved the activities you included in the senses activities. The kids were involved in lots of hands-on activities that would appeal to anyone. The questions for discussions were really clear for teachers. I like the step by step easy to use set up of the program.”
–Nicole, Kindergarten teacher

“When we had parent teacher interviews, I heard over and over how the children brought this home and taught other members of the family to use the techniques.”
-Jen, grade 4 - 7 teacher of students with learning disabilities and behavior challenges

Friday, August 27, 2010

Creativity, Play, and Yoga Games

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching yoga to children is the endless creativity and imagination they are open to.  At some point, as we grow older, we tend to think that there should be boundaries to our creative minds.  I feel as though, when I am being creative and open to All, the energy of God is flowing vibrantly through me.  Anyway, one of the purposes of this blog was to create a space where we could share some of the games and activities that have been our favorites in sharing yoga with children.  Please click on the comments below and share your favorite kids yoga game or activity and why its your favorite.  Thanks for contributing - this is YOUR blog, too.  Lets keep the creative inspiration flowing... :) Smiling in Love & Gratitude,

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Spirituality and Wisdom of Children by Judy McEvoy

If you are reading this article, you most likely know about the amazing physical benefits that the practice of yoga brings to children. I would like to share some of my stories about the spiritual benefits that yoga brings to children. I have been working in early childhood for over thirty years and have been integrating the practice of yoga into my classroom, as well as holding after school classes for the last seven years.

On the subject of empathy:

Since I am the children’s classroom teacher I am reminded daily of the empathy that yoga can bring to children. If there is a physical or emotional problem between two children, I can usually help them turn it around by suggesting that they take three deep yoga breaths. Once they calm down and tell their side of the story, we can brainstorm based on the question “ were you acting in the yoga way?” Surprisingly, they almost always understand and say “no” if they were the aggressor. If I then say “what would be the yoga way of solving this problem?” They can usually come up with some good answers. Does this mean they will never grab another toy away from someone? No, but it seems to help them understand that they can breath before they act and think of how their actions might effect someone else. I find this very helpful and wish I’d been exposed to it when I was five.

On the subject of grief:

A number of years ago my nephew was killed in a car accident. Because I was absent for some time I needed to share this information with my preschool and yoga classes.

For many of the children in my classes, my nephew’s death was the first time someone they cared for was grieving. For others, it brought up a memory of a lost grandparent or a pet. We had many discussions about this in class, all of which seemed quite profound and sensitive to me. But the most meaningful moments were and still are from the children who came up to me quietly and ask questions like “Teacher Judy are you still sad?” As adults, we forget that grief remains long after the last sympathy card. I have learned from these children to check in frequently with people who may be suffering from any type of loss.

On the subject of gender:

This is a conversation I had with Paige. “Teacher Judy, are you a boy or a girl?” “ I am a girl” “I thought so!” said Paige with glee. “How did youcknow?” asks Judy, somewhat worried about the answer. “Oh” replied Paige, “Iccould tell because you are wearing a bracelet” “Hum” what did I learn from Paige? I think, never make assumptions without verifying them.

On the subject of manners:

We had a visitor in one of the classes. I introduced her to the children and ask them to answer questions if she had any for them. Then I ask them what they could do to show their best yoga manners. “I know!” said Preston.  “We shouldn’t say potty words!” The rest of the class solemnly agreed.  This lesson is clear; never use potty words when you have guests. My apologies to all of my relatives who have come to visit.

On the subject of spirituality:

In one of my grade school yoga classes, I was part of one of the most spiritual discussions of my life. It was totally child directed. It started like this. Kieran asked, “Teacher Judy if you meditate long enough, can you fly?” I answered, “I think if you practice meditation long enough, your mind might feel like it’s flying, but your body doesn’t actually fly.”

The children seemed to accept this and one after another suggested where the best place to meditate might be. Their suggestions ranged from a quiet beach, your room, a desert, or heaven. The discussion then turned to heaven and if there is one or not, and if so can you mediate if you are dead. It was getting close to the end of class, so I told them it was time for Savasana (or Yoga Nap as some of the younger students call it). One of the children asked if they could sit in meditation pose instead of lying down.  I said yes and many of them sat in full or half lotus for at least five minutes. This is a very difficult thing to do. This is what I learned:  Children are very wise. Take time to listen to them and to meditate.

On the subject of compassion:

At the end of most children’s classes we sing the “Shanti” or peace song.  If I forget the kids always remind me. After that I usually close with a prayer of sorts like, “may all the children of the world have a school to go to.” Right after the Haitian earthquake, I started to close class by saying “Namaste”, when Nathan asked if he could say something. I said yes and he said, “May all the children of Haiti have enough food and clean water to drink.” I already new this, but children are very kind.

I am entering a new stage in my life and very soon will become a partner in a yoga studio. I will teach many types of classes, but I know that kid’s yoga will always be the place I learn the most. I look forward to getting to spend the rest of my life hanging out with such wise people.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teachers Talk Yoga and Kids

Here’s what some of the teachers at Gatewood had to say about the YogaFit Kids! Program:

“Stephanie taught YogaFit Kids to my second/third grade classroom every week during the 2000-2001 school year. By incorporating Cooperative Learning and Multiple Intelligences activities into the kids yoga practice, she kept the students active participants. I was quite impressed with Stephanie’s ability to engage all types of learners, in particular an autistic child. Many of the yoga asanas and breathing techniques were incorporated in our daily school day. Students and myself, the teacher, would find ways to calm down, focus, and re-energize with the practices we learned …I learned things I continue to use as I teach a third/fourth/fifth grade Emotionally Behavior Disorder Classroom this year. “
2003, Ms. Jamila Norris, Teacher
Gatewood Public School, Seattle, WA

“YogaFit Kids is fabulous! Each of my students looks forward to yoga with enthusiasm. This year with YogaFit, students who previously avoided movement and activity have taken leadership by demonstrating poses and even enjoyed playing yoga games. This transfers to recess and other fitness periods where these same students are now playing impromptu games of basketball and hockey! But YogaFit is more than just exercise. The students learn to cooperate with one another. They learn to be quiet and find peace in the middle of a hectic day. I use three deep group breaths now to help students transition to a new academic period. It works!”

2003, Ms. Rachel Harvey, 4/5 Grade Teacher
Gatewood Public School, Seattle, WA