Playful Practice

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This week we wrapped up our summer series on the Yamas of yoga with Aparagraha. This concept has several translations, all similar but different at the same time and I felt them all important.

Aparagraha = Be grateful, Don’t take more than you need, Share and Let it go

We started with Be Grateful. For the kids who have been in my class since last year this is nothing new. We use gratitude journals form November through December and talk about having an “Attitude of Gratitude” all year long. One yogi talked about how she visited a friend who lived in a small apartment and how it made her thankful for her own home, but how even a small home is something to be thankful for when there are kids without homes. It’s funny how easy it is to think of things we are grateful for, but how we tend to go through each day without having those thoughts cross our minds. To practice Aparagraha we have to make it a conscious decision to stop for a moment and be grateful. I, once again, encouraged our group to make it a daily practice to stop and think of one things they are grateful for.

Don’t take more than you need…. We recalled Asteya (not stealing – things, time, energy, feelings) and related it to Aparagraha, not taking more than you need. A few of our yogis have spent the summer at the Boys and Girls Club and there are often snacks or treats the staff brings out for the kids. One of our yogis mentioned how cranky she gets when she is hungry and how she likes to take 2 or 3 of whatever is handed out. She paused for a moment and said “I should make sure I only take one because if we run out than someone else might be more grumpy and hungry than me”. This self reflection and realization of how to apply these strange Sanskrit words in real life situations is exactly why we have these talks! We also talked, again, about natural resources. California is in the worst drought in our history as a state so I found this a wonderful time to talk about water conservation. Each of the kids had great ideas on how to save water by using only what they need. I’m sure their parents have asked them to turn off the water when they brush their teeth, but discussing it in the context of Aparagraha, of being a yogi on and off the mat, just reinforces how important such a little idea can be.

Sharing. A skill we try to teach from toddler hood on, but it bears repeating. The kids talked about how a friend had forgotten lunch so they shared their own (lot’s of food talk this class, maybe they needed a snack!). They talked about sharing in a friend’s excitement on their birthday; being happy for them and trying not to feel jealous about the attention or gifts the friend is receiving. We talked about sharing feelings, even when they are not happy ones, because we shouldn’t be afraid to express ourselves. This lead into “Let it go”. Which of course had them break into (Frozen) song! But I like to think the popularity of the song has something to do with the message, not just the Disney marketing machine behind it. Jealousy, anger, frustration…. all are valid feelings. We should acknowledge them and know we are human and emotions are OK. But those emotions can be unhealthy and there are things we need to learn to let go. Most of the kids talked about how they donate toys or clothes they have outgrown to share and let go of unnecessary possessions. We even got a little deeper and discussed how we can feel happy when we appreciate all the we have, yet feel upset when we let to much WANT into our lives. Wanting a bigger house, more toys, more clothes…. All that wanting just makes us feel LESS. If we let go of all those wants and practice gratitude for all we have we feel much more whole and happy.

So there was a LOT of discussion today. So much to talk about with one funny word! We followed up our discussion by dancing it out to Let it Go (with some freeze yoga of course). 

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The most widely expressed interpretation of this yama is not appropriate for children, but as always we keep it child focused and translate Brahmacharya to equal energy. Yesterday we discussed our energy, to use it wisely and not waste it.
Some of the examples I heard were not to stay up late playing if you have a test at school the next day and not to be “bouncing off the walls” in class. The girls really understood how we can direct our energy. Sometimes we have an excess of energy and we need to get out and run or be physical to release it, but sometimes we need to use that energy to focus our minds on something important.
We talked about how you can do things in the morning to increase your energy for the day, like having a healthy breakfast and setting a positive intention for the day. We can renew our energy throughout the day by pausing to take a few deep breaths and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. We can settle our energy at night by having a good bedtime routine including some yoga stretching so we can have a restful night and wake up renewed, ready to take on the day!
We also talked about using our energy on the mat. We discussed the sun salutation, which we use to warm up our bodies at the beginning of class. Forward fold is a moment to rest and “let go” so that we can focus our energy to plant our hands down and jump our feet back to plank and use that energy to hold a strong plank and press down to chaturanga. Downward dog, while it is still an active pose pushing into the ground and lifting the hips high, it is also a chance to stop and breath a few deep breaths before we move on in the sun salutation or vinyasa. We have to capture and embrace those moments to just breath and build energy for the poses that require more strength and focus to come.
What a valuable lesson off the mat as well. Embrace the moments to breath and relax. Focus your energy and give it all you’ve got when it really matters!


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