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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I’m almost caught up sharing our Yamas discussions with you thus far! Last week our topic was Asteya – not stealing. Again a simple translation that goes much further than face value. Of course we know not to walk into a store and take something without paying for it, but I asked the girls what other things we steal. The first response made my heart nearly skip a beat!
“We steal from the earth! When we cut down too many trees and waste too much water.” (Now this was from my own daughter who just so happens to take the longest showers humanly possible, who I have to set a timer for and still remind her when its gone off that time is up! But at least she is hearing my message 🙂
The rest of the girls nodded in agreement and I could see the wheels turning to come up with more examples of stealing.
I also heard, “If somebody copies your answer on a test or something in school they are stealing.” This was a greet example that led me to ask them if they have ever had a group project in school and had some people not contribute their fair share of work. Two of the girls in class together shared a story about exactly that. One of them did the bulk of the work for the project while the whole group got credit. So we discussed “stealing” recognition. When practicing Asetya we wouldn’t take credit where credit is not due.
I then asked “What abut interrupting a conversation” and got an excited “Ooh like if your mom is talking to someone and you run up and interrupt her you are stealing from the person she was talking to”. I do have some “Interrupting Chickens” (children’s book by David Ezra Stein) in class so this was a wonderful way to discuss stealing attention from someone. I gently explained that even in class if we have too many interruptions we are stealing time from the rest of the class. It is such a natural reaction for children to share their excitement, or needs, immediately. But I have worked with adults who interrupt and, to me, it is such an important social skill to know how to politely interject in a conversation when necessary. So of course we discussed how to get someone’s attention politely when you need it!
My poster, which I’ll have to get a picture of to share with you here, say Not Stealing – Things, Feelings or Time. So one of the girls asked how we steal feelings. I told a story about a girl who was REALLY excited about her family going to Legoland and was telling her friend about the day trip. The friend replied by talking about how her family was taking a week long trip to Disney World so that was way cooler. The girls could relate to situations where someone had to “one up” them, or just didn’t share in their excitement. They talked about how one person in a bad mood can take it out on other people and upset them too. The understanding of “stealing” someone’s peace or happiness grew quickly with personal stories to share.
So there was our Asteya conversation. Translated to mean not stealing things, time or feelings.
Do you have anything to add to Asteya?

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Satya, simply translated for kids to mean Be Honest.
If I can go on a bit of a tangent here…. There are some parents who are concerned about yoga and children. Concerned that yoga teaches a religion other than there own. This is only the second Yama we have discussed here but take a look at what we’ve covered so far. Non-violence and Honesty. These are virtues I’m sure we would all agree are valuable to teach. So while “Yamas” may come from a different language and have more extensive translations, in kids yoga we take the basic sense of each principal and apply it on a character level that’s relative to the child. The Sanskrit words are fun to say and a way to learn a little bit about other cultures and languages. They give the kids something else to reinforce basic character traits they are already hearing about (hopefully!) from parents and teachers. It is repetition, yet delivered in a way that is new and exciting!
So back to our class discussion on Satya! Be Honest.
I asked for examples of practicing honesty off the mat. I received responses like “If my mom asks if I cleaned my room and I didn’t I should say no, even if I’m doing something else that I would much rather do.” “If my little sister is crying because I took something away from her and my mom asks why she’s crying I should tell her the truth instead of saying I don’t know.” I even heard, “If a someone does something bad at school and the teacher asks you if you know who did it, you should tell the teacher the truth even if it was your friend who did something.” All great examples of honesty with others. I then asked them to think about honesty with themselves. We discussed friends and how we may feel tempted to do something they are doing even though we are not comfortable with it. If we are honest with ourselves we know when we are uncomfortable and need to remain true to what we know is right. Honesty with ourselves could also mean knowing that its OK to ask for help when we need it. Accepting that its alright to have weaknesses or need help and to ask for it.
Lastly we talked about Satya ON the mat. Often in yoga we are so excited for all the more advanced yoga postures, the handstands and scorpions and things that look really tricky that we want to be able to “show off”. Honesty on the mat means knowing that yoga is a practice. To accept where you are. Maybe you are just working on headstands. It’s probably not safe to come away from the wall and try it on your own just yet and that’s OK. We need to be honest with ourselves, know where we are at so we can be safe in our practice and know that we are just working toward where we want to go…. A valuable lesson on the mat AND off!

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Ahimsa = Non Violence. Yogis say that iF you can master Ahimsa there is no need for any other practice in yoga, all practices are within Ahimsa. If we could get kids to practice Ahimsa off the mat we’d be looking a much more peaceful future. Not being violent seems pretty self explanatory, but it’s not just in our actions that we practice this…
I opened class by asking the kids for examples of a time they felt they had practiced Ahimsa, or non-violence. I got answers like “last night I was unloading the dishwasher with my brother and he kept poking me or bumping into me, just picking on me and I wanted to turn around and hit him but I didn’t” and “Maybe if some kids were throwing rocks or something at some other kids I wouldn’t do it because someone could get hurt.” Non-violence in our actions is something I think we expect as parents and educators, but kids can have a hard time regulating emotions and it bears repeating that violence is not OK.
Then I asked, “How else can we practice non-violence besides in our actions?”. I got some puzzled faces and then an enthusiastic hand went up. “We could only say nice things to people and not say means things or talk bad about people!” This is exactly what I was looking for. Non-violence in our words. I have seen our local schools do some wonderful things with anti-bullying initiatives and I applaud getting that message out. By discussing Ahimsa in regards to our words we are strengthening the knowledge that words can hurt and we should choose them wisely.
I asked again, “How else can we practice Ahimsa besides actions and words?” This one took some prodding… I reminded them of the situation with the sibling picking on them and asked if they thought of hitting them back before deciding not to. Hands then shot up! Non-violence with our thoughts. They got it. Peace starts from within. We have to think peaceful thoughts, to speak peaceful words and act with peace.
I even had some examples of how we could practice Ahimsa with our Earth, but not treating our environment with kindness. This is something I had planned on discussing with another of the yamas but it fit beautifully here as well and showed me the girls were really looking for ways to find meaning in this new word and how they would use it.
Now since this is Girl Power Yoga I had to end with the following story:
This is a story about Ahimsa told in the Vedas, the vast collection of ancient philosophical teachings from India. It is about a sadhu, a wandering monk who would make a yearly circuit to a number of villages in order to teach. One day as he entered a village, he saw a large and menacing snake. The snake was terrorizing the villagers and making their life difficult. The sadhu spoke to the snake and taught him about Ahimsa; it was a lesson that the snake heard and took to heart. The following year when the sadhu made his annual visit to the village, he again saw the snake. How changed he was. Now this once magnificent snake was skinny and bruised. The sadhu asked the snake what had happened to cause such a change in his appearance. The snake replied that he had taken the teaching of Ahimsa to heart and had realized the error of his ways. Thus he had stopped terrorizing the village. Because he was no longer menacing, the children now threw rocks at him and taunted him. He could hardly hunt and was afraid of leaving his hiding place. The sadhu shook his head wisely and said that while he had indeed taught the importance and power of practicing Ahimsa, he had never told the snake not to hiss.

They added that they should stick up for someone being bullied, or get help from a teacher or stand up for themselves if they were being bullied.

So the message to our class was to practice Ahimsa in our thoughts, words and actions, but to not be afraid to stand strong!

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Yamas and Niyamas… for kids

Summer is in full swing and our Girl Power Yoga class looks a little different for these next few weeks. We are opening class each week with a discussion on one of the Yamas/Niyamas. Simply stated, the Yamas are guidelines for how we treat others and Niyamas are guidelines for self care. Read on to discover what each one is/means and find out how wonderful it is that we can use a kids yoga class to teach these little life lessions!

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