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Off in the clouds…Mindfulness for children

If we live as we breath, take in and let go, we cannot go wrongClarissa Pinkola Estes

Mindfulness…for children?…Really, how does that work?

It does. Amazingly.

Yoga for children and families is my passion. I enjoy finding endlessly creative ways of putting yogic philosophy, mindfulness approaches and themes such as acceptance and self-compassion, into something meaningful and relatable to children.

Off with the clouds activity…

This week in my kids and family classes we were off with the clouds, seeing them float into view and away again.

We started sitting quietly, picturing a clear blue sky.

A pure, light colour.

Bliss.

We felt a gentle, cool breeze that tickled our face. This light wind swept a small fluffy cloud into our view.

Perhaps a few more after that too. These clouds were different shapes and sizes. They all swept across our view.

But then, they blew away.

Leaving behind that pure blue sky that was always there.

More clouds came, and more clouds went.

A thought is harmless unless we believe it.
It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering.
Byron Katie

I asked the children to count for 5 breaths then open their eyes. When I asked them whether any more clouds, or thoughts, had popped up during their counting. It was a resounding yes. Nearly everyone could tell me what they were thinking about. All sorts came out…from lovely memories with siblings, to worries about sick pets going to the vets that day, to spending time with grandparents.

With a huge bag of cotton wool balls, we made these thoughts into clouds on the floor. Some clouds were small and light, some were big and dark (these resembled more worrisome thoughts). No clouds were good or bad. We remembered how they all come into our sky, but then they are blown away.

I gave everyone a straw and asked them all to lie on their bellies and line up on one side of the clouds. We then worked together to use our huge belly breathe to blow the clouds to the other side. Using the breath this way helps develop children’s abdominal strength. Laying on the floor whilst doing this also helps them to connect to the breath coming from their belly, as they can feel their bellies press into the ground as they expand.

The children giggled, and worked together to blow the clouds across the sky.

When the children had gotten half way through moving the clouds, we then played ‘toe-ga’. The children picked up a cloud with their toes, balanced on the spot standing on one leg for 5 breaths, then hopped the cloud to the other side.

I asked the children to alternate their feet to make the game that little bit more mindful, as we tend to be right side dominant and automatically only use the same leg!

This activity is a nice way to start the class, and can link nicely with weather based yoga poses that highlight how we can often ‘feel’ stormy and chaotic, but then we can come back to calm. Weather happens, we can’t change it, we can adapt to it with umbrella’s or taking shelter, or sometimes we just dance in the rain and sit with whatever the weather is that day. This ability to ‘sit with’ difficult feelings or situations is a huge aspect of Mindfulness, and a huge life skill to learn.

To finish the class, we led on our bellies and imagined floating on a soft, warm cloud. Taking a journey through the skies, under rainbows, feeling the warm sun start to peek out through the clouds, before landing back down to the ground.

What’s your superpower?

“Where your mind goes, your energy flows”

Yoga is a practise that re-stores balance, in the body and mind. It is a chance to turn inwards, to consciously manage our energy and power, to tap into our awareness so we can better notice where the cracks are and where our energy is drained.

We can all relate to that feeling of being depleted. Physically and mentally. Drained because of ‘work’, ‘relationships’, ‘worrying’, ‘overthinking’, ‘the future’, ‘the past’, ‘being around certain people’.

Drained, just because. Sometimes, not even knowing why.

If your energy was a golden light emanating from you, where can you see it going? Is it lost in talking, are you speaking for the sake of speaking, saying words you didn’t mean and wished you hadn’t? Is your energy lost in tomorrow, are you constantly worrying about the future? Is it lost to your phone, or social media, are you watching that sunset with your own eyes, or seeing it through a picture? Is it lost to pleasing others or giving certain impressions, when really you feel so differently to what you are portraying?

As human beings, we tend to interpret the world through our emotions. Great. The only problem? Sometimes our mind gets involved, in an unhelpful way, and that confuses matters, causing us to leak out our energy in all directions.

We’ve all experienced the exhaustion that can come with using up all our energy just thinking. Our mind tires, just as our body does. We can all recognise how mental fatigue shows itself in our body too, suddenly we form shoulder pain, tight hips, back ache, headaches.

Generally, when our energy and power is low, we are not happy bunnies. We can be left feeling powerless.

So, what are we overthinking about, where is this energy going?

It’s different for everyone. Catching the busy mind in action, noticing where you put your mental focus, is a good place to start.

Recently, I’ve been catching myself a lot.

For example, noticing that I spent the whole weekend worrying if I offended someone I just met, because they ‘didn’t seem to like me’.

My internal dialogue said – “Why didn’t they like me? Hmmm. They looked at me funny. They didn’t smile. Maybe they think I was talking crap, I always talk crap”.

…and so it continues.

Ok pause – really, is this true?

The more likely story – they were having a bad day? They were nervous and suffer with anxiety, so talking was difficult for them? They have their own internal dialogue going on too?

Or actually no, they might not like me, and if so, so what? Does that make me a bad person? I guess not, you can’t like everyone!

The more I look at this situation, the more I see how it can be turned into helpful energy, rather than creating a significant hole or dent in my energy body.

The more I look at this situation, the more I see it has nothing to do with the person that doesn’t seem to like me, instead it has everything to do with me.

Oh, me, not them.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”Anais Nin

OK, so, what can we do about that?

We sit with it. Give it some space, some distance. The tricky part in all this, is just letting it be. And then, it starts to feel different – I can make space for compassion, for me and the other person. I meditate on positive affirmations, I make an effort to retain my energy with some self-care by chatting with a loved one, having a long bath, taking a long walk.

Gradually, some balance is restored. Power-UP.

Yoga is the development of a relationship with our self, which exists within our core. In traditional yogic philosophy, our human nature is comprised of 5 different dimensions; the Pancha (5) Koshas (sheaths/layers), which begin at the physical body and expand out into more subtle layers. These layers can be thought of as a map, to help us understand our journey back to wholeness. Our journey back to that compassion, love and peace that is always within us.

In my classes this week, we’ve been focussing on poses that activate the Manipura Chakra such as core work, twists and diaphragmatic breathing. This Chakra is located at the navel, (the centre of vitality, controlling our energy balance) and is associated with the natural element of fire, power and sense of self. It helps us transform obstacles into assets. Physically, this is a huge benefit to the digestive system, helping us better observe how we digest food. Mentally, this also helps us better observe how we digest our actions and reactions. Poses such as Bow (Dhanurasana), Boat (Navasana), Downward Dog Knee to Nose, Triangle (Trikonasana), Seated Twists (ardha matsyendrasana), Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II), Leg Lifts on the Back (Urdhva Prasarita Padasana), Plank, and Revolved Head to Knee (Prasarita Janu Sirsasana).

Kids Yoga

In my Kids Yoga classes this week, we had lots of fun finding creative ways to activate our inner fire and power, and re-store our energy. Here are some ideas that may be helpful.

Using Gem Stones

Ask everyone to choose a stone, and hold it close to their core or belly. Tell them to close their eyes and think about what their superpower might be. Give examples like love, kindness, being funny, being a great friend, strength, helping others, or something that makes them unique. Ask them to rub their hands together to create heat (and energy – introduce the concept here), then take a big breath in through their nose, and breathe their fire breath into their hands to make the stone even warmer (repeat 3 times). Then offer them the chance to share their power with their parents/carers/others in the group (let them know they don’t have to). Ask them to place their stone on their mat, to remind them throughout the class of the power that’s inside them. Ask the children to place their palms together, breathe in and reach up to the ceiling, thinking about breathing in more of their power. As they exhale and bring their hands out wide making a big circle or safe bubble of golden energy around them, radiating their power from their core out all around them.

Using Affirmations

Using slips of paper, write affirmations such as ‘I am brave’, ‘I try my hardest’, ‘I am love’, ‘I am balanced’. Ask the children to choose a slip and welcome what it says onto their mat. Let them know it’s ok if they don’t feel those things right now, or at all. Explain these can be helpful things to think of while practising different poses, and certain poses bring out different powers in us. Depending on the ages of the children, explain what is meant by an affirmation. Throughout the class, when doing certain poses, ask who has each corresponding affirmation (each child will take pride showing the group theirs in turn, and that way the whole group benefit from them all). For example, asking who has the ‘I am balanced’ slip before practising Tree Pose, and linking ‘I am creative’ by allowing children to choose what kind of tree they’d like to be – a Willow tree, an Oak tree, an Apple tree (and move their bodies creatively to reflect these). Or asking who has the ‘I am brave, I am strong’ slip before practising Warrior Poses. These affirmations then serve as a reminder for the children, helping them connect the poses and physical movements to positive feelings and thoughts about themselves.

HA, HE, HU and Warrior Poses

Kids love making noise. We know that. It can be a release, and it plays a huge part in expression. It also strengthens their core muscles when directed from the belly. For some more timid children, making sound in a class can be a bit daunting, so allow them the permission to do this as part of a group to help them develop greater confidence.

Starting in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), lifting one knee and pressing the palms together, making the sound ‘HA’. Stepping the lifted foot back into Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1), lifting the arms up and making the sound ‘HE’. Opening into Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2), taking the arms wide and making the sound ‘HU’.

Kids love this, you can instantly feel the sense of power and energy soar in the room.

Boat Pose (Navasana), or ‘pass the ball’ game

Practising Boat Pose in pairs is always great fun, getting the children’s little cores working.

Another way to do this is as a group – highlighting how we can be even stronger when we work together. Bring the group into a circle, ask them to lay on their backs and stand on the ceiling (raise both legs up, keeping their bottoms down). This can also be done from sitting balancing on their bottoms, and lifting their legs with bent knees, but a big yogi may need to sit behind little yogis under 5 years, to offer a little more support (in case they roll back!). Then introduce an average size soft ball into the game, place it between the first person’s feet and ask the children to continue passing the ball around the circle, using ONLY their feet.

This is hard. And lots of fun.

For even more of a challenge, introduce several balls, perhaps of smaller size. This will really work their fine motor skills as well as their core muscles. They will want to rush, which will cause them to drop the ball. Encourage them to pick it back up and try again, next time a little slower and more mindful.

Pranayama: Power Breath

Fitting in with the superpower theme, let the children know that because they have used up some energy already during the class, they need to power-UP, just like you need to re-charge phones and batteries. Ask them to inhale through the nose, imagining a big sun above them. As they exhale through the mouth, ask them to draw their power down from the sun, into their belly with a ‘HA’ sound (repeat for 3-5 rounds, until they are full to the top with golden power!).

Re-charging

Let the little yogis know it is OK to re-charge their batteries and rest. Spend some time at the end of class talking through how they can help themselves and their friends, or big yogis, relax.

A favourite is assisted Child’s pose. Ask the little yogis to come into Child’s pose with their arms stretched in front, and ask their partners to stand with their toes pointing towards them so that little yogis can wrap their hands around the outside of their heels with their arms straight. Their partners can then apply gentle pressure (with the palms, fingers pointing out) at the base of the little yogis back and walk their hands up their spine towards their shoulders, pressing down. It’s also nice to press one hand on their sacrum on the right side, and slide the left hand diagonally to the little yogis right shoulder, pressing the hands down and in opposite directions (then repeat on opposite sides). To finish, gently press both hands on the lower back, walking them all the way down the spine to the shoulders, and squeezing or stroking down the arms to the hands and fingers.

Bliss.

Of course, you don’t need to be a kid to do these activities and poses.

We all have superpowers, really.

What’s yours?

Big love X

Intentions: kick the habit and change your groove.

You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.John C. Maxwell

Whether we like it or not, we are creatures of habit. We are emotional beings that like patterns, we find our comfy groove and we cycle over them, reinforcing them, carving out a deeper impression, making them difficult to resist. This is great when it’s positively intended, but not so great for those destructive negative mental patterns that foster low self-esteem and such. You know the ones, the thoughts that say ‘I’m rubbish, I can’t do it, ‘I’m no good at anything’, blah blah, whenever we face the slightest failure. Those grooves are the hardest to climb out of, and can be quite a hindrance to our positivity and self-development.

A samskara comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Sam’ (complete) and ‘kara’ (action), and is like a mental ‘groove’ or impression, formed by a repetitive mental habit or response, which can cause negative feelings within the body and mind.

In the classes I teach, I normally start with quiet sitting to still the mind, let the body settle, and allow everyone the space to really arrive into the room and find themselves on their mat. Following this, I may also offer the space to set an intention (or Sankalpa) for their practice, something that I feel is really important.

For some yogis, they know why they’ve turned up on the mat, or what they intend to ‘work on’ and notice within their practice. Whether it be patience, kindness to themselves or focus etc. (for other yogis pinpointing this isn’t so clear, in which case, that might be a good place to start!). During their practice this intention brings a heightened sense of awareness and consciousness, so that when a habitual response (or samskara) arises, it can be noticed, experienced and better understood. For example, that frustration that arises when we can’t touch our toes but Bendy Wendy next to us can reach her elbows to the ground, or that impatience we feel when we forget to notice our breathe throughout a difficult vinyasa, or that insecurity we feel being at the front of the class where others can see us instead of at the back of the room in our ‘safe’ corner.

For those of you who have never really understood what you were meant to do with this ‘intention setting’ part of the class, and feel like you’ve been missing out, hopefully now this has helped!

Through this increased awareness, instead of these mental grooves and habitual responses that we fall into getting deeper and more ingrained into our subconscious nature, they start to create smaller impressions, until, eventually, there is a release from the samskara – yippee!

Sounds easy, right?

No. Changing habits, of course, isn’t easy. You have to try, on purpose.

Where to start? With the intention. Align your inner desire with the energy to notice, and eventually change, your patterned responses. Call upon this intention like a thread (or sutra) to weave throughout your practice, as a gentle reminder.

Ok, so now I notice, I am aware, I’m ready to change…but I can’t, I’m scared.

For example, I could go easier on my body in my practice and not push myself to the limit, but then I wouldn’t be ‘the best in the class’, or I wouldn’t be improving, and then what would be the point?

Or, I could take the spot at the front of the class by the teacher for once, but then everyone will see how ‘rubbish’ I am at yoga and then I would feel anxious and self-conscious.

Sometimes this increased awareness can bring uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings along with it, and bearing these feelings, without falling back into old familiar habits, is hard.

So, what to do?

We start to plant seeds, and dig away at new, healthier, grooves that will allow us to flourish. Yes, this takes time, but it will be naturally evolving and self-sustaining. Eventually, we can shift our groove from old, negative habits to new, positive ones.

Did you know you don’t even need to be on a mat to do this?

Big love X

The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.Nathaniel Branden

Yoga for Wellbeing

“Yoga taught me to love me, that’s why I love yoga.”

To me, yoga is so much more than what happens on the mat. It is a positive way to look after my physical and mental wellbeing.

My yoga journey started when I was around 13 years old, my mum got me a Geri Halliwell Yoga DVD with Katie Appleton (yes, I know, I won’t say any more about that!). I had always struggled with insomnia, bad dreams and stress, and Yoga was a way of helping with this. It’s safe to say, it did. I religiously practiced, every day.

Yoga has continued to be a part of my life off and on, and consistently in the last 5 years where it has come together with other interests and career developments, such as training in Mindfulness and working in the Charity mental health sector supporting Children, Families and Young People.

For me, Yoga has become a way of life that significantly improves my wellbeing, rather than just being about the physical practice (although I do find handstands fun!). Yoga is how I move, breathe, think and feel. Yoga is what I do, what I say, how I listen and what I pay attention to.

I’m a Yogi is Yoga for Wellbeing, and it represents just this. Yoga is holistic, it’s a balance; there is a place for physical practice that works the body, and there is a place for breath work and meditation, enhancing energy on a subtler level. To be a yogi, or yogini, is to recognise this, and practice yoga in your own way.

I am so passionate about helping others, through Yoga. I aim to provide a range of classes to support wellbeing in a variety of ways, whether you are looking for Yoga for your children and family, Yoga for Fitness, Yoga for Pregnancy, or Yoga for calming the body and mind.

My future blog posts will aim to offer useful tips and ideas, as well as topical yogic discussions, as a (hopeful) source of interest and inspiration.

My other passions in art, music and photography may also make guest blog appearances for a little bit of something different.

“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.”Sharon Gannon

Thanks for reading

Big love X