Yoga Time focuses on bringing the benefits of yoga practice to our youngest friends. Yoga Time's blog shares thoughts on children's yoga and related topics.

Kids Yoga Intro Class

The first time you walk into a classroom full of children who had never done yoga can be very intimidating. Unlike adults, who have some sense of why they’re there and how to act in a yoga class, children will do whatever they please if you don’t take charge quickly. So, here’s a little structure you can use on that first day.

1. Set the stage: dim the lights just a little if you have that option and put on some relaxing music (I like “Relaxation” by Lara Linda but any soundscape-type melody will do); on day one, I like to roll out the mats for them and arrange them in a circle – that way they know what to do next time, when it’s their turn

2. Take of your shoes and place them in a “designated” area – children love to copy, so when you ask them to take off their shoes, they’ll gladly follow your example

3. Start out seated, especially for smaller children with shorter attention spans – if you start them standing, it will be that much harder for them to stay still

4. Lay down the mat law: stay on your mat, don’t pick the mat and don’t roll it up until the very end

5. Tell them about yoga – yoga means to unite our body, brain, and breath. Demonstrate: breathe in and reach up, breathe out and fold over our legs; introduce another kind of breath, perhaps “bunny breath” (three short inhales, hold it in while you wiggle your nose, then exhale all of it through the mouth and repeat a few times) – it’s energizing and creates focus for the rest of practice

6. Stay seated for warm-ups. A couple of favorites are sholder rolls while singing “rolling our shoulders up and down all through town” to the tune of “Wheels on the bus”; also shaking the head “yes,” “no,” “maybe so (tilt left to right)”

7. Move into Sun Salutation – since this is the first time they’re doing it, I like to use music to keep them engaged as most kids have had a chance to move to music at some point in their life (again, Lara Linda‘s “Sun Dance” works like a charm)

8. Since you’ll end in tadasana, introduce some standing poses. I like to continue my “yoga 101” spiel by saying that “in yoga, we pretend to be things we see in nature nature” – we go into tree pose, crescent moon, five-pointed star, mountain and/or volcano (talk about releasing energy and frustration)

9. Bring them back down to the mat with frog (don’t forget to hop and “ribbit”) and butterfly (talk about where you’re flying)

10. Savasana – this is the hardest part the first time so talk them through it – “we worked hard making all kinds of different shapes with our bodies, so now it’s time to give them a rest; we’re going to stay still and quiet for a count of ten (then slowly and softly count to 10)” – after they’ve mastered the 10 secomds, you can start to introduce music or visualizations

11. Closing – invite them to slowly return to sitting in “criss cross yogi sauce” since they are now yogis! and close with an OM chant and Namaste (you can explain what these words mean or save that for next time; I use a Namaste song I learned from my kids yoga teacher and it’s sung to the tune of Frére Jacques:

Namaste is when we say
the light in me sees the light in you
thank you my dear friend
until we meet again

Vegan Kale Spice Cake

I’ve been trying to get more dark leafy greens into my four-year-old and can only get him to drink so many “Hulk Smash” smoothies! My mom recently sent me this recipe, and I finally decided to make it: I wish I had made it sooner – it was super easy to make and my son loved it! It packs three cups of kale into a 9-inch cake. According to my calculations, that’s about a third of a cup per slice – more than the three bites my dear husband and I manage to convince him to eat at dinner time. Even if it wasn’t, this is a great way to add some extra kale to his diet.

Here comes the recipe…
6 tablespoons Flax Seed
3/4 cups Warm Water
1 bunch Kale (washed, stalks removed and chopped)
1 cup Applesauce
1 1/2 cup Sugar
2 1/3 cups Flour (I use my favorite gluten-free version)
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 teaspoon Ginger (fresh, grated or ground)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Powdered Sugar (to garnish)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch spring-form pan. In a small bowl, stir together flaxseeds and water; set aside.
Place kale, applesauce, and sugar in a food processor and blend until smooth. In a large bowl, combine flax mixture, kale mixture, and remaining ingredients except powdered sugar until smooth. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Note: I omitted the ginger to make it kid-friendly; I also used sucanat instead of sugar and freshly ground soft white wheat, still with great results; I used 365 organic powdered sugar to make sure our cake stayed vegan (many a sugar out there is whitened using bone char!).

Kids yoga is not adult yoga

Duh, you may say. Of course, I thought, too, when my mentor said that. Now that I’m in the thick of it, I finally get it. Kids love to learn, and kids love to move, so that part should make teaching them yoga simple. But then add to the mix all the emotional development stuff that’s going on in a three-year-old’s body, or the four-year-old who has stopped napping, and they’re all randomly exhausted and cranky because they’re going through a growth spurt or so full of energy they just need to tun around in circles around the room. And, of course, they’re not on the same schedule.

So, what do you do with that mess?! Embrace it! Let it challenge your inner yogi, your creativity and flexibility. Get on their level and meet them where they are – don’t worry about your lesson plan. It’s important to lay out a few ground rules and make sure you, the teacher, cam still maintain control of the classroom so no one gets hurt – mine are:

1. No rolling up the mat while we’re on it
2. Listening ears when the teacher is talking
3. Be mindful of your friends – remember ahimsa (they love learning special new yoga words)

and that’s about it. All else is free-flowing. Last week, we were going to work on balance poses but I started losing my kids somewhere between the sun salutation and the first tree pose. I quickly corrected course and broke into Wheels On The Bus, and we did a bunch of poses that way – turns out, the possibilities are just about endless with this (the snake on the bus goes “sss”, and the grasshopper goes “boing, boing,” and the baby can be happy in happy baby or tired in child’s pose…). Next, I pulled out the blocks, and we balanced a bit with blocks on our heads, on our toes and under our feet (the kids came up with the last two variations). What could have been a frustrating disaster ended up being one of the most fun classes ever.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we still had some tears and running around the room, but that’s just par for the course in preschool yoga.


Breakfast on the go

Need an easy way spice up your child’s breakfast routine or just a quicker way to get food in him/her in the mornings? Have a blender? Try a smoothie. Or two. Or three. Until your whole family is addicted. We love smoothies in our household. What’s not to love? They’re creamy, yummy, and cold (as opposed to hot, which is not my son’s favorite way to enjoy a meal).

For a pretty pink early morning pick-me-upper, throw some berries (I use 1.5 cups of frozen berry mix), one banana, a heaping tablespoonfull of peanut or almond butter (I like to try and do raw whenever possible to ensure as many healthy enzimes are still in our food), about half a cup of your favorite milk and half a cup of your favorite yogurt or acidophilus. This should make three servings. Blend, pour, and enjoy.

For a complete meal in a cup, cut the berries and nut butter in half, add half a cup of rolled oats, a handful of dates or prunes (pitted, of course), and two teaspoons of spirulina. We call this one the green monster! This will fill up an adult, let alone a small child. Again, I get about three servings with these amounts so adjust accordingly.


Summer Memories

It’s almost the end of the summer, and children are returning to their classrooms. Hopefully many of them had a chance to visit the beach this summer and have fond memories of that time. One of the first lessons I plan to teach my preschoolers is going to be beach themed.

Beach-themed sequence

1. Start in a comfortable seated position (criss-cross Yoga sauce, half or full lotus), bring hands to heart center, and think about the sound of the ocean waves.

2. Take a deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, making the sound of the ocean as air comes out (this is a children-friendly version of ujjayi breath). Take a few more of these ocean breaths. Talk about what you see and feel at the beach.

3. There’s definitely plenty of sunshine, so we’ll warm up our bodies with a Sun Salutation – see one of my previous posts, Sun Salute, for guidance. Now we’re ready to play on the beach.

4. Surfing – this is simply warrior II – jump on your surfboard, feet apart; turn right foot in, left forward; raise your arms for balance; turn your head to the left and bend your left knee; now surf (add in reverse warrior to extended side angle sequence to simulate wave action). Repeat on the other side.

5. We are so tired from surfing that we need to get out of the water and rest for a bit in child’s pose. Take a few ocean breaths here, hear the sound of the waves.

6. Should we go for a swim? Stretch out on your belly, arms out in front of you an paddle with arms and legs, swim slowly, swim fast, slowly, then fast. Rest, arms by your side, cheek on the mat.

7. What is that we see – oh-oh, a great white shark?! Clasp your hands behind your back like a shark’s fin and lift up your head and chest. Lift your legs up behind you – you are a fierce shark. Rest your body back down on the mat.

8. Let’s swim some more, slow and fast. Rest.

9. Is that a dolphin we see? Get up on your hands and knees, clasp your hands, straighten your legs and walk your feet forward. Dolphins love to play when they swim, play like a dolphin (forward and back or side to side).

10. Let’s get out of the water and rest for a bit in child’s pose again. Several ocean breaths to remind us we’re on the beach.

11. Get up to your seat. Look toward the water. What does it do? Does it stand still? No, it flows. Let’s flow like water – sit up tall, legs out in front. Press your hands down into the mat to lengthen your back, then reach your hands down to your feet, grab your toes. Pull your chest over your legs. Sit back up as you inhale, reach and fold as you breathe out. You are like waves, make sounds of the ocean. Breathe and flow.

12. Last time you come up, go all the way back until you lie down on your mat. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath in, open your mouth and let it all out. Continue to breathe softly and think about the fun time we had on the beach. Now it’s time to rest. Think about one thing that makes you happy. Breathe and know that all is well. You are safe and loved, you are happy and healthy, all is well.

13. Slowly open your eyes, come back to seated. If there is time, we’ll talk about everyone’s happy thought. Otherwise, we’ll end with the Namaste song.

Again, depending on time, we may do an art project – decorate seashells or I might pre-make starfish cutouts from paper bags for coloring, etc.; or play a game of crab races (crabs are reverse tabletop pose, and they’re fun because they can only walk sideways).

Sun Salute

It seems appropriate to title my first post Sun Salute – a warm-up exercise for the practice that follows. This blog will focus on issues I care about deeply – benefits of yoga for children and adults; importance of fresh, locally grown food for nourishing our body, mind, and spirit; and a wholistic approach (or lack thereof) to education. I will share my lesson plans, short and sime flows for busy families, favorite recipes, articles, and other items of interest.

Speaking of busy families – we are definitely one! On most days, we’re scrambling to get out the door to get to school and work on time, and then scrambling to eat dinner together, and then we’re off to bed. But if we have even 3-4 minutes to spare in the morning, we step outside and say hello to the Sun. We skip the mats, too, and that helps us save time and connect to our surroundings more quickly.

Step 1. Stand tall in mountain pose, push your feet into the earth. Bring your hands together in front of your heart. Close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Make the sound of the ocean waves crashing into the side of the mountain as you exhale.

Step 2. Open your eyes, inhale and reach up toward the sky with your arms, slightly bend backwards (children tend to do this intuitively), and say “hello Sun!”

Step 3. Fold forward and reach for your toes as you exhale. Tickle your toes, say “hello, toes!”

Step 4. Reach your right leg back and bend the left knee, hands down on either side of the left foot, you’re a grasshopper. Try to jump – boing, boing!

Step 5. Step the left foot back to meet the right for downward facing dog. Press your feet into the earth and lift your tail up to the sky. Relax your head down between your arms. Wag your tail.

Step 6. Slowly drop down (through a pushup) to straight legs on the ground, belly down and hands underneath your shoulders.

Step 7. Push up to straight arms for cobra snake. Push your pelvis into the earth, lift your gaze and hiss like a snake “ssssss!”

Step 8. Return to down dog again and wag that tail, because you’re so happy that you can move your body so well with your breath.

Step 9. Step your right foot forward, in between your hands. You’re a grasshopper again. Stay there or try a couple of teeny hops like a grasshopper – boing, boing!

Step 10. Step the left foot forward to meet the right. You are in forward fold. Give those toes another good morning tickle – you may not see them again until bath time.

Step 11. Inhale and reach back up toward the Sun. Open your chest with a slight backbend and say “hello, Sun!”

Step 12. Exhale and bring your hands together in front of your heart. Take a deep breath in through your nose, out through your mouth – make that ocean sound. Repeat this breathing a couple more times.

Namaste! Now seize the day!