The Gift that Keeps Giving

Certified YogaKids Teacher Karen Martin with her Daughter

With ten minutes to go, I take a final glance at the soft blanket and pillow lying on the yoga mat in the uncluttered, “walkable” part of the room. This peaceful preparation is in each of my kids’ bedrooms, ready for their arrival off the school bus. Once home, my teens will get “down time” in this space, listening via ear buds to either their own music or silence (what I would call “blissful quiet”). This creative solution to after school stress? The result of my becoming a YogaKids instructor and my realization that teens (especially my teens) really, really need this yoga break!

Since becoming a CYKT, I have shared yoga with a variety of age groups. My teen teaching experiences always linger on my mind long after the class is over. They have a profound effect on me. I think it is because I identify with many of these kids who stumble through this awkward stage just as I did. And my own teens? Outwardly, they appear confident and controlled. Inside? Not so much. They can be just the opposite: conflicted, unsure, moody, and impulsive.

I felt gawky and out of place many times during my teen years. Figuring out who I was and what I wanted to be was tough. I wanted to fit in, yet didn’t wish to compromise my gradually emerging inner voice. I wanted to “feel comfortable in my own skin” but not at the expense of appearing too “different”. Oftentimes I wish I had been introduced to yoga back then, knowing now how grounding and self-affirming this practice can be.

There is a strong component of self-discovery and self-care with yoga. Teens can begin to recognize and listen to their inner voice and learn how it can steady them on rocky paths. Poses truly are pathways where each step in learning a posture can build confidence. Teens learn to modify asanas in regards to their own body’s response. They feel capable and self-assured.

Noticing the breath’s change in intensity and rhythm can provide more feedback to teens as to how they are feeling. Awareness of the breath can also open up possibilities allowing regulation in a positive way. Taking the time to notice the breath; to stop, pause, and think can help bring a moment of clarity to any situation, slowing impulsive responses.

With better understanding of themselves, teens can interact with greater empathy towards others. The realization that we all have different abilities, yet can partner pose successfully with others opens up more opportunities for cooperation and communication.

This post-school “Mini-Savasana” for my own teens is an important and highly anticipated part of our day. Relaxation offers a safe place for stillness, reflection and rest. Upon arising, they feel refreshed and better able to concentrate on homework and other activities. I hope they always continue to see yoga as a sweet and sustaining part of life — it will be the best gift I’ve ever given them.


‘Tis the Season of Patience

YogaKid in Peanut Butter and Jelly Pose

Sitting in a circle, legs stretched straight out in L-Sitting Pose, we raise our arms to sit up even taller. We then reach for our toes in Peanut Butter and Jelly Pose. Some of the kids groan or sigh as they discover the furthest they can touch is not much past their knees. Then they see others in the class who can reach further than them. This comparison may lead to frustration with the pose, which can translate to irritation with oneself. Overstretching can occur, some of the kids wanting to reach their toes NOW.

We may not get to touch our toes today. We may not even achieve it in a few sessions. It might take much longer than that. It hinges upon what we are told is a virtue: patience.

In exploring this forward fold asana I see a valuable lesson about patience unfolding. Patience can be defined as the ability to wait calmly, the capacity to accept delay without getting angry. This subject is so timely with the holidays quickly approaching. I’m thinking about this while going about my daily routine — one that includes being stuck in traffic and waiting in lines at the grocery store. As the holidays loom closer, the lines will get longer and tempers will get shorter. There will be more rushing about and even more frazzled nerves. And it makes me wonder, where is patience? And if I don’t have patience, how can it be cultivated?

The seeds of patience must be sown and nurtured within ourselves before we can express it towards others. I have to be patient with myself first. If I cannot be patient with myself, then how can I expect to be patient with others? I work on studying patience within my own practice, noticing that how far I can reach may vary from day to day. I may have to make adjustments and modifications. And hopefully this acknowledgment of where I am is how I view where others are within and beyond the yoga studio.

Revisiting PB&J Pose, we work on determining and then accepting where we currently are in the pose. I assure one student that she is where she needs to be right now if she can only comfortably reach halfway to her toes. The added stretch will evolve with time and practice. We set small goals to slowly progress to the next level. Is this easy? No. Is there still frustration? Most likely! But at least this learning experience is a start in developing patience and self-acceptance. When we are less hurried and impatient with ourselves maybe we can then be less hurried and impatient with others. We become calm. We are more focused and tolerant. We see our goals as possible. We persevere.

“Patience is being like the ocean, slowly taking back the sand on the beach. It is in no hurry, because it knows eventually it will gain, or regain what it desires.” – Brian Martin

Change your life… and the world — as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!

Out of the Head, Into the Heart

YogaKids Founders Marsha and Don Wenig

Early onset Alzheimers is proving to be a very different way of going through life. For Marsha and I this ever changing experience is the new normal. Everyday is a roller coaster ride. I watch Marsha going up and down, careening from side to side laughing, surprised, confused, scared, crying, and sometimes disappearing into a black tunnel that is both terrifying and sad.

Marsha Wenig, YogaKids creator and founder who has inspired so many with her insights into how children learn through yoga was diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimers in November of 2011. In retrospect her symptoms had already been developing for many years.

The diagnosis came as the result of caring friends noticing the change in her behavior which led to extensive testing with neurologists at at Chicago’s Rush Hospitals Memory Clinic. Its impact had effected her, YogaKids and our personal relationship long before we were aware of what was really happening.

While there are many challenges that Marsha faces on a daily basis one of the greatest is being aware that she’s not able to grasp the things that were once were so easy and second nature to her. Not knowing what to do next is often crippling. Most of all Marsha misses her day to day involvement in YogaKids.

Now life and learning is truly moment to moment. For Marsha clear and detailed memories can turn in an instant to a blank screen, paralyzing disorganization and then back again to a social ease that she has always been adored for. Internally she is often as active and communicative as ever with insight and humor to share but collecting the words to express her thoughts is often impossible.

Alzheimers has led us both to a different kind of deeper awareness and appreciation of the moment. Kindness, compassion and gratitude has become our practice in a new way. Our yoga. The new mantra being “out of the head, into the heart”. Reminders to breath into and feel from the heart are posted on bathroom mirrors, the refrigerator door, by the back door. This practice helps break a tendency for fixating and obsession with troubling thoughts.  If not revealing answers at least breathing into the heart (see brings presence, some comfort and coherence. provides in-depth information about the disease with graphs, photos and illustrations of what happens to the brain in its different stages. At the same time the “best brains in medicine” don’t have much to offer in the way of explanations or the hows or why’s. This is one of Marsha’s most frequent and disturbing questions. “How did this happen?” 

There are many theories as to how early forms of dementia develop. The process is thought to sometimes start decades before symptoms begin to show. A slow build up of environmental toxins, heavy metals, manufactured fluorides, electro magnetic radiation and gluten are all suspected contributors.

New drugs, sadly with unattractive side effects, are in development stages and most hopeful is an ultrasound therapy that is in the offing. Aside from the one drug Marsha takes our approach to slowing any progression is natural, dietary and lifestyle oriented.

Friends often call or Facebook with research they’ve read or stories they’ve heard about the virtues of coconut oil,  DHA, vitamin D, turmeric, ashwaganda, CoQ 10, etc…we do it all. We’re gluten free, eat lots of organic, raw fruits and veggies, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and occasionally include fish.  Everyday starts with a couple of ounces of wheatgrass juice from our indoor farm followed by the Vita-mix blending up sprouts, greens, chia, maca, cacao and berries.

Googling the countries with the least occurrence of Alzheimers we found Fiji at the bottom of the list. Why? I suspect the high levels of silica in their water might be a preventative keeping the brain vital and healthy. There is no evidence that it is curative in any way but we include silica in our regimen and have explored everything from Fiji water, to horsetail, diatomaceous earth and Orgono Living Silica.

Our daily practice includes simple asana followed by breathwork, toning and meditation. It feels like the vibration of OM helps stimulate the brain. We visualize plaque and calcifications breaking up and tangles realigning. Yoni mudra also stimulates the pineal gland.  All of this follows a Merkaba visualization and a lengthy heart-centerd meditation.

Marsha gets out and walks…a lot. Being outside eases and quiets her mind. Usually she’s with her best friend and sidekick Cooper our 10 year old pug. She also looks forward to weekly Access Consciousness sessions to get her ”Bars” run. Along with being totally relaxing the Bars process helps dissolve old belief “implants” which destroys and uncreates negative thinking patterns.  As a practitioner I’m able to help with that at home as well.

Music also plays a big part in her day to day routine. Thanks to online resources like Pandora and Spotify it’s possible for Marsha to access the music she loves which ranges from yogic relaxation music to our daughter Dakota’s latest upbeat playlists. YouTube offers amazing binaural beats and isochronic music set to specific frequencies that promotes brainwave focus, health and wellbeing.

So what if this stage of Alzheimers can be reframed as an invitation? An invitation to explore how one can function more fully from the heart. To expand and appreciate ourselves as infinite beings. What if thinking and functioning are not localized in the brain? What if the breath is a key to enter the “tiny place in the heart” and access a more global, universal consciousness? What if it’s possible to transcend the limitations of the human brain altogether? Could this be an opportunity to remember or discover if we’re more than the limitations we’ve grown accustomed to accepting as the boundaries of reality? So what else is possible?

Marsha has learned from all of the amazing, exceptional children she’s worked with over the years that with many there’s much more happening on the inside than is apparent to others from the outside.  And what if that’s ok? Is the early stage of Alzheimers a ravaging disease or a different way of viewing and being in this world? A new way of caring for and being present to each other…everything?

We’ll keep you posted.

The Donut Debacle

Donut with Sprinkles

The group leader of my team (at my corporate job) brought in a special treat for everyone… festive decorated donuts! They looked delicious with green frosting, clovers and sprinkles! As other members of the team enjoyed their yummy donuts, she shared a story with us from her previous place of employment. “One day there was a box of donuts in the office, and when I went to get one, I realized all the filling had been siphoned out – leaving just the outer donut in the box – for the next person. Who would do that?” We all were flabbergasted and joked whether the perpetrator had used a straw or their mouth to remove the filling from the donut!

Later that day, I walked up to one of my team members at the end of our lunch hour, and she looked a little down. “Is everything ok?” I asked. She replied with a question, “Have you ever noticed how some people suck the energy right out of you?” Turns out someone else (from another department) on our floor had sat down with her for lunch that day. Everything that person said was negative and judgmental. Though my team member was just listening, her attitude had shifted, her spirit deflated and she was left feeling empty and drained – not unlike the hollow donut we joked about earlier that day.

I am reminded of a great book for kids Have you filled a bucket today? by Carol McCloud.  A heartwarming book encouraging positive behavior, and how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation and love. Here at YogaKids, we aim to empower children with confidence, love and compassion for others. We strive to teach them awareness and mindfulness of themselves, others and the world around them!

As parents, teachers and yogis, it is our duty to fill the buckets of those around us, not to siphon the yummy sweet center of the donut, but instead, leave them in their greatness – leave others better than they were before they met you! One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou,  “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Transform your life in the YogaKids Certification Program!

The Beauty and Brilliance of Bees

Bees on Flowers

by Don Wenig

Last spring I started a new adventure as a beekeeper. I’ve been cultivating a native wildflower garden for the past several years and who better to enjoy the flowers but the bees? Perhaps in return we’ll enjoy some of the honey they produce.

This has been such a learning adventure. Because of my lack of experience and understanding of how the hive works, my bees rans out of space to expand and — without consulting me –decided to swarm.

They just took off!  Moved on in search of a new place. Oh no…no honey! Of all the nerve! The bees left in search of greener pastures with absolutely no regard to my bruised ego.

It seemed to me that all was lost. No queen, no eggs, a significantly reduced bee population, what had I done? Had I failed the bees? Had the bees failed me? Had I jumped into something I had no business attempting? Ok…breathe. I’m a novice and have a lot to learn. It’s ok.

To get help in this unknown territory I reached out to a gentleman I had recently bee-friended. An experienced bee keeper named Bill. Bill is a lanky 72 year old vet with a twinkle in his eyes. He loves bees, is knowledgeable, has unquestionable faith that things are just as they should be.

He suggested I slow down and trust in the bees. If the hive was supposed to survive it would…or maybe it wouldn’t. The hive has a collective consciousness and will do it’s best to find a new balance. Thanks guru Bill.

While I sat on pins and needles the worker bees made a new queen…something, I learned, they do. While I wasn’t looking the new queen hatched, flew out, mated, came back and started fulfilling her sole purpose of laying eggs. The hive took care of business. Restored balance. They’re back and better than ever. Trust in nature.

All of life is a learning adventure. What if that’s all we’re really here for? Isn’t that natural curiosity and daring what we love about our kids? What they thrive on? To try new things, to learn from everything around them and from one another?  A big YogaKids YES!

The bees are teaching me about patience, trust, ease and awareness. To be gentle and compassionate towards myself. Like Bill…simply be present to what is. Whether it’s the hive that swarms or life presenting the infinite surprises that it does, take joy in it all, love it all, be kind, celebrate and bee happy.



Beezing: Begin in Child’s Pose. Reach back and interlace your fingers behind you. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lift your arm wings up. Move your head, upper body and wings back and forth as you fly like a bee. Bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Hum and buzz like a bee. Land on a flower and practice straw sipping as you sip the tasty nectar from the flowers.



Electric Circle: This pose is done with at least three people. Sit cross-legged with your hands on your knees. The left hand rests palm up, and the right hand rests palm-down. Breathe deeply into your heart space at the center of your chest. Feel the breath move across your chest, flow down your arms and into the hands that you are holding. You might feel or hear tingling. Whenever you feel this electricity, gently squeeze the hands you are holding. That is the signal to let each other know that the circuit has been made and the current is flowing. With your lips closed and your tongue curled upward to touch the roof of your mouth, start humming or buzzing to imitate the sound of electricity. Get louder and louder, then break the circuit by letting go of each other’s hands. Sit quiet and listen to the silence.



Questions for Your Words

Students Gossiping in Class

Another Saturday of cleaning found me working to remove paper that somehow became stuck to the kitchen counter top. Actually more like glued. Irritating. I could scrub it off with lots of elbow grease, energy and sweat. Using lots of rigorous and repetitious effort. Or I could spray cleanser on the area and let it soak for a bit. Returning later, it would easily wipe clean. Less energy but still get the job done.

How our words are used can be thought of in a similar way. In wanting to get my point across, I sometimes use the first approach (lots of elbow grease) for discussing a sticky situation. Constantly repeating my same words, like relentlessly scouring a spot over and over. The conversation becomes less give and take and more my unbending position being expressed. I (foolishly) think it is effective (at the time) but eventually find that it falls on deaf ears and just totally wears me out.

The second method where stuff just “sits” for a bit? I compare it to a brief chat with thoughtful listening. Then allow time for meaning and relevance to sink in. Expectation for an immediate response and subsequent action can wait (the spot is annoying but not harming my counter top)! We have time to evaluate our discussion points. When the source of irritation is revisited we can probably come up with a workable solution.

We talk with our teens at many points during a YogaKids class. It is not only our choice of words that matter but how we choose to verbalize our instruction, directions, and feedback. A guideline that has been helpful is Satya (truth), choosing words that will do the least harm and the most good. I have had many occasions to hear “teen drama” accounts of what happened in school, at sports, etc. that the kids arrive all abuzz about. It is a great opportunity to use Satya. Three questions can be considered when discussing any criticism, reaction, or response:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it kind?
  3. Is it necessary?

Challenge teens to explore each of these questions on any topic that begins to trend in your class! It can be a wonderful springboard promoting compassion, empathy, and understanding. Establish boundaries that include parameters of acceptable conditions to speak freely but without harshness to others. Practice active listening. Acknowledge feelings. Be present. Observe. No judgment. No hasty solutions. Just listen.

Isn’t it amazing how the most mundane tasks can reveal a different way of thinking? It can enhance our approach with how we interact with teens. And maybe we can be more effective without all that scrubbing.

Learn how YogaKids can help you teach children of all ages and abilities!

Karma and the Helper’s High

Children Sitting in a Row

Karma means action or deed, but also the result of an action. Hindu spiritual teacher Sri Swami Sivananda said, “There is a hidden power in karma or action which brings in fruits of karmas for the individual. The consequence of an action is really not a separate thing. It is a part of the action and cannot be divided from it.”  

Much research has been done on the positive effects of doing good deeds or karma. When we engage in good deeds, we reduce our own stress — and experience what scientists are now calling the “helper’s high,” which is a feeling of empathy and love. The feeling we get from helping others is one aspect of what Sri Swami Sivananda was referring to as the fruits of karma.  

Karma is woven into the fabric of the YogaKids program. YogaKids creator Marsha Wenig asks us to make commitments to our students and ourselves, and to teach with authentic joy and love. After graduating from the prestigious YogaKids program over four years ago, I continue to honor Marsha’s original intent for the YogaKids program — and always teach each class with a sense of playful optimism that brings joy to my students. Each YogaKids class I teach is a unique opportunity to work on my karma by sharing the many gifts yoga has to offer with each student.

Recently, I got the chance to practice Karma Yoga when I was asked to volunteer at a local charity. I was asked to teach a class for children who had a parent diagnosed with cancer — or, in some cases, a parent who had died from cancer. The YogaKids program is a perfect fit for this group of kids because it is fun, interactive, and just plain joyful. Children directly effected by cancer need to have fun, and they need to feel like there is fun to be had in the world. They need to understand that they deserve to have fun. These are all key components in every YogaKids class I have ever taught. YogaKids has taken the very adult topic of yoga and made it undeniable playful. Yoga encourages us to live in the moment; it teaches us to see the joy that is in the moment and not to worry about the past or the future. This concept of living in the moment is very beneficial for children who have experienced loss, as it helps them experience pleasure and happiness.

I arrived on a hot Tuesday in July with a bag full of props: beanie babies, breathing balls, coloring pages, markers, crayons and a joyful bounce in my step. Courtney, the director of the program, shared with me that they had yoga teachers come and work with the children in the past. She paused before adding, “it just didn’t work.”  She didn’t have to tell me why it didn’t work because I already knew. The yoga they taught was basically an adult yoga class, and it just wasn’t fun for the kids. It was too serious. She said that it almost felt sad for the kids. “All that quiet listening to their breath,” she said. “The kids had too much time with their eyes closed to think about their sadness and grieve — and some kids afterwards said they felt worse then before they started the class.”  I reassured Courtney that this class would very different from what they had experienced in the past, and that there was much fun to be had.

A large circle formed of children, volunteers and staff. Within the hour, we created, shared, moved, danced, barked, meowed, and mostly just lived from the joy in our hearts. The children were able to stay in the moment, because each moment held their attention with creative movement, laughter and imagination. The hour flew by, and ended with lemon toes — a guided exercise that helps children ring the tension out of their bodies. It left these kids feeling, as one child noted, “happy and calm.”

As we rolled up our mats and said our goodbyes, I was met with many a “thank you” and genuine positivity for the feeling the hour brought to the group. After the class, Courtney shared with me all the different aspects of the class that had surprised and delighted her and the students. “We would love to have you back,” she said. And I would love to come back.

As I floated out the door of the center, a wonderful event occurred. A deer walked across the street only about ten yards away from me. I was in a vey populated Chicago suburb; a deer siting is a very unusual occurrence. The deer is a Chinese symbol for good fortune and longevity. The word for deer in Chinese is “lu” and is a homonym of the word “income.” Consequently, the deer represents a prosperous and fortunate long life. “What an unusual coincidence,” I thought. This deer was an affirmation that I was fortunate to have worked with this group — and fortunate to have the YogaKids tools to positively impact them. I saw the deer as the fruit of my good deed. My karma.

I had parked a few blocks away from the center. When I arrived at my car, I saw a parking ticket was sitting on my windshield. I remembered that in my excitement to get to class, I had failed to put money in the meter. “Now that doesn’t seem like good fortune,” I thought. But when I took a closer look at the notice, I realized it was not a parking violation. It was simply a warning. “What a wonderful turn of events,” I thought. I didn’t see the violation as a “warning” — more of a sign that the Universe is supporting me, giving me back a little bit of what I’m putting out there. As the best-selling author Elmer Leterman once said, “Good fortune happens when preparation meets opportunity.” My preparation was the volunteer work, the opportunity was my empty meter, and the good fortune… well, I create the possibility of good fortune every day when I choose to volunteer and teach YogaKids. I had much to write about that night in my gratitude journal. The quote for the day was, “My Helpers High.”

Improve your karma as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!

Our Family Mantra

Family in a Group Hug

As a yoga instructor, I have taken the lessons I have learned on the mat and tried to apply these lessons to my life.  Yoga to me is more than a practice, it is a lifestyle. When you begin to embrace a healthy lifestyle, you start to discover that simple choices can lead to positive lifestyle changes that have a big impact on how you live your life.  

I have tried to pass on the lessons I have learned to those that attend my classes as well as friends and family. In today’s fast-paced, media-rich world, there are plenty of resources and information, but sometimes it can be difficult to boil everything  down to a personal philosophy and a set of choices that can be applied to your daily life,

For example, when our children were in elementary school, my husband and I started using a very basic, succinct phrase in our house to express the way we wanted our children to think of themselves and the choices they make related to food, exercise, study and play. That phrase is simply, “Healthy & Strong.”

We chose these two words very carefully and made a concerted effort to weave them into our daily conversations with both our son and daughter. As their parents, we wanted to give our children a cornerstone concept they could use to quickly measure feedback they received from their peers and the media as well as a short-cut to assessing personal behavior and daily choices.

By the time our daughter was in 5th grade, she was already having to confront words and concepts like, “skinny” and “fat” and “diet” and “calories” and “carbs.” It was all very confusing to her. While at the same time, our son was having his value judged, sometimes by adults, based on how he performed on an athletic field.

As young parents, we had many discussions about how we wanted to handle the endless scenarios life would present our children. And for us, it always made sense to take a consistent and persistent approach to love and support, education and advocacy, but to handle lifestyle choices with a lighter touch that was easy to understand and simple to put into play.. We hoped this approach would lead to our children developing a skill for decision making that could carry them forward in their lives while allowing their personal likes and dislikes to shine through.

So, for issues related to both their physical and mental health, we wanted to cut through all of the complicated and complex feedback they were getting in their daily lives and give them a very simple concept to focus on as they thought about their body image and their self-worth.

Healthy & Strong became our mantra…and it worked!

The kids got it. We framed our discussions about food and exercise and self-esteem with the simple concept of trying to become healthy and strong each and every day.

We consistently told them that we weren’t  exercising so we could get “skinny,” we were exercising because it was fun and because we wanted to be, “STRONG.” And eating food and ingesting calories and carbs was not a bad thing, it was necessary to sustain life! I remember telling my daughter one evening that a calorie was nothing more than a unit of measure for the amount of energy it took to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. And that carbs and fat were both essential forms of fuel that we need to be, “HEALTHY.” The look on her face was priceless and it was evident she was liberated from the confusing chatter she was hearing daily at her school lunch table.

Over the years our entire family has shaped our choices around the notion that our work and our play as well as our diet and our exercise should help us maintain a healthy and strong mind, body and soul.

I think the most rewarding thing about this approach has been that I now hear my children using the phrase, “healthy and strong” with their friends. And we have had other parents approach us and tell us they had heard it from their child and have now adopted the same approach in their household.

Words have meaning, They shape the way young people think. Be healthy, Be strong. It’s that simple.

Sara is the founder of Salveo Yoga and is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) in Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga through Yoga Alliance. She encourages children of all ages and with a variety of interests to include yoga into their daily life in order to develop mindfulness for cognitive challenges and to promote strength and healing in their physical endeavors. Sara’s classes nourish the body and the mind. Her laid-back teaching style reflects her belief that improving one’s health should be fun, energizing and challenging.

Learn more about the YogaKids program here.