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.


Planting Seeds

Row of Seedlings

I became a YogaKids instructor a number of years ago. And being the enthusiastic mom I am, I attempted to share it with my then teenage daughter. It was not overwhelmingly received. The word that comes to mind is “tolerated”.

She went along with my attempts to use her as my “guinea pig” in teaching asanas. Her eye roll additions to partner poses were quite creative, really adding to the experience! Even enhancing the practice by incorporating her music choices did not keep her interest for very long.

Time passed and I continued teaching kids’ yoga. The high school years led to college years. The distance between us grew physically as she was no longer just a scant few moments down the hall but two hours away by car. We connected often on happenings in our lives despite the distance, mostly via technology. Discussions centered on roommates, classes, and dining hall food. My husband and I explored interests left dormant in the uproar of raising our kids.

But last semester, something happened. My daughter decided to take a yoga class offered by the college for credit. And suddenly, it was as if she had discovered this practice of asanas, breathing, and philosophy for the first time, all on her own. It resonated with where she was in life. It was making a difference in how she saw the world and how a personal practice could enhance her life in many ways.

Suddenly we were sharing on a different level. It opened up new channels of communication between us. We exchanged longer texts and emails and opted for more talking via phone or Skype. In-depth talks about feelings and concerns surfaced. I was reminded how yoga is there to support us as individuals. And now, more noticeably, it can sustain us as a family through very challenging times.

When you share yoga, especially with children as a YogaKids instructor, you really never know the impact you may have made down the road. I was fortunate to have seen the effect of sharing yoga on a loved one. May your teaching be more far reaching than you realize.

Transform your life (and the lives of children) in our Certification Program!

Bedtime Breeze

Child on Bed with Teddy Bear

Homework is done, bellies are full, the kitchen is clean and my daily mom duties are coming to a close. But for some reason, every night, when it is time for my three kids to get ready for bed, they get a second wind. They begin to run around, play or grab their favorite toy. They remind me of wind-up toys that keep going and going.

Their young bodies are not totally exhausted like mine, and they don’t desire the sweet silence of a sleeping house, so they are not motivated to go to bed. With my yoga background, I understand they cannot just flip the switch from active play to rest. Instead they need time to transition and prepare their bodies for sleep. Yoga breathing and poses help calm my children and create a shift in their mood, which triggers the relaxation response in their bodies, and enables them to not only fall asleep faster, but sleep better.

The first thing I do is reduce their sensory input. We turn the lights down and turn off the music and other electronics. While seated comfortably, we practice Take 5 Breath, which helps to calm and center them. We then do a special Peace Breath; as we quietly exhale the word “peace,” we begin to imagine what peace looks like. We also like to say other words, like “love” or “ kindness,” and try to visualize those words too.

Child’s Pose is naturally calming and is a great way to not only release tensions in the back and hips, but as a gentle inversion, it also calms the nervous system. While lying on our backs, we do a little progressive relaxation exercise described in Lemon Toes Pose. We pretend to drink sour lemonade through our toes as we squeeze all the muscles in our bodies and then relax them. This helps us to release muscular tension and rest. Lastly, we practice Swim Ducky Swim. By placing a little stuffed toy on our bellies, we breathe more fully and deeply with our diaphragm as we take it for a little ride. Focusing on the exhale helps to relax the body even more.

After a few minutes of deep breathing, my kids are finally ready to go to sleep and I can enjoy the beautiful silence. To help make the transition to bedtime a breeze, create a routine with your kids and include some yoga breathing exercises and poses. Do the poses with them and notice how you sleep better too! (Learn all these poses in our YogaKids book!)

YogaKids Poses:

  • Take 5 Breath
  • Peace Breath
  • Child’s Pose
  • Lemon Toes
  • Swim Ducky Swim

The Needs of a Bully

So my daughter is being bullied. She’s 9 years old and in the third grade. It’s gotten bad enough that her miserable social experience has morphed into a physical ailment — a chronic morning tummy ache every day before school. I met today with her teacher and principal to discuss the situation — and they both expressed surprise. Not that it was happening (they’re not that naive)… but that they were both totally unaware of it. (I should point out that it’s a really small school.)

But honestly, I’m not at all surprised that they were in the dark. Girl meanness can be insidious and sneaky. (Oh, I remember it well.) And I can’t help thinking how difficult it must be for my daughter to express the type of meanness she’s experiencing. The mean girl isn’t pulling her hair — an offense that would be easy to share with her teacher. (“She keeps pulling my hair!”)

No, no… the mean girl is just quietly telling all the other girls in the class not to be her friend. How does a little girl find the words for that?

(And… ouch. Let’s just take a moment here to remember the pain of adolescence.)

As a mom, my initial reaction to all this was pretty predictable. I’ve been in momma bear-mode — and I kinda want to rip the ponytail off this little girl’s head for hurting my child. Not a particularly productive response — and one I’m not proud of — but an honest reaction to be sure. However, as a part of YogaKids, I know I have to let that raging feeling go and look at the bigger picture.

Now I know there’s a great deal of education and resources out in the world to help those that are being bullied. And I’ve certainly shared them all with my daughter. And while that’s great… it does nothing to actually solve the problem. To solve the problem, we have to address the root cause. We have to shift focus from the victim to the aggressor. (This is feeling like familiar territory, women, isn’t it?)

So why is this girl, at 9 years old, being mean to my sweet daughter? I know from my years studying child development — and observing my own children — that kids behave in ways that get the results they seek. Behavior is learned — and when a behavior gets the desired result, the behavior gets reinforced. Again and again. So what is the bully getting by being mean?  Well, I’m not 100% certain — but I can make an educated guess that she’s getting a couple of “wins”: 1) attention from the other girls and 2) a feeling of power when my child reacts.

If social behavior is viewed as a means to an end (i.e. fulfilling specific needs) — then we need to focus on those needs. What other ways can this little girl experience these desired “wins”?  How else can she feel powerful? How else can she get attention? How else — in essence — can she feel good about herself… without the collateral damage that comes with bullying?

Today I spoke with the principal and the teacher about the specifics of my daughter’s situation. But tomorrow? I’m going to be talking to them about implementing a school-wide mindfulness program that can get to the root. It’s time to stop only looking at the effects — and to start looking at the causes. At YogaKids, this is what we do. We teach cooperation over competition, kindness over cruelty, and give kids the tools to empower themselves… without hurting others.

Be the change as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!

Family Connection

Three Children Laughing and Singing

Around the holidays we get the opportunity to see family and friends we have not seen in a while. After the initial excitement wears off, the kids are often looking for something to do. If it is cold, outdoor activities are limited. That is when we can pull out some yoga! The beauty of yoga is that it does not require a lot of space to do, it can be quiet (which I love), promotes cooperation and family connection (which I also love).

Partner and group poses are especially fun to do. We like to share yoga poses with our friends that might not do yoga on their own. My daughter may do a pose with her cousin, or we may pull all the cousins into a room to do a few poses together. Since many people associate balance poses with yoga, it is great to start with Tree pose. After everyone tries to balance on one foot, we then come together in a circle, press the palms of our hands against our neighbor’s and help each other balance on the opposite foot. This is a great subtle lesson to support each other while improving physical balance.

Once the kids are excited for yoga, we move to some poses that feel good. In Standing Partner Stretch, two kids stand back to back and take hold of each other’s hands, then step forward a tiny step and gently lean away until both people feel a stretch in the chest and shoulders. Cooperation and trust are essential for the success of this pose.

Sit & Twist is another great pose. This one is done sitting on the floor facing a partner. The right arm reaches forward and the left wraps behind your back – then reach forward and find the arm your partner put behind their back. Breathe and twist.  While seated, try Row Your Boat pose. Balance on your sit bones and lift your legs off the floor. This pose strengthens the stomach, back and shoulders. Now try it with your partner, face your partner, feet touching, hold each other hands and with cooperation and communication, lean back, lengthen your legs and press the bottoms of your feet to your partner’s. Hold tight and stay afloat in partner boat.

From boat pose, keep holding hands but bring the feet to the outside of the arms and allow the legs to open and come to the floor preparing for Seesaw Triangle pose. One partner leans forward while the other leans back. After a few breaths, switch and then gently rock each other back and forth. What a fun way to stretch the legs!

These are just a few partner yoga poses, but there are so many more! You can also turn many yoga poses into partner poses with a little creativity! So, turn the television and video games off this holiday season and do a little yoga instead. It will benefit your children physically and mentally, and will help foster family connection and healthy relationships! Learn all these poses in the book, YogaKids: Educating the Whole Child, available in the YK Shop!

YogaKids Poses:

  •   Forest of Trees
  •   Standing Partner Stretch
  •   Sit and Twist
  •   Row Your Boat
  •   Seesaw Triangle

Create and teach family connection as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!


EYE Love Yoga

Cartoon Eye Doctor

Many of us read stories to our children from the moment they are born (or before) and celebrate when they begin to read on their own – it might even rank right up there with their first word, first step or riding a bike independently. When my youngest child was in the first grade, I was told he was “behind” in his reading and we should do extra reading practice every night. We did, but it did not help.

He actually tried reading glasses for two years, but that did not help either. He did not like to wear them, and it was just another battle added to his already frustrated state while reading. He attended extra tutoring and worked with a world-renowned reading program. Though he slowly improved, he was trying to catch up with a moving train, as the demands in his grade/ classroom continued to increase as well.

He had a short attention span, quickly fatigued, got fidgety when we read together; homework took hours and don’t get me started on studying for spelling tests! He is smart – really smart – and excels in math and science, yet he sometimes he misses the answers on tests.

When I read him a question he missed on a test, he verbally answers it correctly. He knew the answer, he just misread the question. His grades were not reflecting what he learned in school; they were reflecting what he could read and comprehend on the worksheets and tests.

At the conclusion of 3rd grade, we returned to the eye doctor. She finally determined he had a “tracking” issue. His vision was 20/20, but his eyes were not working well together to send the message to his brain! It was then that we were referred to a developmental optometrist who explained to me what my son was actually seeing. Each eye was seeing its own picture, so he often saw two of each letter, overlapping and sometimes moving around on the page. No wonder he was so tired after trying to read for 10 minutes!

After a detailed evaluation, he began vision therapy. I am not sure what I was expecting, but when the doctor walked us through the daily exercises – all I could think was “this is totally YOGA!” As a yoga teacher for over 12 years and a YogaKids Teacher too, I could not believe yoga was the answer. Even the doctor was surprised when I shared that his exercises were basically yoga poses and breathing!

The doctor began by telling my son to practice barefoot for greater awareness. He then guided my son to practice deep breathing; slow and steady with even inhalations and exhalations (similar to the YogaKids Take 5 breath); he added raising the arms overhead and lowering them down again to help lengthen the breath.

He then taught my son to stand tall and allow his arms to swing to the right and wrap around his body, then repeat to the left, scanning the horizon as he goes– similar to Scarecrow/Ghost Coat Swing. In YogaKids we learn crossing the midline of the body is great for balancing the two hemispheres of the brain! (This exercise also relieves tension in the neck and shoulders.)

He also introduced balancing on one foot! Really? We do this all the time in yoga (Tree pose)!  His goal was to start with one minute and work up to three minutes on each foot – longer than we typically hold balancing poses in YogaKids classes, but a great challenge for him!

As I learned more about movements to improve his vision, they included typical childhood activities – which many kids don’t do anymore. Movements that require the left and right sides of the body to work together – skipping, jumping jacks, patty cake and even inverting the body to help oxygenate the brain (like in Down Diggity Doggie Down pose)!

In the end, his vision therapy was playtime! He was doing things kids do, while helping his eyes improve and cooperate. He is in the 5th grade now, and we continue to focus on reading improvement, still trying to catch that moving train. It is not a magic formula, but now he has some tools to use when he gets frustrated with reading or his eyes need a break. Being able to identify what he needs and communicating those needs with both his teachers and us has enabled us to help him find success in the classroom!

His eyes love yoga and we do too!

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.

Stop the Homework Hassle

Frustrated Child with School Books

Children today are busier than ever. This morning, my 9 year old son woke up early, ate breakfast, went to school for 7 hours, had a snack, played outside with a friend, rushed to lacrosse practice, ate dinner, got ready for bed, read a few pages in his favorite book and then went to sleep. Oh yeah, he also had to squeeze time to complete his homework and study for an upcoming spelling test!

While sitting at the kitchen table, he was very frustrated after a long day at school and the last thing he wanted to do was review his spelling words. Sensing his frustration, though cliché, I advised him to take a few deep breaths, walk away, build something with his Legos (to redirect his thoughts) and then come back to the table five minutes later.

When he returned, we practiced Take 5 Breath together and repeated it five times. Deep breathing helps to relax the nervous system as well as oxygenate the brain. Children are in their optimum state for learning when they are both relaxed and alert. Now that he was more relaxed with his mindful breathing, it was time to awaken his mind. We started to do Punching Bag Pose, punching our hands across our bodies all the way to the floor, then back up again. Crossing the mid-line of the body helps the left and right sides of the brain to communicate. Bending forward not only has a natural calming affect on the body, but taking the head below the heart, helps to get more freshly oxygenated blood to the brain. We then balanced on one foot in Tree Pose to help focus the mind. We concluded with some Eyes Around The Clock making big eye rolls in one direction and then the other direction, to continue to awaken the mind. One more deep breath together and he was ready to tackle his spelling words.

It does not always work and there is not magic formula for homework time to run smoothly every day. Sometimes children (and even adults) are just too tired or emotional to come back to a place of being both relaxed and alert. But as we practice these skills with our children, they begin to learn them on their own and they can begin to regulate their own energies. When my 10 year old daughter, who has been exposed to yoga most of her life, gets annoyed with her brothers, she begins to breathe deeper and knows it will naturally calm her down. What a great tool for our children to have! And by the way…these poses work to help calm and focus adults too!

Take 5: Sit cross-legged. Lift one finger at a time as you breathe in through your nose and count in your mind: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Pause for a second with your hand up. Slowly breathe out through your nose and count backward – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, putting down one finger at a time for each number. Repeat.

Punching Bag Pose: Sit comfortably on your heels or cross-legged. Clench your hands and form fists. In tandem with your breath, punch across your body one arm at a time, like you were swinging at an imaginary punching bag. Stay focused, as your head and eyes turn from side to side watching the punch of the arms. Try to keep the punching action at shoulder height.

Tree: Begin in Mountain Pose. Lift one foot and press your foot against the inside of your other leg. You can use your hand to place your foot anywhere between your ankle and inner thigh. Avoid the knee joint. As your balance gets stronger, you’ll be able to raise your foot higher up your leg. Bring your hands to your chest, palms together in Namaste position. Then raise your arms up above your head. Stretch them out wide, like the branches of a tree. Separate your fingers. Balance and breathe. Now repeat on the other side.

Eyes Around the Clock: Use this technique anytime you need to soothe and rest your eyes.Take any seated position. Rub your hands together until they feel hot, then place the palms of your hands over your eyes. Let them soak up the heat. Keep your fingers close together so no light comes through. You can keep your eyes closed or open. Imagine a clock hanging in front of your eyes. Move your eyes to each position around the clock like this:

  1. Look up and down, from twelve o’clock to six o’clock and back to twelve o’clock;
  2. Look right to left from three o’clock to nine o’clock and back to three o’clock;
  3. Look diagonally from one o’clock to seven o’clock and back to one o’clock;
  4. Look from eleven o’clock to five o’clock and back to eleven o’clock.
  5. Now start at twelve o’clock and look at each number around the face of the clock.

Then, start again at twelve o’clock and move in the opposite direction. Circle the cock clockwise three times, then reverse. Try to keep your head still and move only your eyes.

Learn ALL the YogaKids poses and their benefits as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!