The Magic of Guided Visualizations

Feet in Field

Guided visualizations or guided imagery is a highly effective technique taught in the YogaKids program to help students achieve a relaxed state. Typically at the end of a yoga class, the teacher guides students on a journey, letting them travel to far off lands, or stay very close to home; to experience joy, serenity, and peace without ever leaving their yoga mat.

A simple recipe for peace

I recently attended YogaKids Transformations training, the culmination of a 95-hour training. After a year of study, this group is comprised of extremely qualified children’s yoga teachers. One of the attendees, Mary, shared a guided visualization in which we were allowed to travel to anywhere we wanted to go. Since I was 1000 miles from home at the time, I chose to travel to my son’s room at bedtime. The way in which Mary set up the exercise made it extremely real for me; the words she chose and the perfectly timed pauses led me to an experience that seemed very real. At the end of the relaxation, I felt peaceful, relaxed, and — honestly — just happy! This is the desired effect for our students as well.

The brain lights up the same nerve bundles for events real or imagined…

Guided imagery is based on the concept that the body and mind are connected. The brain lights up the same nerve bundles for events that we actually experience and events we just imagine experiencing. As far as the brain is concerned, thinking about walking on a sunny beach during a cold Chicago winter is just as good as actually doing it. Helping young students reach a relaxed state may aid healing, learning, creativity, and performance. It may also help students feel more in control of their emotions and thought processes, which may improve attitude, health, and sense of well-being.

Why traditional Savasana is challenging for kids

Most traditional yoga classes end with Savasana, or relaxation. Students are asked to lie down and simply enjoy the experience of their own breath. Savasana leads us away from the never-ending parade of thoughts. Our younger students will find this experience to be exceedingly difficult. When young children are asked to lie quietly, often they will fidget, misbehave, open their eyes and look around. Some might even simply refuse to lie down. Children, from toddlers to tween, will do much better given something to “do”. A well written and taught guided visualization will help young students transport themselves to a playground, their own backyard, or even Disney World.

A Magic Capet Ride

The YogaKids program is extremely creative, fun and engaging. Usually after 50 minutes of movement, games, laughing, barking and meowing, most kids are ready to lie down and relax a bit. We instruct students to imagine their yoga mat is a Magic Carpet, and it will transport them to anywhere they want to go. Once they’re given a brief instruction, kids are able to chill, and experience the creativity of their own imagination long enough to benefit on a cellular level.

Combat Stress and Anxiety

There are a growing number of guided imagery resources (refer to our resource below) to assist the teacher with an effective setup and script. You can also learn how to best come out of a guided visualization. Today’s kids are overstimulated and overscheduled; the use of guided visualizations can help your kids experience a much needed break.

Suggested resources:

Imaginations: Fun Relaxation Stories and Meditations for Kids

My Time with Teens

Teens Sitting Together

Teen YogaKids classes are not high on my experience list. Most often I teach a younger (11 and under) crowd. My recent groups this time would be 12 through 15 years old, one all boys and one all girls. This would be a one-time session for each, offered during a weeklong camp. I was excited to explore yoga with them on a different level than what I enjoy with my preschool and elementary aged kids. I’d like to share with you some observations and highlights from my teen classes!

First of all — they love to talk! We opened the class by having each student say their name and something about themselves that they’d want others to know. This helped me gear the class towards their likes and interests. A few of the students were into martial arts, some soccer; a few had more musical interests (piano, guitar). I found that teaching them to count to 10 in Korean while holding poses gave recognition to my karate kids. Practicing various types of warrior poses for leg strength supported my soccer players. Playing music by Derek Trucks (Sahib Teri Bandi/Maki Mandi) during numerous sun salutations with variations testing balancing skills wowed my guitarists!

They enjoy challenges! They liked holding poses for a longer time and trying more advanced poses. We held various plank poses with attention to breathing through an agreed upon time period, either a count or a short song. We explored more advanced poses by going through a beginner, intermediate and advanced form of the asana. Each student was encouraged to stay at the level most comfortable and doable for him/her. Helping a student find which form best suited their ability was empowering. Their success was determined by discovering the pose that worked the best for them and not necessarily by what everyone else was doing.

They like to learn about yogic philosophy! We took a moment to breathe and acknowledge how finding our “edges” in the poses (how far to go or not go) was another way to learn about ourselves. The practice of satya (truth) focuses on choosing our words to do no harm. Choosing how deeply to experience a pose works much the same way. They began to build awareness how this choice can affect their bodies in a positive, non-hurtful way.

They love to relax with restorative yoga! Bolsters and pillows were used to enhance Savasana. These props are often used in adult practice. They liked how it added another dimension to creating an individualized restful state. And it was definitely a transferable activity to their home environment! Just gathering up some pillows and blankets at home to get comfortable and listening to their own mellow music would be a great de-stressor for the coming school year.

And lastly — just like my little students — they love to play! After many planks and dolphins, we tested our arms by having a tug of war. It was a great way to finish a class with lots of noise and teamwork!

Tips for Bringing Yoga into PE Programs


As YogaKids teachers, we are always looking for ways to expand our reach and spread the word about the benefits of yoga for kids. One great way to do that is to offer to teach a class for a local Physical Education teacher. They are often looking for new programs to introduce to their students, and many are aware of yoga, but may not feel confident teaching it themselves. A good time to volunteer is during the Great American Teach In, which is usually the Thursday before Thanksgiving. Schools will be looking for volunteers to share their talents with their students.

There are some key differences to be aware of when teaching yoga in a PE class. First, the physical space may be different than what we are used to. Gyms are large, bright and noisy. Some elementary schools in the south don’t even have gyms, and classes meet outside under a pavilion. You will probably have to use a bigger voice than in a studio! At some schools, it may be possible to use a stage, music room, or library for a more intimate space, but often this is not available.

Physical Education classes are often times much larger, as they may have several classrooms combined. They will probably not have yoga mats, but may have gymnastics or wrestling mats. In elementary schools, carpet squares are usually available and work well. As a last resort, you can ask the PE teacher for “polyspots” to help students maintain their space away from others. Music is always good to use, upbeat as well as relaxing. Most gyms have good sound systems, but check before so you know what you are dealing with.

Since it is a physical education class, it is a good idea to focus on poses and activities that emphasize the physical aspects of yoga: flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. In the past, there has been some controversy about yoga in schools, so I personally avoid using Sanskrit names, chanting, and using “OM.” Sun Salutations, Warrior Series, seated poses, balance poses, relaxation, and guided visualizations could all be included. Simple partner poses, such as back to back Warriors and Triangles would be fun, or partner Tree Pose. Keep in mind that you will have a wide variety of fitness levels and abilities, and it is always best to keep it simple.

In elementary schools, classes are coeducational. Some middle and high schools separate boys and girls during PE classes, and for yoga, I think this would be preferable. Students this age may have body image issues, and may not feel comfortable participating in a mixed classes. In addition, it might be preferable in the middle and high schools to make the class voluntary, so no one feels required to participate.

Teaching yoga in a physical education setting can be challenging, and rewarding. The benefits for the students are many. Working with the PE teachers can open the doors to other opportunities at the school, or throughout the district. Be sure to invite them to attend your next YogaKids Workshop!


Is Yoga Religion?

Woman Doing Yoga on Beach

If I had a dime for the number of times someone in Alabama asked me if yoga were a religion, I would be a very wealthy woman. This question is one that arises a lot in all regions of the country, but especially in the Bible Belt where religion is a very important component of daily living. As a practicing yogini in the south, how does one address this question with a “yoga-like” answer? Well, it’s simple…yoga is NOT religion.

To answer this question, I respond by looking to the roots of yoga. Yoga began over 5000 years ago as a philosophy, or a science, and a spiritual and physical practice. The very word “yoga” means to “yoke” or to unite the body and mind in harmony. Yoga, as a practice, seeks to correlate all aspects of living as it relates to those around us. Yes, there are some spiritual commonalities between the practice of yoga and of most organized religion, but yoga has no gods to worship or services to attend. Yoga has no statement of religious beliefs. There is no profession of faith. Yoga has no institutional structure or leaders or rules.

What yoga, in the classical tradition, DOES have, however are the Yamas and the Niyamas. These are the moral and internal restraints that regulate our inner lives. The five Yamas are non-violence, truth, not stealing, moderation, and non-greed or hoarding or to take only what is necessary. The Yamas are the moral virtues that, if attended to, purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society. The Niyamas are personal observances. They refer to an attitude that we adopt for ourselves to live soulfully and joyfully no matter our circumstances. The Niyamas include purity, contentment, disciplined use of our energy (keeping our bodies fit and healthy), self-study or self-reflection, and celebration of the spiritual.

The Yoga Sutras, the most commonly cited text that forms the foundation for all forms of yoga, make no specific theological claims. The non-sectarian nature of this text has allowed it to remain solid for over 1500 years and allows freedom from religion, therefore making yoga a positive for anyone. The adaptability of modern yoga makes it diverse and flexible enough to be practiced with religion or with no religion. There are as many reasons why people do yoga as there are types of people that do yoga. They range from the secular, practical, body-oriented people to the most spiritual people and anything and everything in between. Yoga serves all these types because its teachings are universal.

Yoga in schools, in the south, especially, is a hot topic because many people do not understand the facts and have a fear of the unknown. However, research demonstrates that yoga can have a direct influence on children’s physical and mental health, as well as concentration and self-awareness. Yoga can awaken a child’s brain and promote creativity and a sense of calmness. Yoga, for just 10 minutes a day, in the classroom can benefit the social and emotional well being of our children. By giving the gift of yoga to children we give them tools to carry with them for the rest of their lives. So, my question to the naysayers is, why wouldn’t you support the overall nurturing of our children? Check out a YogaKids class before you cast your stones.

Transform your life in the YogaKids Certification Program!

Lessons from Preschool Yogis

Group of Preschool Children

Create a Routine

In my experiences with preschoolers, I’ve embraced the freedom to keep classes simple. For example, the first thing I did was create a simple routine: a ritual opening, a set of warm-up exercises, a few poses that relate to a theme (this is the variety from week to week), maybe an activity or a book, and a Savasana ritual.

Teach the Base Poses

A big difference I see between preschoolers and older kids is how you give instructions. A simple pose, such as Cat/Cow, needs step by step direction at this age. They don’t all know what it means to “get on all fours.” I look around and see them mooing and meowing from child’s pose or Down Dog or something in between. So the first two weeks of each school year, I teach the base poses. Then, we practice how to go from a base pose to another pose.

Identify Body Parts

Another important point to remember is that preschoolers don’t all know the names for body parts yet, such as heels, palms of hands, or wrists. So we identify body parts before we place them. I make it fun by incorporating Mrs. Yoga Says and they laugh a lot as we try to move quickly to the pose I call out.

Remember They Receive More Than You Realize

Generally my classes go very well. I almost always leave feeling happy. But as in all jobs, some days are better than others. Maybe it is my mood, maybe some of the kids were just not at their best, but there are days when I ask myself after class, “Really, what just happened?” Thankfully I am frequently given reminders that they are taking in much more that I realize. Reminders such as these are true gifts:

  • A mom of four boys tells me that in the middle of an especially chaotic morning at home, her youngest child sits on the kitchen floor in pretzel legs and starts to OM.
  • A parent at a sports event stops to tell me how much his child talks about yoga and does the poses at home. (This child is a daydreamer in my class.)
  • The child in class who finishes my sentences and gives the class directions to a pose.
  • The child who will not ever cooperate hugs and kisses my leg at the end of class.
  • My favorite text from a mom saying her daughter told her that she needs to lay down in Savasana.
  • In deep relaxing breathing, a child looks like she is truly breathing in the breath of life.
  • Kids remembering and requesting certain poses.

Yes, preschoolers do learn in yoga class and I am not spinning my wheels. Preschoolers keep me on my toes and make me laugh. They remind me why I love yoga and renew my gratitude for my YogaKids training and community.