Gratitude and the Highest Happiness

Silver Outline of Person in Prayer

Santosha or contentment is part of yoga’s eightfold path. These eight steps help to guide us to a meaningful and purposeful life. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving during the month of November, this is the perfect time of year to pause and observe Santosha and explore how practicing contentment and gratitude can help make life extremely rich.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra verse 2.42 reads, “From contentment, the highest happiness is attained.”  Contentment blossoms, when desire is removed. Yoga teaches us that the moment is complete; we don’t need to look for something else. Contentment is all about being grateful for what we have instead of desiring something else, or something more.

When we spend our lives seeking, always looking for the better experience (bigger house, brighter diamond or newer car model), we are placing requirements on our own happiness that we can never meet. Once we get those possessions that we seek, we usually barely enjoy them before we are looking for that next bigger and better thing.

Yoga Teacher TKV Desikachar’s definition of Santosha is “to accept what happens.” In other words, when it is cold, let it be cold. We experienced one of the coldest and wettest winters on record her in the Chicago area last year, and the talk all winter was on how awful it was. Many shifted into survival mode and stopped enjoying life.

Looking back, there was so much joy to be had. I connected with many of my southern states friends when they called or emailed their sympathy. I was motivated to plan a great spring break vacation, and had several days to spend with my kids when school was cancelled. Our house was warm and cozy all winter, our old cars still started every day, and many mornings we woke to see our neighborhood blanketed in some of the most beautiful snow we had ever seen.  

Each morning when I trekked out to my studio to teach yoga, I found my students were more grateful than ever to have a beautiful space to come to, a respite from the cold, and a community to share a practice with. The weather couldn’t ruin the winter, only our attitudes towards the weather could do that.

Gratitude asks us to fall in love with our life as it is, and will keep us centered in joy and abundance. This Thanksgiving, take time to not only count your blessings, but to look for the joy in the perfect moments that will unfold right before you.

Live your life with gratitude as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!

My YogaKids Journey

Julie Pate

When I started the YogaKids training, my two sons were two and four; I was knee-deep in diapers, temper tantrums, and playgroups. I would often sit, buried in piles of brightly colored plastic toys and wonder if I would survive the toddler years. Days would pass slowly, filled with an endless stream of mundane parenting tasks. I felt as if pieces of me were being carried out of the house with each bag of dirty diapers.

The yoga tradition teaches us to be present in the moment, because it is in the moment that true joy can be found. Fretting about the past and worrying about the future is said to be a true path to suffering. This is a tough realization when your moment is a 2 year-old screaming in the grocery store because he wants to get out of the cart and throw paper towel rolls across the aisle.  

The first few years of my son’s life, I did have a yoga practice. However, what I found was that a few hours on my yoga mat each week was just scratching the surface of what I really needed to cultivate a connection to joy. My previous practice was perfect for the life of a carefree young thirty something with a great job and a loving husband. Introducing two energetic toddlers to the mix, for me,  was a recipe for stress and unhappiness.

Shortly after my youngest son turned two, I was teaching adult yoga at a wellness center when the program director approached me to start a kids program. I didn’t know anything about teaching kids, and I could not imagine teaching children what I considered to be a very adult practice. I wondered how I could get kids to sit quietly and breathe, when my own sons seemed to be racing through their days at 110 miles per hour. The idea intrigued me enough to look into certification programs. I decided to pursue certification with YogaKids because the program is well-known, respected, and comprehensive. I had read Marsha Wenig’s book YogaKids Educating the Whole Child Through Yoga and loved her creative, fun approach to not only yoga, but life.  

When I began on my YogaKids journey, it never occurred to me that I would benefit so personally from the program.  My spiritual, personal, and professional growth was so profound, it became central to the certification process for me — and the actual CYKT (Certified YogaKids Teacher) behind my name was a fringe benefit.  

During the At-Home Practicum, YogaKids introduced me to some wonderful resources. Erich Schiffmann in Yoga the Spirit and practice of Moving into Stillness shares that “The way you think and define yourself is central to your perception, behavior, and experience of the world.” This really resonated with my experience at the time. I was seeing myself as caretaker, and had pushed aside the wife, friend, teacher and student that I was before I had children. My time on the mat helped me to connect to my best self, the part of me that I most wanted to cultivate — and the YogaKids program helped me to see that.

Another one of Marsha’s suggested books is Living Your Yoga by Judith Lasater. In the book, Judith says “Everything changes in this world, but flowers will open each spring just as usual.” This too resonated deeply with me. Even though my life had changed so dramatically, the beautiful things remained and were just waiting for me to notice them. Not only had the beauty remained, but my whole life was opened up to new possibilities of love that only a parent can fully understand. The joy of seeing your child laugh, learn, grow, and love is a joy that is almost beyond comprehension.

There are over 175 original YogaKids poses, and Marsha teaches to remain present while practicing each pose.  The awareness I practiced while in the poses stayed with me and began to affect my whole life. I noticed my body response when I became angry with my children; it was almost as if I could step outside of myself and view negative behaviors with compassion and understanding. I didn’t want to become angry when my sons fought with each other or were disobedient. I wanted to parent with kindness, love, and gentle guidance.  

The awareness that YogaKids required of me in the practice began to seep into the rest of my life.  I was able to pause and notice when I was about to exhibit a behavior I didn’t want to with my family. I was able to change my mood quickly and react from a place of love to the many challenges in the day of a parent. The time I spent as a YogaKids Apprentice (YKA) was time spent cultivating love, creativity, and a childlike wonder for the world.  YogaKids helped me to see that, for me, anything was possible.  As a YKA, I was in my heart-space, and it was a place I really liked to be. I began to yell less, stress less, react to challenges with patience and love, and truly savor moments with my family.  

Parenthood can be a time of great inner turmoil, but the YogaKids program teaches a calm approach to caring for yourself and your children. It teaches you to be with your children in the all-important present moment. YogaKids teaches you to be mindful, and mindful living provides you with energy, calmness and the potential for insights. Here is hoping you have many great parenting moments with your YogaKids today.

Transform your life in the YogaKids Certification Program!

What Makes Us Different

YogaKids in Roller Coaster Pose

We often get the question, “What makes YogaKids different?” After all, there are a lot of kids yoga training programs out there — so it makes sense to ask the question.

One of the tenets of our YogaKids philosophy is We All Win. As such, we honor every individual working to bring the gifts of mindfulness and yoga to children. The more people joining in this important mission, the more children we can collectively support, uplift, and empower.

Part of what makes YogaKids unique is that we are the original kids yoga training program. Marsha Wenig founded YogaKids 30 years ago and has trained many of the YogaKids grads who have gone on to create their own kids yoga programs [e.g. Next Generation Yoga, Global Family Yoga, Karma Kids Yoga, Grounded Kids Yoga, etc.].

YogaKids does not take any of the money a Certified YogaKids Teacher (CYKT) makes from their classes and workshops. We do not have a franchise because our trainings give teachers the tools and support needed to empower the children of our world through mindfulness and yoga — but we respect that every teacher is going to use these tools in a unique way. We honor this natural passing down of wisdom and experience, and we celebrate the collaboration. As such, you will see many newer programs being created with YogaKids at their roots.

YogaKids is educationally-based. Marsha developed the YogaKids program based on the work of educational theorists Maria Montessori and Howard Gardner. At YogaKids, we see the Whole Child. We cultivate and nurture a world where EVERY child of EVERY ability is recognized, honored, and celebrated. In addition, YogaKids has been endorsed by Dr. Deepak Chopra, Dr. Andrew Weil, & Jean Houston, Ph.D. Our videos and products have been recognized three times by the Parents’ Choice Awards.

When you become a YogaKids Teacher, you join a global community working to spread education, health, compassion, understanding, empowerment, and peace around the world. You have the collective support of this community and the ongoing resources of an entire YogaKids behind-the-scenes team to coach you and guide you every step of the way. Given the strength of our YogaKids community, you may find it the most helpful to hear the answer to your question directly from our YogaKids graduates:

* Vickey Foster holds a Masters in Education and teaches at a school for children with emotional and behavioral disorders:

* A collection of words from YogaKids graduates:\

* Written words from YogaKids graduates:

If you have any additional questions or want to chat directly with one of our YogaKids Teachers or YogaKids Trainers, please let us know and we’d be happy to put you in touch.

Wishing you a day filled with much beauty and peace! 

Begin your YogaKids journey today!

Cultivating a Community

Children and Trainees in a YogaKids Class

Teaching yoga has many rewards, but it can be lonely at times if you haven’t yet cultivated a supportive community. Many YogaKids Teachers travel from studio to studio. We’re usually the only adult in the room and, while teaching in schools, we are usually the only yoga teacher on staff. Having a community of support is vital for a teacher’s continued growth and success.


When we make a positive social connection, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus. In a study appropriately titled “Very Happy people,” researches sought out the characteristics of the happiest 10% among us. There was one characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10% from everybody else; the strength of their social relationships. Social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor — more than income, job status, age gender, or race.


  • You can share lesson or class plans.
  • You can share teaching skills and current research in the field of yoga.
  • You can offer support if you are trying something new and out of your comfort zone, such as teaching a new demographic or breaking into a new location or market.
  • You can offer business support on such topics as pricing, insurance requirements and marketing.
  • You can substitute for each other’s classes.
  • You can be referred to new teaching opportunities and help promote one another.


In the YogaKids community, we have a very active Teachers Forum where teachers from all over the world come together and enrich, motivate, and inspire each other. For instance, Clare, a teacher from New Jersey just logged on and asked for classroom management ideas for her active class of preschoolers. Within 24 hours, she had 8 responses from yoga teachers, classroom teachers and even a therapist. Clare could not have researched this topic and gotten better information. What can you do in your area to cultivate a connection similar to the YogaKids support system? You can join LinkedIn, or start a private Facebook forum and ask yoga teachers to join.


Teach a class specifically for teachers and invite other yogis. Share your expertise, training and enthusiasm for yoga. Ask a different teacher to present different topics of interest to the group at each meeting.


Plan inspirational social outings. Recently, a group of YogaKids teachers met up in Chicago and enjoyed a vegetarian meal followed by a Kirtan (chanting hymns or mantras to the accompaniment of instruments). Being around like-minded people offers a fresh perspective on life and livelihood. Other social events our Chicago group has attended include gong healings, arco yoga workshops, and spa nights. Host an event, invite all the Yogis you know, and pass the coordinating job onto another participant for the next event. A small amount of organization and follow through will result in many fun, rewarding events for all.


Find a mentor or professional guide. In the YogaKids program we have a professionally trained mentoring community of yoga teachers, OTs, PTs, and professional educators. This team regularity holds informative webinars, submits articles on a wide variety of topics, posts inspirational educational content to our private forum, and holds monthly team calls. To be able to connect with such a diverse, professional group is extremely valuable to our community. To form your own connections, look to teacher training schools for mentorship opportunities. Many senior teachers are willing and eager to guide a junior teacher on her path to greatness.


A yoga retreat can be a time of renewal, growth, connection. Practice, socialize and interact with a group of like-minded teachers and yoga practitioners often at beautiful, exotic locations. Often connections made on retreats last long after check out and these connections can cultivate and grow even over long distances to become part of your active teaching community.

Sharing passion for your yoga career can be a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. As poet Donna Favors says, Life has taught me that respect, caring and love must be shared, for it’s only through sharing that friendships are born. Here is hoping you make beautiful connections.


A Certification in Happiness

Trainees and Child Playing with a Parachute on the Beach

I started the YogaKids training back in 2007 because I wanted to gain the skills and tools I needed to successfully teach yoga to kids. What I found over the course of the one year program, and the years that followed, was that it not only provided me with the skills I needed to teach — but in many ways helped me to become happier in all aspects of my life. For me it really was a certification in happiness, as it taught me how to love better, nurture myself, and to experience life with a greater sense of awe. Below are many of the key benefits I gained from the program.

A Regular Yoga Practice

During the YogaKids At Home Practicum, YogaKids Apprentices (YKAs) are instructed to cultivate a regular yoga practice. Many of us would love to do this, but find it difficult to commit the time necessary to reap the benefits of a regular practice. Researchers estimate that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for complaints and conditions that are, in some way, stress-related. Yoga, meditation and breathing techniques are three very important tools for relieving stress. Regular yoga practitioners typically report less pain, more vitality and a deep sense of peace. What happens on a yoga mat doesn’t stay on the yoga mat; it spills over into every aspect of one’s life in wonderful ways.

Parenting Skills

Parenthood can be a time of great inner turmoil. The YogaKids program teaches a calm approach to caring for yourself and your children. Patience, mindfulness and a focus on the bigger picture allows us to parent with love, patience, and gentle guidance, and opens us up to the possibility that not everything may go as exactly planned — and sometimes this leads to life’s most joyful experiences.

Improved Relationships

The qualities that our YKAs experience as a result of the training (love, exuberance, and a playful exuberance) affect not only their lives in a profoundly wonderful way; it affects the lives of everyone they touch. Once I began a daily meditation practice combined with asana (yoga postures) practice, my husband found that I was more compassionate, understanding, and appreciative of him — which all affected our relationship in a wonderful way. In her article Master of Love, author Emily Smith states that of all the couples that get married, only 3 in 10 remain in healthy, happy marriages. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward. Not only did my marriage improve, but my friendships became more satisfying and meaningful as well. When you start offering your time, advice, and companionship for no other reason than to simply give of yourself, the rewards are immeasurable. When you give and expect something in return, disappointment usually follows.

Community and Life-Long Friendships

The YogaKids live trainings (Foundations and Transformations) bring together a unique group of like-minded people from all across the world. The connections made at the live events often last much longer than the training. When we make a positive social connection, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus. YogaKids circles are full of lovely like-minded people joining together with a common goal — to spread the love of yoga to the world, one child at a time.

Experience Childlike Joy

One of my favorite YogaKids poses is Pedal Laughing. You lie down and pedal the hands and feet as if you are on a bike and… laugh.  A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally; it lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins which help your mood. In a YogaKids class, we bark in Down Dog, pick bugs off each other in Bug Pickin’ Chimp and wiggle our noses in Bunny Breath. Try doing any of these poses without smiling or laughing. The very nature of many of the YogaKids poses is joy.

Teachers join the YogaKids Certification for many different reasons — from professional enrichment to starting a new career.  Most of our teachers find that the personal rewards are just as impactful — if not more than — the professional opportunities that the program provides. I know it’s been that way for me.

Create your own path to happiness Certified YogaKids Teacher!

The Benefits of Yoga for Children

YogaKids Founder Marsah Wenig with Children

Our children live in a hurry-up world of busy parents, school pressures, incessant lessons, video games, malls, and competitive sports. We usually don’t think of these influences as stressful for our kids, but often they are. The bustling pace of our children’s lives can have a profound effect on their innate joy—and usually not for the better.

I have found that yoga can help counter these pressures. When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that’s noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children.

Children derive enormous benefits from yoga. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with the inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. Yoga brings that marvelous inner light that all children have to the surface.

When yogis developed the asanas many thousands of years ago, they still lived close to the natural world and used animals and plants for inspiration—the sting of a scorpion, the grace of a swan, the grounded stature of a tree. When children imitate the movements and sounds of nature, they have a chance to get inside another being and imagine taking on its qualities. When they assume the pose of the lion (Simhasana) for example, they experience not only the power and behavior of the lion, but also their own sense of power: when to be aggressive, when to retreat. The physical movements introduce kids to yoga’s true meaning: union, expression, and honor for oneself and one’s part in the delicate web of life.

A Child’s Way

Yoga with children offers many possibilities to exchange wisdom, share good times, and lay the foundation for a lifelong practice that will continue to deepen. All that’s needed is a little flexibility on the adult’s part because, as I quickly found out when I first started teaching the practice to preschoolers, yoga for children is quite different than yoga for adults.

When I had my first experience teaching yoga to kids at a local Montessori school, I looked forward to the opportunity with confidence—after all, I’d been teaching yoga to adults for quite a while, had two young children of my own, and had taught creative writing for several years in various Los Angeles schools. But after two classes with a group of 3 to 6-year-olds, I had to seriously reevaluate my approach. I needed to learn to let go (the very practice I had been preaching for years) of my agenda and my expectations of what yoga is and is not.

When I began to honor the children’s innate intelligence and tune in to how they were instructing me to instruct them, we began to co-create our classes. We used the yoga asanas as a springboard for exploration of many other areas—animal adaptations and behavior, music and playing instruments, storytelling, drawing—and our time together became a truly interdisciplinary approach to learning. Together we wove stories with our bodies and minds in a flow that could only happen in child’s play.

The kids began to call me Mrs. Yoga, and I called them Yoga Kids. We continued to work and play together until our creations bloomed into a program called YogaKids. The program combines yogic techniques designed especially for children using Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner, an author and professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, describes eight intelligences innate in all of us—linguistic, logical, visual, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal—and emphasizes that children should be given the opportunity to develop and embody as many of these as possible.

In keeping with this theory, YogaKids integrates storytelling, games, music, language, and other arts into a complete curriculum that engages the “whole child.” We employ ecology, anatomy, nutrition, and life lessons that echo yogic principles of interdependence, oneness, and fun. Most of all, our program engages the entire mind, body, and spirit in a way that honors all the ways children learn.

Taking the Practice Home

If you’re planning to teach yoga to kids, there are a few general things to know that will enhance your experience. The greatest challenge with children is to hold their attention long enough to teach them the benefits of yoga: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being. Luckily, most children love to talk, and they love to move—both of which can happen in yoga. Children will jump at the chance to assume the role of animals, trees, flowers, warriors. Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in the dog pose, hiss in the cobra, and meow in cat stretch. They can also recite the ABCs or 123s as they are holding poses. Sound is a great release for children and adds an auditory dimension to the physical experience of yoga.

Children need to discover the world on their own. Telling them to think harder, do it better, or be a certain way because it’s good for them is not the optimal way. Instead, provide a loving, responsive, creative environment for them to uncover their own truths. As they perform the various animal and nature asanas, engage their minds to deepen their awareness. When they’re snakes (Bhujangasana), invite them to really imagine that they’re just a long spine with no arms and legs. Could you still run or climb a tree? In Tree Pose (Vrksasana), ask them to imagine being a giant oak, with roots growing out of the bottoms of their feet. Could you stay in the same position for 100 years? If you were to be chopped down, would that be OK? Would it hurt?

When they stretch like a dog, balance like a flamingo, breathe like a bunny, or stand strong and tall like a tree, they are making a connection between the macrocosm of their environment and the microcosm of their bodies. The importance of reverence for all life and the principle of interdependence becomes apparent. Children begin to understand that we are all made of the same “stuff.” We’re just in different forms.

Think of yourself as a facilitator rather than a teacher. Guide your children while simultaneously opening your heart and letting them guide you. They’ll no doubt invite you into a boundless world of wonder and exploration. If you choose to join them, the teaching/learning process will be continually reciprocal and provide an opportunity for everyone to create, express themselves, and grow together.

This article was first published by Yoga Journal, August 28 2007.

Using the YogaKids Elements for Children with Depression

sad child

Depression is the most common mental health problem in the United States today. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, depression affects 17 million people of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds. Rates of depression among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past 50 to 70 years. An estimated 2.8 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 11.4% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17. As many as 1 in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as 1 in 8.


In depression, the sympathetic nervous system is over activated, and the parasympathetic nervous system is under activated. As in adults, depression in children can be caused by any combination of factors that relate to physical health, life events, family history, environment, genetic vulnerability and biochemical disturbance. Depression is not a passing mood, nor is it a condition that children will just grow out of. In her book Yoga for Depression, Registered Yoga Teacher Amy Weintraub says that alienation from life is the root of depression. Children today are overscheduled, overstimulated, and moving at an exhausting rate. From school to activities to long hours of homework at night, there is little time for play, reflection, or connection. Many American children have lost their freedom to play and explore on their own. Often children have structured games, lessons, activities, and aren’t allowed to hop on their bikes and explore the world. They often don’t get the chance to use their own creativity to find fun, make new friends, or learn new skills. The increase in technology use has caused children to become isolated from each other, family and the world. Many children have their faces in a screen, and are missing out on making meaningful connections with loved ones and friends. There is a drive in our society for everyone to be the same, and anyone that differs from that ideal suffers. Children are losing the chance to shine their own unique light on the world, and rejoice in their own magnificence.


Symptoms of depression include: Irritability, anger, sadness, hopelessness, social withdrawal, changes in appetite and sleep, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and low energy. In addition, some children exhibit physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don’t respond to treatment. Loss of interest in activates that they used to enjoy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired thinking or concentration and thoughts of death or suicide are also cited as symptoms.

“I tell you; deep inside you is a fountain of bliss, a fountain of joy. Deep inside your center core is truth, light, and love, there is no guilt, there is no fear. Psychologists have never looked deep enough.” – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

How Yoga Helps

Yoga teachers cannot diagnose or treat depression, but can give children and their parents many tools they can use to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Yoga addresses the root cause of depression: the energy drain caused by the overreactions of our mind to the stress of our world and the pressures of our own fears and desires. Yoga strengthens feelings of joy, peace, and connectedness. New Hampshire Hospital study, conducted with 113 psychiatric inpatients, researchers found that those who participated in a yoga program for depression displayed improvement in all five negative emotion factors tested by the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Factors included tension/anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, fatigue/inertia, and confusion/bewilderment.

How YogaKids Helps

YogaKids creator Marsha Wenig created 14 original Elements which allow yoga teachers to take yoga’s very adult tools and make them child friendly. The Elements also allow teachers to accommodate many different learning styles and conditions in one class. The Elements help teachers create fun, educational and safe yoga classes that kids love.

The Eight Limbed Path

In The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an eight limbed path is outlined. Patanjali’s threads of wisdom lead us on a path towards living a peaceful life, which still remains relevant today some 1600 years after they were written. Creating a yoga program for children based on this path will give teachers many tools to help students reduce suffering, and learn to live vibrant, happy lives.

Yamas and Niyamas

The first two limbs of Patanjali’s path are yoga’s guidelines to help us make skillful choices in our daily lives and they include the Yamas:  kindness (ahimsa) , truthfulness (satya) , nonstealing (asteya) , moderation (Brahmacharya) , generosity (aparigraha) and the Niyamas: purity (Saucha), contentment (Santosha), self-discipline (tapas), self-study (Svadhyaya) and surrender (ishvara pranidhana). These guidelines can be woven into a group or personal practice for children teaching them practical ways to integrate all of these qualities into their daily lives. When practicing the yamas and niyamas, children will find these guidelines will help them live happy productive lives honoring themselves, others and the environment. These guidelines will also help children deal with difficult situations and give them a blueprint for conflict resolution and help them avoid behaviors that may cause suffering. Below, are a few examples of how to teach the Yamas and Niyamas to children.

Yamas and Niyamas in Action

The YogaKids program uses reading and literature with their unique Element called Reading Comes Alive with Yoga. Using this Element, teachers will find many wonderful books that can be incorporated into a yoga class to teach children about the Yamas and Niyamas. In the book Fill a Bucket by Carol McCloud and Katherine Martin, children learn how our buckets can be filled with happiness and love when other people treat us well, and in turn, we can make other people happy with our actions. They also teach that our buckets get filled when we practice gratitude, help others, and spend time in nature. This is an example of how to weave both kindness (ahimsa) and contentment (santosa) into a children’s yoga class.

Tapas or self-discipline is a wonderful Niyama to bring into a child’s personal or group practice, often children suffering from depression have lost their fire, they have little desire. This Niyama can be practiced in asana by having students practice a challenging pose like Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I) for a short period of time, and gradually increase the length time.

Another YogaKids Element is Affirmations. Positive affirmations can be added to many poses to weave in this sense of power that many children are lacking. Having the children repeat, “I am strong, I am bold, my own power, I will hold!” will help children affirm their own strength while practicing a powerful pose. Practicing tapas in many different ways will help depressed children improve their energy level and mood.


Asana or physical postures that are performed in a mindful way to help strengthen, and stretch the body to alleviate physical discomfort and pain will be an important tool for children suffering from depression. A well-thought-out asana practice can help student’s develop a healthy relationship with their bodies, improve energy levels and mood, and increase both strength and flexibility. Asana poses that have a warming (Brahmana) effect would be excellent for children suffering from depression because they tend to be sluggish, can’t get off the couch, with little motivation. The YogaKids program has many energizing poses such as Volcano where students can explode all their tension out while lifting their arms up over and over again just like a volcano exploding. Yoga Teacher BKS Iyengar said “we will never get depressed if we keep our armpits open”. Heart opening poses such as S is for Snake or Cobra pose (Bhujangasana) will help students feel uplifted. Twists such as Twist and Blow will help students wring tension from their spine.


“When we restrict the breath, we are diminishing the spirt. When we relearn to breathe fully and deeply, we are enlarging the spirit and reconnecting with the Self. “– Amy Weintraub

Pranayama on a very basic level is simply conscious breathing, and even very young children can expand and become aware of their own breath. Breath work can give children a special tool they can use when they feel afraid, stressed, or nervous. It can be practiced in the classroom, car or on the soccer field.  Our breath and nervous system are linked, so if we slow down and strengthen the breath, we are also strengthening the parasympathetic (peaceful) nervous system. Our breath is very individual to us; it is similar to our thumb print. Children suffering from depression tend to have a shallow breath, so if we can strengthen the breath, suffering may be reduced. YogaKids Bunny Breath is similar to Kapalabhati Pranayama and is a fun child-friendly way to teach children an energizing breath.


This limb translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses”, it is about turning inward. Children today are bombarded with sense stimulation, from sweet candy and drinks, to loud cartoons, to fast carnival rides; they become slaves of the senses. This limb encourages a turning inward which offers students a quiet calm that can have long-lasting positive effects. The YogaKids Element Visual Vignette allows children to use markers, crayons, glitter, and other craft supplies to express their creativity. A popular Visual Vignette activity is “The Mind in a Jar”. Sinking glitter is put in a jar with water and a bit of glycerin, children shake the bottle and sit quietly and watch as the glitter sinks slowly to the bottom. As the glitter sinks, so do the thoughts, and by the time the glitter sinks to the bottom, students feel calm and peaceful.


The sixth limb of yoga is concentration, as Yoga Teacher TKV Desikachar described in his book The Heart of Yoga, Dhr means to hold. The essential idea in the concept of dharana is holding the concentration or focus of attention in one direction.” Even very young children can enjoy the benefits of dharana with a simpleYogaKids technique using a Hoberman Sphere.   Children gaze at the ball and watch as it slowly opens and closes. Even very young YogaKids will be totally focused using this method.


The seventh limb takes dharana one step further, and the concentration is held and a link is established between the object and the subject. In the example above, students keep their focus on the Hoberman Sphere for an extended period of time, and create a deep connection with the sphere.


The eighth limb means “to bring together, to merge” and our identity melts away, and nothing separates us from the object, we become one with it. As BKS Iyengar states in his book Light on Life “In the speed of modern life, there is an unavoidable undertone of stress. This stress on the mind builds up mental disturbances, such as anger and desire, which in turn build up emotional stress. Meditation will not remove stress. Meditation is only possible when one has already achieved a certain ‘stressless’ state. To be stressless, the brain must already be calm and cool. By learning how to relax the brain, one can begin to remove stress”. In Dharana and Dhyana students reduce stress and allow for deeper states of peace to occur. In Patanjali’s final 3 limbs, students have the opportunity to connect to the sweetness of their own essence which is pure light, pure love. The YogaKids Element Quiet Quest incorporates all three of Patanjali’s last limbs with activities such as Swim Ducky Swim, Guided Visualizations and Lemon Toes. All of these activates will help children calm down, and slow down the “monkey mind”.


The world our children live in today is growing evermore stressful. YogaKids has many tools to offer children suffering from either depressive disorders, or random bouts of depression. As Yoga Teachers, we do not diagnose or treat depressive disorders, but we can offer reduction of suffering. Yoga’s many tools also offer relief without a long list of side effects, and children will learn tools that will help them their whole lives. Yoga at a young age can teach the ability to create balance in kid’s lives. YogaKids provides an effective approach along with helpful tools to make it simple for parents and teachers to connect, contribute and lay the ground work for healthy, happy lives.



Adele, Deborah. (2009) The Yamas and Niyamas. Duluth, Minnesota. On-Wood Bound Books

Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995).   The Heart of Yoga. Vermont: Inner Traditions International.

Gray, Peter. (2013) Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. New York, NY. Basic Books

Iyengar, B.K.S. (2005). Light on Life. Rodale Inc.

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1981). Light on Pranayama. Harper Thorsons

Iyengar, B.K.S. (1993). Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons

Weintraub, Amy. (2004). Yoga for Depression. Broadway Books

Wenig, Marsha. (2003) YogaKids: Educating The Whole Child Through Yoga. New York, NY. Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

GHelp children with depression as a Certified YogaKids Teacher!

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!

The Yin and Yang of a Child’s Life

Smiling Girl

“If every eight year old is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

–Dalai Lama

Just think about that for a moment. My first yoga teacher training was for children. It was an extensive year-long program with almost three hundred hours in credit. Time invested in our youth is something worth giving. Yoga provides an outlet for children to practice mindfulness, peace education and look deeper within ones’ self.

Mindfulness practices allow the child to be alert and aware. Benefits of mindfulness include decreased depression and anxiety and increased happiness. Peace education helps the child become an advocate in an environment where there is also hate and misunderstanding. And as a stronger, confident individual at a young age, this develops with maturity and redefines the future. Being thoughtful and mindful of ones’ self and others brings well-being and worldly acceptance into the picture.

Being able to share all of this with children through yoga is such a blessing. In my yoga classes for children, I incorporate these topics in a variety of ways. We touch on the basics of anatomy and meditation. Meditation permits the child to calm their mind and body. It helps them to be okay with turning inward to discover their own answers and acceptance. Yoga coming alive through reading allows the body to move to interpret stories being read aloud. Visual vignettes help children feel the rhythm and flow of music and use different parts of their bodies to create art. Active yoga-inspired games let the children forget who is watching and just be themselves.

There is something to be said of the yin and yang of life in general. I truly believe that yoga and the skills it provides can be the yin to the yang of children’s lifestyles. So many children are overly stimulated with not only all sorts of electronics but so many extracurricular activities including an assortment of different sports as well. Yoga helps children listen with a caring heart. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy sharing my passion of yoga with others because it can bring smiles and a new sense of consciousness to ones’ life. With yoga, children can stretch, relax and breathe in a way they’re not normally accustomed. Yoga is such a great compliment to everyday life.

How to Be the Ultimate YogaKids Teacher

Trainees Strike a Pose

Teaching children is extremely rewarding — as is teaching yoga. Combine the two and the rewards overflow. Children have a natural curiosity about life and movement and are not afraid to express joy. I taught adults yoga for over ten years before teaching kids; I soon realized that the skills I needed to teach adults left me lacking when in front of kids. If you are considering a rewarding career teaching yoga to children, YogaKids can help you to be more…

1. Present: The connections made between teacher and student in a YogaKids class are so special; you want to be present to enjoy them. If you check out and get lost in your own thoughts, you will miss so much. To see the excitement in a child’s face when they experience the creativity and fun in the YogaKids program is truly joyful. When kids realize they actually get to bark in Down Dog, or move from one mat (lilly pad) to the next in frog pose, the joy in the room can almost be touched. We direct our teachers to arrive to class at least 15 minutes early to set up, and also to take a moment to sit quietly and breathe. This will allow for a clear and calm mind, open to experience what is to come.

2. Joyful: The YogaKids program is based on fun. We bring fun to yoga or yoga to fun — I am not sure which came first. We make learning fun which is why our kids ask to come back again and again. or instance, take core work… nothing fun about core work, right? In a YogaKids class, our planks are actually lizards. So while we get a flat belly, we also get to recite rhymes like “Laura Lizard Loves Licorice!” Ir we get to stick our tongues out and imagine what color combinations our skin might be….how about pink with purple dots? If you do nothing else, make it fun!

3. Authentic: Kids know if you are faking it; they have a 6th sense. I came in to teach a class one day after a stressful day and I was clearly distracted. I noticed a lot of strange looks around my circle, and finally one student said, “Miss Julie, is yoga making you sad today?” This sweet question immediately made me realize that I was sad, and it was yoga that could help me feel better. Be truthful, authentic and kind, and your students will thrive.

4. Organized: When teaching kids, a detailed class plan is always wise. It is important to be flexible as I will talk about next, but a good organized plan is important to allow you to enjoy the class instead of being distracted with details during the class. Our program teaches you how to put together a class that energizes and calms, educates and entertains, all in a format that flows naturally.

5. Flexible: Yoga teachers need to be flexible, right? In body and in spirit! As mentioned above, having an organized class plan is essential to success. But you also must be open to making changes — even last minute ones if it serves the group. If you have planned to start your class with a story and your students come in extremely energized, it’s best to get them moving and work off some of that energy. Once the kids are tired, sitting down and listening to a story will be a welcome treat. If you have a group of toddlers close to nap time, keep things moving quickly from one activity to the next to hold their attention. If you have a group of teens at finals time, be prepared that they might need more than 5 minutes of relaxation at the end of class. It is important to ascertain what you students need in the moment — and to have the tools in your tool box to be able to shift gears quickly.

6. Grounded  In an adult class, if you decide to teach a challenging pose, most adults won’t argue with you. “No I don’t like that pose!” They might think that, but they will try the pose and usually be glad they did. Kids will tell you exactly what they think of each book, game, activity, and pose — and try to persuade you to switch directions on a whim. It is very important not to get caught up in each child’s current desires and stick to a plan. You will find, as with adults, kids’ hesitations about a pose or an activity usually melt once they try it.

7. Receptive: “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” This quote by Angela Schwindt really describes one of the biggest benefits of teaching kids: learning how to have fun, how to lose your inhibitions, and how to foster a sense of awe in even simple things. As a YogaKids teacher, you must be receptive to the little teachers before you, and remain receptive to the possibility that you might just get much more than you give from your students.

8. Allowing: A Chinese proverb says, “Teachers open the door, but the student must enter by himself.” Some kids will come to your class and not participate much at first. They might observe a lot and might not seem all that interested. Before you offer to refund the parent, be patient. Many children are slow to participate. I had one student who sat on her mat and wouldn’t participate or even look at me for 3 or 4 classes. During the 5th class, she started to come out of her shell — and now, a year later, she is one of my most engaged and outgoing students. Be patient and allow your students to progress at their own pace.

9. Positive: Yoga teacher Gabriel Halpern once said, “The law of Attraction says that what you give out through action, thought, speech and intention is what you get back.” As I said earlier, kids pick up on your energy. If you are stale and flat, the energy of your class will be too. Let your own light shine, and the kids will connect with that. The creativity of the YogaKids program really allows our teachers to open a jar of happiness in each class. We had a Foundations attendee from India join us recently. This student was introduced to yoga as a child and had a regular practice her entire life. “Yoga was forced upon me by my parents when I was a young girl. I would tell my mom, ‘it is so boring.’ The YogaKids program is so wonderful; I thought I was dreaming when I learned all the fun and exciting ways to teach children during my Foundations training. I am so grateful for this program; I wish I had been introduced to it in my own childhood.” Teach from the joy within your own heart and your rewards will be abundant.

10. Grateful: To be able to tap into a child’s joy is wondrous. When you are a part of that joy, it is beyond description. Meet each class, each pose, each child with gratitude and your life will be truly blessed.