At a small amusement park along the Jersey shore, waiting with my kids for a turn on the ride, my eyes and ears were drawn to one particular child. High excitement could be felt from the kids in line anticipating glimpses of the ocean, onlookers, and sand sailing by as the ride whirled around. Kids already on the ride were happily screaming and yelling, at times waving to family and friends, their eyes wide with seeing a blur of blue ocean and sky.
Except for one child. One little girl, crying uncontrollably as the ride increased its speed and circular motion. Unprepared for the motion and sensations, her whole being shouted “stop the ride, I want to get off!”
Like the response expressed by the little girl on the ride, trying new things can leave one feeling under prepared, overwhelmed, and over faced. Teens especially, already grappling with physical and emotional changes, may find trying new experiences daunting while trying to navigate their ever-evolving inner and outer worlds. Awkwardness and shyness can prevent them from trying anything different or novel. They don’t want to appear silly, inept, or clumsy in front of their peers!
Trying new asanas can produce anxiety in a student who feels it is beyond their ability. It gets even worse if they feel they are the only one in class who cannot do the pose! This is a great learning opportunity! An idea to address these concerns is to incorporate “Challenge Poses”.
First, provide and maintain a safe and supportive learning environment. Suggest that awareness of the breath is a great aid for the students to gauge their response. Then have the students pick a pose (example: Camel, Crow, or any pose your students find challenging and out of their comfort zone). The students can choose individual poses or all work on the same one as a group.
Example: Dromedary Delight (aka Camel pose)
Instructions: Kneel on the floor with your legs and knees hip-width apart. Curl your toes, push your thighs forward, and bring your hands to your lower back. Lift your chest. Breathe evenly in and out as you extend your rib cage and broaden your chest. Continue to lift your chest with each breath as you bring your hands to your heels. Increase the duration and repetitions of the pose as your spine and chest become more flexible. Rest in Child’s Pose after each back-bend.
You can take the pose “apart” by doing it in stages:
- Beginner (just touching backs of legs)
- Intermediate (feet flexed, touch heels)
- Advanced (feet flat, touch heels)
Have the students decide how far to go and how long to stay in the pose (defining edges). Explore adding props (the hands rest on two blocks next to the heels rather than heel touch). This modification makes the pose more accessible.
Here are a few more challenging YogaKids poses. Think about how they can be broken down into stages.
Wheel: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, with your heels as close to your sitting bones as possible. Raise your arms up over your head and bend your elbows. Place your palms flat on the floor beside your ears with the fingertips pointing toward your shoulders. Pull your elbows toward each other. Press down into your hands and feet, as you straighten your arms and legs. Your chest and thighs lift toward the sky. Imagine a wheel underneath you, supporting the spine in this convex shape.
Headstand: Lace your fingers together and place your forearms on the floor. Set the crown of your head on the floor, placing the back of your head in your interlaced hands. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, slowly walking your feet closer to your elbows. Exhale and lift your feet off the floor, pulling your knees to your chest. With a firm upper body and abdomen, extend your legs skyward. To come out of Headstand pose, draw your knees into your chest and bring your toes to the floor. Walk your feet away from your elbows and gently drop your knees to the floor. Rest in Child’s Pose.
Crow: Begin in Mountain pose. Bend your knees and squat down. Place your arms to the inside of your bent legs and press your hands with outstretched fingers into the floor. Lean slightly forward. Bend your elbows to make a shelf for your knees. Lean forward and balance with your feet off the floor. With patience and practice, you can increase the time you can stay balanced.
Whenever working on challenging poses, be sure to give time for exploration. Allow for feedback of the experience. Ask questions; what was felt prior to trying this pose? Was it a positive attitude; I will do this! Or a negative attitude; this is impossible! No way! Discuss feelings around the process. Did they feel self-criticism? Were there feelings of accomplishment, happiness, frustration, or discouragement? New experiences can test our edges, whirling us way out of our comfort zone. But it also opens us up to new possibilities and a great opportunity for growth.