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Once Upon a PoseA Guide to Yoga Adventure Stories for Children
By Donna Freeman
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2009 Donna Freeman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYoga 101
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj meaning 'yoke' or 'union.' When you join the body with the breath and the mind, then you are doing yoga. Yoga can be practised by anyone-regardless of physical ability-as long as there is a union among these three elements. This book focuses on Hatha yoga. The meaning of hatha is derived from the syllables ha meaning "sun" and tha meaning "moon." Hatha yoga is the union of the sun and the moon, a healthy joining of two opposites-the mind and body-which leads to strength, vitality, and tranquility.
Hatha yoga is essentially physical yoga, and involves various postures or poses (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and relaxation. There are numerous other types of yoga including Jnana yoga (study and meditation), Bhakti yoga (prayer), Karma yoga (selfless actions), Mantra yoga (sacred sounds), and Raja yoga (Eight Limbs-Yoga Sutras).
The greatest classical text from the yoga school of Indian philosophy is the Yoga Sutras by Patañjali, written in the second centuryBC. These 'threads' on yoga are condensed nuggets of wisdom, stating concisely-and often precisely-essential points or techniques. Originally these teachings were oral and were easily memorized, recited or chanted. Their teachings, however, are profound enough to provide hours of discussion, and a lifetime of contemplation.
The Eight Limbs of Raja yoga (as explained in the Yoga Sutras) may have been written thousands of years ago, but they apply as much today as they did then. They need not be practised in a particular order, as they are interdependent. As you learn the postures, your breath control and concentration improve. These skills will hopefully assist in living basic observances and restraints of conduct. The limbs essentially intertwine to lead us to our ultimate goal of self-realization, or Samadhi.
There are numerous styles of yoga currently practised. However, all of the styles share a common lineage. The founders of three major styles-Ashtanga, Iyengar and Viniyoga-were all students of Sri Krishnamacharya, a famous teacher at the Yoga Institute at the Mysore Palace in India. Two other styles, Integral and Sivananda, were created by disciples of the famous guru Sivananda. The following is a list of styles and a brief explanation of each. No style is better than another; it's simply a matter of personal preference.
Ananda - Ananda yoga is a classic style using asana and pranayama to awaken the body. It is a gentle practice, focusing on the subtle energies within oneself and on affirmations.
Anusara - Anusara was developed by John Friend, and is a heart-opening, spiritually inspiring practice, which also deeply respects alignment and students' abilities and limitations.
Ashtanga - Developed by K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga is a physically demanding, serious workout involving flows, jumps and breathing techniques to develop strength, flexibility and stamina. Power Yoga is derived from Ashtanga.
Bikram - Bikram Choudhury developed this hot style of yoga, which follows 26 asanas that help warm and stretch muscles, tendons and ligaments. Many Hot Yoga classes are inspired by this style.
Integral - Integral yoga puts almost as much emphasis on breathing and meditation as on postures. It was developed by Swami Satchidananda, and is used in Dr. Dean Ornish's Program to Reversing Heart Disease.
Iyengar - B.K.S. Iyengar's popular style is noted for its attention to specific alignment and detail. The use of props (belts, blocks, blankets, etc.) is often used to achieve proper alignment.
Kripalu - With an emphasis on breath, alignment, and coordinating the breath with movement, students of Kripalu yoga focus on their physical and psychological reactions to yoga postures.
Kundalini - Focusing on a controlled release of Kundalini energy, this style involves poses, breath, coordination of breath and movement, as well as meditation.
Sivananda - Developed by Vishnu-devananda, Sivananda yoga follows a set structure that includes pranayama, classic asanas, and relaxation. Vishnu-devananda wrote one of the contemporary yoga classics, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.
Svaroopa - Opening the spine from the tail bone to the top, Rama Berch has developed a significantly different way of doing yoga. This is not an athletic practice, but strives for an inner experience with greater consciousness.
Viniyoga - This is the approach developed by Sri T. Krishnamacharya, where function is stressed over form. Personal practices are taught privately with a focus on asana, flow of breath, movement of the spine, sequencing and adaptations, as necessary.
The original language of yoga is Sanskrit, a classical language of South Asia, and one of the official languages of India. It has influenced many modern-day Asian languages, and is akin to Latin or Greek in European languages. English translations of Sanskrit are somewhat cumbersome, and will be too heavy for most children.
However, teaching the names of poses can be an interesting cultural and linguistic endeavour, and may open students' eyes to the world beyond their community. For that purpose, Sanskrit names are provided for each pose. The two words most commonly used in relation to yoga are namaste and aum.
Namaste is a form of greeting or salutation, which, translated literally, means 'I bow to you.' When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest (Prayer position): the higher the hands, the more reverence and respect shown. The gesture can also be performed wordlessly and carry the same meaning. Yoga students generally repeat namaste at the end of a yoga session to express appreciation for sharing and growing together.
Aum is a combination of the first and last letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. It is said to symbolically encompass all the sounds of the universe. In effect, it is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega of the yogic language. It is often used as a basis for chanting and meditation; properly performing Aum helps center and calm yoga participants, bringing a sense of peace and connection to the universe.
Teachers may encounter a knee-jerk reaction to introducing yoga in their school or classroom from parents who mistakenly fear religious or moral instruction contrary to their own beliefs. Many teachers are shocked to learn of this negative reaction, seeing the many benefits yoga can bring to the classroom. Still, it is my experience, and the news headlines agree, that some groups or individuals may feel uncomfortable with teaching yoga to young, impressionable children. There are aspects of yoga which do delve into the spiritual realm, making yoga a truly holistic life practice. However, the school environment is not the place for this instruction, and you can assure your parents that the focus will be on Hatha or physical yoga.
For your convenience, I have included a one-page letter which you may photocopy and send to parents informing them that yoga will be taught in your classroom (see page 115 Letter to Parents). Hopefully, this will answer their questions and ease any concerns they may have regarding the stories in this book and how yoga will be presented to their children.
If there is a desire or interest to pursue the spiritual side of the practice, numerous resources and avenues are available for personal enrichment, with most being readily available in local libraries, bookstores, and yoga studios. The yoga association of your geographical area is often one of the best resources for finding certified teachers and yoga studios willing to assist in developing a personal yoga practice.
That being said, a basic understanding of the yamas and niyamas-the dos and don'ts of yoga-is necessary, and will help calm fears of the unknown. These tenets correspond to basic values of society. Teaching children these ethics helps them learn respect for themselves and others, as well as an appreciation for the world in which they live.
Yamas - Restraints
Living well in the world
Ahimsa - non-violence: an attitude of not wanting to harm anyone or anything, including yourself, in work, thought or action; another way to phrase it is to live with peace, kindness, and love.
Satya - honesty: being true to and honest with yourself and those you encounter; this includes speech and action, and leads to the development of trust and integrity.
Asteya - not stealing: take and use only that which is freely given, including physical possessions, ideas, and time; do not indulge in jealousy or coveting, knowing that you have enough.
Brahmacarya - conservation: controlling your senses, avoiding over-indulgences, refusing to let your desires diminish or disrespect anyone, including yourself; this means exercising self-control in all areas of life, including sexual, physical, and emotional.
Aparigraha - avoiding greed: do not hoard possessions, learn to distinguish want from need, and live off what you need, be it objects, food, time, or attention; learning to live simply and in agreement with the environment.
Niyamas - Observances
Learning about yourself
Saucha - cleanliness: taking care to have a clean body and environment, including good hygiene, a clean room and home, eating fresh, healthy food, and developing a life based on a foundation of pure actions, words and thoughts.
Santosha - contentment: being happy with who you are, where you are, and with what you have; living simply and frugally, cultivating a calm attitude, and learning to accept that what you have is enough.
Tapas - self-discipline: making the most of yourself, setting goals and not giving up easily; making a concerted effort, developing habits of hard work and perseverance; committing to something and sticking with it.
Svadhyaya - worthwhile study and learning: self-study and personal contemplation; lifelong learning and being open to new ideas and approaches; doing homework and investigating subjects of personal interest.
Ishvara pranidhana - surrender: letting go of preconceived notions of self, others, and situations; contemplating and committing to a higher power or divinity; living with love and recognizing the positive energy in life.
Anything used to do yoga-other than your body, breath, and mind-is a prop. They are used primarily to assist individuals in learning and performing poses.
Props include but are not limited to:
Mats: yoga mats are very common, and are often considered the basic equipment necessary for yoga practice
Blocks: foam or wood blocks in varying sizes assist with alignment
Straps: long narrow straps assist with flexibility and alignment
Bolsters: various sizes and shapes of firm pillows help with deep relaxation and sometimes meditation
Blankets: blankets are used for alignment, comfort, and relaxation
Chairs: chairs support and expand pose Variations
Props, however, are not essential to a safe and fulfilling yoga practice. In the school setting, mats are wonderful, and definitely help students define their personal space, making class management easier. Yoga mats are ideal, of course, but budget constraints may prohibit some schools from adding these to their available resources.
With that in mind, standard Physical Education mats already in use in the school are perfectly acceptable, as long as they are not too slippery. Another option is to work on a clean carpet. Gymnasiums, libraries, drama rooms, music rooms, and classrooms all make ideal locations to practise yoga. Teaching students to respect their body, its limitations and abilities, and to work at a safe level while performing any pose, is more important than the props used to assist in that endeavour.
Yoga is performed with bare feet. Shoes, while necessary for many cardio exercises, impede intimate understanding of the foot. Often we stick our feet into shoes and then forget about them entirely. Stretching and lengthening the toes, arches, heels and ankles are integral to a well-grounded yoga practice. As these areas are strengthened and stretched, the foot is healthier-better prepared to play its vital function in our lives. Balance is also keenly affected by footwear and bare feet allow a true understanding of the body's relationship to the earth.
Socks are also removed for safety as they can be slippery. Some students, however, have foot conditions and so, for health and sanitary reasons, socks should be allowed. Please stress, when this is the case, that safety comes first, and keep in mind that poses may need to be modified to prevent slips and injuries.
Props are fun to use and can definitely aid individuals in learning poses and proper alignment; lack of props, however, should not prevent anyone from trying yoga. Poses can always be modified to suit the environment in which they are practised. In effect, props should never be more important than the yoga.
Chapter TwoHow to Use Yoga
Children need physical activity. It is essential for the healthy development of their bodies to move, stretch, and challenge themselves physically. Children are encouraged to run, jump, play sports, explore the local park or playground, and engage in many different physical activities to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally into well-rounded adults.
Unfortunately, many of today's children and youth do not get even the minimum amount of activity required to fully meet these basic developmental demands. Our lifestyle is increasingly sedentary. Children-especially urban, western children-are much less active than they used to be, spending time in front of the television or computer and being driven in a car or bus. Add to this the North American diet, and we have a growing population of children and youth who are overweight and at risk of disease.
In answer to this societal epidemic, greater emphasis on health and physical activity in the schools has become paramount. The provincial governments of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have all introduced a Daily Physical Activity (DPA) requirement into the curriculum for school-aged children. This initiative aims to increase students' health and fitness levels through a minimum of 20-30 minutes of physical activity daily. The guiding principle behind this initiative recognizes the necessity for lifelong habits of physical activity and healthy lifestyles. These habits are most effectively taught while children are young, receptive, and in the process of developing lifestyle attitudes.
The onus now is on implementation, which makes classroom teachers responsible for developing the habits of healthful living crucial to the proper physical, mental, and emotional development of our children. To this end, programs such as Ever Active Schools (visit everactive.org) and Action Schools BC (visit www.actionschoolsbc.ca) have been developed as supports to implement positive lifestyle habits in the classroom. Many teachers, however, struggle with this mandate, finding it one more thing to add to their already extensive 'to do' list.
Excerpted from Once Upon a Pose by Donna Freeman Copyright © 2009 by Donna Freeman. Excerpted by permission.
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