At Challenge to Change, we follow the Five Parts of Practice when we are teaching children our Yoga and Mindfulness program. These Five Parts of Practice are:
+ Seated Practice
+ Heart of the Lesson
+ Guided Mindfulness Practice
+ Close of Practice
Molly, our Founder and the CEO of Challenge to Change, created these Five Parts of Practice when she was receiving her certification to teach children’s yoga. As a former classroom teacher, Molly was aware that children learn best when there is structure and routine in their lessons. While Molly learned many wonderful strategies and ideas for teaching yoga to children in her training, she felt that the missing piece to making her lessons most effective was a consistent structure to her practice. Hence, the Five Parts of Practice were born.
This series of articles is designed to inform our readers what each part looks like and why we include it in our teaching.
We live in a world that celebrates busyness and constant movement. Yet we expect children to sit for prolonged periods of time in school and to be attentive while doing so. Not only that, but we expect them to inherently know how to do these things.
To help children learn how to sit in stillness and be comfortable doing so, we begin each lesson with a Seated Practice. This Seated Practice also provides a smooth transition from whatever is taking place in the classroom and the outside world to the lesson at hand.
Our Seated Practice also always includes Breathwork. Breathwork is the foundation of Mindfulness because it settles the body. Breathing calms us and reminds us that we are fundamentally safe and alive.
When we first introduce the Seated Practice to students, we incorporate mudras. Mudras are, “Yoga For Your Fingers.” Mudras are an ancient yogic practice that dates back thousands of years. In Sanskrit (the ancient language of yoga), mudra translates to seal, mark, or gesture.
We teach children that mudras are a deliberate way to connect their fingers and hands to express themselves and channel their energy in positive ways. A popular mudra is Plug Into the Earth. In this mudra, participants make the “peace sign” with both hands, and then connect their pointer and center fingers to the ground beside them. In this way, they are symbolically plugging themselves into the earth. This mudra is meant to still the body and quiet the mind.
Another favorite mudra is Eagle. To complete the Eagle mudra, participants cross their wrists, hook their thumbs together, and hold their hands at heart center. This mudra channels and expresses love for the world.
There are over 500 mudras in the yogi world. Molly studied these mudras and chose fifty that were kid-friendly and incorporated them into her children’s yoga curriculum. These mudras can be found on display throughout our studio, and are available as a poster and a deck of cards.
We teach children three mudras at a time. Once new mudras have been introduced, each participant picks any mudra he or she knows that best expresses themselves in that moment. We then hold our mudras and BREATHE . . . deep breaths in and out through the nose.
Sitting in Stillness
As children progress through their study of yoga, we begin introducing a Seated Practice that requires simply sitting still and breathing. This is more challenging because the children are being asked to sit for longer periods of time without a specific focus, such as a new mudra, to anchor their minds.
To help students with this practice, we let children know that they can expect to have thoughts that go through their minds. However, we encourage them to think of their thoughts like clouds drifting in the sky or leaves floating on a stream . . . to passively watch their thoughts drift through their minds without responding or reacting.
We begin by asking children to sit in this manner for one minute while taking deep breaths in and out through the nose. We then increase the time to two minutes, and then three. We guide children to determine for themselves what helps them focus best in this practice—a mudra, a specific breath practice, a repeated mantra—and to implement it independently. The children are always amazed that they can sit in stillness for so long, and will often end the practice beaming with pride.
The Seated Practice, whichever form it takes, is so important for starting a children’s yoga lesson. It serves as a gentle transition to begin the lesson, and gives time and space for children to practice their deep yoga breathing. It also teaches students how to sit still for periods of time in a developmentally appropriate way.