I believe it is a best teaching practice to always tell children the purpose of any given activity or task. That is why, before introducing mudras at the beginning of a yoga lesson, I tell my students that when we are practicing mudras, we are learning a safe way to express our thoughts and feelings to the world. I call our thoughts and our feelings our “truths”.
After reading Michele Borba’s book, Unselfie, I learned that children today are struggling to process and express their emotions because they lack the specific language to name what it is they are feeling. In our digitally-connected world, most communication occurs through emails, texts, and social media platforms. Consequently, children spend less time exploring emotions through face-to-face interactions than any other time in history.
This is why when I introduce a mudra that connects to a specific emotion, I name the emotion and explain what it is. In my explanation, I describe a few ways it might be physically felt in the body, and I talk about instances in life we might feel that particular emotion.
I was in a first grade classroom teaching the students about the Sun mudra.
“The Sun mudra,” I explained as we connected our ring fingers to our thumbs and rested our hands, palms up, on our knees, “is for times when we feel anxious. Anxiety is that feeling that we get when we feel like things are out of our control. Maybe too many loud things are happening around us that we don’t understand, or something is happening to us that we don’t like but we can’t stop. Or we’re being forced to do something that is scary but we know that we have to do it, like standing up and talking in front of our whole class or performing on a stage. All of those things can cause us to feel anxious.”
The first graders gazed at me in earnest, eyes wide and unblinking, as I continued my explanation.
“When we feel anxious, it can make us feel sick in our tummies….like we have lots of butterflies flapping their wings in there. Sometimes,” I dropped my voice to a whisper, “it can even make us feel like we want to throw up. Or,” I raised my voice to a normal decibal and placed my hand on my chest, “it can make our chests feel tight….and it feels hard to breathe. Have any of you felt something like that before?”
Many of the first graders nodded. A few gestured at me in a hand wave with their thumbs and pinky fingers extended—the signal for “Me too!” I had shown them earlier in the year, letting me know that they were connecting with what I was saying.
I gave them the “Me too!” signal back, nodding solemnly as I did so. “I get anxiety a lot,” I told them. “All people feel it at times. And some of us feel it more than others. But you know what?”
I leaned forward, ready to include them in my secret wisdom.
“Deep breaths can help you get rid of those yucky feelings anxiety can bring.”
The first graders’ eyes widened in surprise.
“So if you’re ever feeling anxious, you can hold the Sun mudra and take some deep yoga breaths to make you feel better. Do you want to try some with me?”
The class all nodded. Together, we held our sun mudras and took deep breaths in and out through our noses, feeling the calm enter our minds and bodies as we did so.
I circled the room, checking to make sure each student had what they needed, when one little girl caught my eye. She was lying on her back, eyes scrunched closed beneath her eye pillow, with her fingers holding the sun mudra.
I pointed this out to her teacher before I brought the students up to sitting for our close of practice. As I packed up my supplies and prepared to move on to my next classroom, I saw the teacher pull this young girl aside to speak with her quietly one-on-one.
I smiled, happy to know I might have helped give this child a tool she could use to express her emotions so she could reach out for support when life had her feeling unsettled. We all need ways to safely express our emotions, and a mudra is always a tool we have at our disposal to do so.