June 2010: Core Values
After my run the other day, I was on the living room floor doing situps, crunches, and anything else I could think of to pursue the ever-elusive-after-three-kids flat belly. My daughter came in and said, “Why are you doing that, mom?” I gave her a spiel about good body alignment and preventing lower back strain, and at the very end mentioned the flat belly. (I mean, it’s our overall health and well-being that’s important, not how we look in a baby tee, right?)
Kids don’t need to worry about getting six-pack abs, but when they start to grow rapidly, they often have a bit of an ungainly period where it seems like their limbs have taken on lives of their own. (My brother, now 6′ 7,” grew six inches in one summer and had absolutely no control over his body; he knocked things off the counter with alarming regularity.) Working on core strength at this young age can help tremendously with developing motor coordination, preventing injury, and establishing good overall body alignment.
While a huge number of yoga poses help develop abdominal strength, the ones below really focus in on the area. Give them a try a couple of times a week with your child, one round of each pose. If you’re on your own, try each pose three times, three to four times a week–after all, swimsuit season is right around the corner.
(Important safety tips: in Rock n’ Roll, make sure you and your child are on a soft mat or rug for rolling back and forth. In Hovering Butterfly, keep a hand on your child’s back in case she falls backward, or put a couple of pillows behind her.)
CROUCHING LIZARD: Begin in Lizard Pose (also known as plank pose, or the top of a pushup). Make your belly super strong, and see if you can come down to rest on your forearms and palms, while keeping your belly and legs off the floor. Count to 5, quickly! Slowly come down to rest on your stomach, take a rest, and try it again.
ROCK N’ ROLL: Sit with your knees hugged in to your chest, your body in a tight little ball. Make your belly strong, and see if you can rock n’ roll all the way backward and then back up, so you return to sitting in one continuous motion. Try to keep your body in that tight little ball as much as you can, and do four complete down-and-ups.
HOVERING BUTTERFLY: Begin in Butterfly Pose (sitting with bottoms of feet together, feet pulled in as close to the body as is comfortable). Sit up tall and pull your belly in. Hold on to your toes, lean back just slightly, and see if you can lift your feet off the floor and balance. Decide what color butterfly you are, and see how long you can hover!
Source (for Rock n’ Roll pose): YogaKids: Educating the Whole Child Through Yoga, by Marsha Wenig
October 2009: Underage and Overscheduled
The scene: My family yoga class, 4:30 pm on a Thursday.
A six-year-old girl and her mom rush in a few minutes late, the daughter eating pizza while shedding her shoes. Mom explained that dinner has to be now (between school and yoga), because after this they go straight to gymnastics. As we’re winding down, approaching savasana, mom repeatedly checks the time. The child picks up on this and fidgets through the final resting pose. They’ve come to yoga, all right, but I’m not sure they’ve done any YOGA.
I’d rather see a child make yoga an occasional, enjoyable practice at home than try to cram a class into an already overscheduled week. Acknowledging reality, though, means that there are kid activities galore, and most of us feel at least some pressure to join. The most well-intentioned parents (and I’m including myself here) end up trying to pack it all in, for lots of reasons: trying to enrich the heck out of our kids, or because we’re just plain going stir crazy (the kids and I were all fired up to stay in our pajamas the first day of summer vacation, no school to rush off to, just a lazy day at home…then by 3 pm I was reaching for the phone and calling summer camps.) And some of us think we can do it all and it will be great–magical thinking, my friend Renell and I call it. As in, sure, we can pick the kids up from school/ballet/soccer, get in some dinner–you bring the hummus and I’ll bring whole grain bagels–and still make it to the concert in the park, no problem! So the question is how to maintain some sanity within the reality of our appointment-driven lives.
Mindfulness may be a tired mantra, but just about every family can stand to hear it again and again. In our house, not over-scheduling and being mindful of the moment we’re in is one of our most important principles, and yet the most violated. But I keep plugging away at it regardless with my busy, energetic family. The yoga here is not about teaching your child to execute a perfect tree pose, or signing up for a family yoga class because it’s a cool activity to do. It’s the awareness, the mindfulness that we attempt to maintain under the most hectic of circumstances. I’m hoping what my daughter takes from her yoga with me is not so much downward dog pose as how to take deep breaths and calm herself when we’re stuck in traffic and extremely late for her kindergarten graduation.
Here are a few ways to help stay mindful (and sane) during a day packed with activities:
–Eating well is often the first thing to go on busy days. Plan ahead and throw some healthy, portable snacks in your bag–apples, grapes, whole grain crackers, and plenty of water–so you’re not tempted to stop for junk food.
–Even if you only have a few minutes to eat, take a moment to be grateful about the food you have, maybe speculating with your child about the journey it took to get to your plate.
–If your day of school/activities/sports keeps you all inside way more than you’d like on a gorgeous day, try enjoying what little time you have outside by actively observing the nature around you: Talk about what you notice–do you hear that bird? What does the air feel like on your skin right now? What do you see in the sky?
–When you’re outside, try imitating those natural elements: take tree pose, for example, and when you have your balance, see if you can be that tree: gently sway in the wind as you feel the breeze, and grow your strong branches up toward the sun!