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  • Free Your Pelvis and the Spine will Follow: Four Explorations to Relieve Back Pain

    Free Your Pelvis and the Spine will Follow: Four Explorations to Relieve Back Pain

    Our popular contributor Kara-Leah writes about all kinds of things, from home practice and parenting to the etiquettes of yoga class and the ethics of yoga. In this article she details ways to explore your body through your yoga practice that help to free the pelvis, and therefore the spine.

    by Kara-Leah Grant 

     

    Years of yoga practice and yoga teaching has taught me that our ability to freely move our pelvis is a key aspect to unlocking our spines, and releasing any chronic low back issues or holding patterns.

    I've also learned that it's not always the muscles, ligaments and tendons that are locking our pelvis in place. It can be our minds.

    Yes, the psyche can affect the way that our pelvis moves. Fortunately, over time, yoga practice can unlock both the physical body and the psyche, significantly improving the movement of our pelvis. In doing so, it can free our spine, and reduce lower back and hip issues.

    There are a few tricks and tips I've learned along the way that can make this process easier, faster, and less frustrating. I encourage you to take these tips and tricks and play with them. Try them out on your body, test them out in your practice, and see what arises for you, and what works best for you.

    My understanding of the body is experiential, and I've learned mostly by observation and practice. Along the way, I had some inspirational teachers share aspects of practice that have made an enormous difference to my practice.

    When I started yoga, I'd been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, I'd had a spinal fusion about 9 years previous, I was living with chronic sciatic pain and a spasming back, and my right foot was half numb, meaning I walked with a limp.

    I'm now pain free, limp free, and best of all, I understand my body from the inside out. That means if my back does ever start to talk to me through pain, I know what it's saying, and what I need to do.

    The journey to wholeness and healing is personal, and it starts when we take 100% responsibility for our experience. That means while we can ask other people for input and advice, we can't expect them to solve our problems, or heal us. We have to do the hard work ourselves.

    If you're having back issues, and you're ready to take 100% responsibility for your experience, and you're willing to do the hard yards on getting to know your body form the inside out, it's likely you'll be able to make positive changes.

    Here's some places to start. These are the 'Ah-a!' moments I've had along the way on my journey to a healthy spine. Read, understand, and then play.

    1. Tuning into the ascending and descending breaths

    A few years after I'd been practicing yoga, I caught sight of myself in Mountain Pose (a simple standing pose). To my horror, I looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. All my weight was forward over my heels. I was fleeing the back of my body and pushing forward into the future. A-ha!

    Exploration: Stand sideways in front of a mirror without looking at it and find your normal stance. Now look sideways. Where does your weight sit? Forward over the balls of your feet? Or back over the heels?

    Gently rock forward and back with your eyes closed and see if you can come to a middle point. Does it feel different? Look in the mirror again. Now where are you standing?

    If you're not already weighted even between the front and backs of your feet, find that middle ground and breath into it. Experience it. What does it feel like? Notice everything there is to notice - physical sensations, thought arising in the mind, feelings moving through and any energetic sensations.

    As you breathe, imagine you're drawing the breath up the front of the body on the inhale. Exhale down the back of the body through the sitting bones, the middle of the leg bones, the heels and into the ground.

    Keep doing this breath over and over, what does it feel like? Does the breath easily rise up the front of the body? What does it feel like exhaling down into the ground through the heels?

    Working with this made me realise that I wasn't trusting my back to support me - and that I didn't feel supported by life. It made me realise how intensely I was gripping the front of my body so I didn't fall forward with my front-heavy stance. It made me realise how ungrounded I felt without my heels properly weighted into the ground.

    What does this exploration make you realise?

    2. Gripping, clenching and holding - it's all in your head

    Over years of practice, I've deduced that I've been gripping, clenching and holding myself against life. This gripping, clenching and holding has extended to the stomach, hips, and lower back. My back would often get worse in times of stress, and this was why. As I got stressed, I would resist life. That resistance would led to gripping, clenching and holding in the body. That holding would cause pain.

    Now, if my hips or back are ever painful, I'm able to bring my awareness to that area, and release any gripping, clenching or holding. Invariably the pain melts away. This is subtle work that has taken me years of practice to tune into - it's never too early to start.

    Exploration: Lie on your back in savasana (corpse pose). Place your hands on the front of your hips. Breath into your hands. Imagine your hips softening, melting, releasing and letting go. With every exhale, soften another millimetre or two.

    Shift your hands to your lower belly and do the same. The upper belly.

    Release your hands at your side, lying them palm-face up beside you. Bring your awareness to your lower back. Notice if it's curved away from the ground, or lying flat on the ground. If it's curved away from the ground, bend your knees until it lies flat. It's likely that your hip flexors are gripping at the front and causing the pelvis to tilt forward, creating the curve in the lower back.

    Now that your spine is flat against the ground, and you've brought your full awareness to the lower back, breath into the area. If you need to, use your imagination. Notice the contact point where your spine mets the floor. Imagine your spine is melting into the floor with every exhale. Stay here for ten minutes or more, melting down into the ground, through the ground, becoming part of the ground.

    Over time, bringing greater and greater awareness to my hips, back and belly, I could sense when I was starting to grip against life. I could practice breathing and softening that area immediately. The key is to build up a level of body awareness so you can catch yourself in the grip, and breath your way into the soft.

    3. Channeling the flow

    The next break through came courtesy of Shiva Rea. She uses a technique in her Vinyasa Flow Yoga called Pulsation Vinyasa - micro-movements of the pelvis in alignment with the breath. As I worked with this method, I noticed that I couldn't breathe through my hip joints - they were damned up, stuck and stagnant.

    If I did a wide-legged squat without pulsation vinyasa, I noticed that my habitual gripping, clenching and holding patterns meant I was gripping, holding and clenching my hips and pelvis in order to hold myself up... but this was preventing me from releasing into the pose.

    When I used Shiva's technique of pulsation vinyasa within wide-legged squat, the micro-movement with the breath meant I wasn't able to do my usual grip, clench and hold. I could feel the muscles and prana supporting me, while the hips and pelvis softened and released into the posture.

    This showed me that I was often gripping, clenching and holding my body within postures in such a way as to counter-act the very opening that was meant to be happening. Knowing I had this tendency, I started to use the micro-movements in the pelvis whenever I suspected I was working against myself. It's worked wonders.

    Exploration: Stand with your legs wide, feet at 45 degrees, knee caps lined up over second toe. As you inhale, press firmly down against the ground through your feet, particular the heels. Feel the breath rise up the central channel of the spine. As you exhale, release down into a squat. Keep the hips above the knees - in fact, keep the hips relatively high.

    From this moderate wide-legged squat position, press firmly down through the legs, extend your tailbone down towards the ground and draw the breath up through the front of the pelvis. As you take this inhale, the pelvis is tucking under slightly - I prefer to say extend the tailbone down towards the ground rather than tuck it under as it's more accurate.

    As you exhale, release the pelvis forward slightly and sink a millimetre or two deeper into the squat, still pressing firmly through the feet.

    Repeat a few times, focusing on where the breath goes in the body. As you inhale, can you draw the breath up from the feet, through the leg bones, through the hip joints, into the pelvis and up the spine?

    Watch: Video of this wide-legged yoga squat exploration.

    My major 'A-ha!' moment came when I discovered I could breath through the hip joints - suddenly I could feel space and freedom that had never before existed in that part of my body. Freeing the hip joints has had a major impact on my lower back.

    4. Combo meal deal

    Once you begin to tune into the ways in which you grip, clench and hold, and tune into the ways in which you can feel the flow, you can start to put it all together.

    Exploration: Bring yourself into Legs-up-the-wall. Your legs go straight up a wall, your spine is flat against the ground. If your hamstring are tight, you may need to push your hips away from the wall, resting your legs an angle against it. The angle of the legs against the wall doesn't matter. What matters is finding ease with straight legs and a relaxed spine.

    Bring body awareness into your pelvis, and breath into the area. Imagine there's a large balloon in your pelvis and as you inhale you're blowing up the balloon. Where does the inhale go?

    Tune into your spine, and where it touches the ground. On every exhale, melt it down into the ground, and through the ground.

    Tune into your legs. Inhale and expand the balloon inside your pelvis, exhale from the centre of your pelvis, through the hips joints, down the middle of the leg bones and out the heels towards the sky. Do this repeatedly. Notice any blockages, dark places, tension or denseness. Stay present and aware, be curious about your experience.

    Explore the micro-movements of the pelvis in tandom with the breath. What happens when you inhale and press the top & back of your pelvis firmly against the ground? What happens when you exhale and release your pelvis into a forward tilt, feeling your tailbone against the ground? Do this repeatedly with the breath.

    Bring the legs out wide, and explore here. How does this change things? Rotate your legs externally. What does that feel like? Rotate your legs internally. Find the middle point. Be curious. Listen to your body's intuition in the exploration.

    Use your hands underneath your thighs to bring your knees into your chest. Press your feet firmly against the wall, and your pelvis firmly against the ground. Breath into your hips joints and lower spine. What does that feel like?

    There's something about breathing into the pelvis, through the joints, and out the legs which helps release the tension accumulating in my spine. How does it feel in your spine?

    Over time, with awareness of my body and breath, these techniques have helped me release tension in the lower back, hips and pelvis.

    May they trigger a similar release for you, and further explorations and 'a-ha!' moments.

    Remember, it's your body, your journey. Go within with full presence, and let your own body's infinite wisdom guide you.

    About Kara-Leah

    Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29. 

    Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga.  She?s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel. 

    She?s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga ? Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice in 2013. Her second book, The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yogahas just been releasedShe?s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal 

     

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  • How to Transcend Loneliness

    How to Transcend Loneliness

    Welcome to a new article by our regular contributor, Dr. Bina Nangia. Dr. Nangia is a long-time spiritual seeker who works with children.

     

    When was the last time you were ?alone??

    Do you always feel the need to be surrounded by people and events?

    What does ?to be alone? mean?

    We as people, always relate to everything and everyone to complete ourselves. There is a tremendous feeling of incompleteness, a void which constantly needs to be full, complete. It is like a depression in the middle of the sea, which is always trying to fill itself from the surrounding waters.

    Our idea of completeness is not to feel lonely, so we are constantly seeking things, beings and experiences to make us feel whole. There is fear to be on our own to face ourselves.

    The negative emotions which we carry within our minds scare us when looked at them in the face. So in order to avoid this direct interaction with ourselves we would fill our loneliness and avoid being alone.

    Yet it is a great opportunity to be alone and face our minds, because as soon as we can do this the mind expands, we can learn to go beyond mind and challenge our beliefs, conditionings.

    When we can overcome the fears of facing ourselves, the need to complete the incompleteness disappears and in its place there is expansion. This limitlessness is what we have been always looking for. The mind is the barrier and it can be transcended. However some things sound easier said than done. This requires immense practise, dispassion and letting go.

    Once this ?zone? of facing ourselves is reached, it becomes our second nature to enjoy being alone.

    Loneliness is the restricted mind, while aloneness is the transcended mind.

    Conversations with the mind help it to face itself without judgement or criticism. Watching its various perceptions we learn how to distance ourselves from identification with good or bad. The alone time is a useful practise. 

    Loneliness is often due to our attachments and involvements with other beings and situations. When these attachments fail to get us the expected results, the mind is confused, restless and feels incomplete. We tend look around for other beings, objects and events to fill this void.

    Being an actor, playing various roles with a sense of detachment and witnessing the play of our minds is to be alone.

    When the fear of facing ourselves disappears, we look forward to our alone time.

    Just like our body muscles need to be constantly worked on, to get its optimum working capacity, so also our mind needs to be worked on to make it our friend.

    In the hustle and bustle of everyday life and its dramas, alone time must be kept aside to reconnect, rediscover our true full nature.

    The more we practise being alone, loneliness becomes a thing of the past and life is more meaningful, peaceful and happy.

    So give yourself permission to be alone and transcend loneliness.

     About Dr. Bina Nangia

     

    Dr. Nangia currently works with special kids. This is her calling and she has been working in this field for 20 years.

    A grandmother of two boys, Dr. Nangia has been practising yoga since her younger days. Her keen interest in spirituality over many years has got her in touch with many masters. They have contributed to her growth tremendously. She shares her thoughts in magazines and newspaper articles.

    Dr. Nangia is the author of Dyslexia Decoded, a handbook for special educators, which was recently published by Penguin and Hayhouse.

    She shares her experiences about special education on various social networking sites, and is a trained therapist and family networker.

    Dr. Nangia lives in Delhi, India.

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  • Review of ?Yoga ? The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow?

    Review of ?Yoga ? The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow?

    Our popular contributor Kara-Leah shares one of her favourite and most useful home yoga practice books.

    by Kara-Leah Grant

    Author of Forty Days of Yoga ? Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice.

    Searching for the perfect book to accompany your home yoga practice? Yoga ? The Poetry of the Body by Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow may just be it. 

    There is an authenticity that permeates the words of Rodney Yee?s book. He may have chosen to use a writer in the creation of the book, but instead of just using her words to explain his concepts, Rodney includes conversations between himself and his writer, Nina Zolotow. Together, student and teacher, professional writer and verbal poet, they explore the nature of yoga.

    It?s a superb literary device that gives the exploration of yoga on and off the mat a grounding in the day-to-day life experiences of an intermediate practitioner and an experienced teacher.

    Nina shares many experiences that readers of the book will relate too ? experiences they too are likely to be having as they make the transition from class attendee to home practitioner. 

    Nina also provides a sharp foil to Rodney ? calling him out when his passion and emotion arises due to the nature of the discussion. Until Nina says something, it?s not always obvious from his words that he?s getting angry. She catches the yoga teacher being human, and it dissolves the sense of separation that can exist sometimes between teacher and student.

    It?s gratifying to hear Rodney get angry with scientists that won?t acknowledge the power of yoga because it hasn?t yet been proven according to their methodology. 

    It reveals his passion, and his humanity, plus reassures that he?s not wearing a cloak of spirituality. This is a guy who?s passionate about yoga and life; he?s not trying to be anyone in particular.

     It?s also gratifying to see Nina ask him why he cares what they think. 

    Rodney squirms under her spotlight, eventually stating ?What bothers me, bothers me?. Nina wants to know why, Rodney says it doesn?t matter, what matters is noticing how the resistance feels.

    It?s a brilliant use of their conversation to show us what yoga is truly all about ? not telling us, this is what yoga is - but showing us. It?s also the reason the book stands up to repeated readings. 

    Poetry of the Body is the kind of yoga book you can pick up on a lazy summer afternoon and open at random to read. You may have read the words before, but guaranteed they?ll have a different resonance this time around. Likely too that the page you open to will have a nugget of wisdom just for you.

    But this book is about more than words. The dialogue between Nina and Rodney wraps around eight short, accessible home yoga practices that any beginning yoga student could explore on their own.  

    The photos are clear, the explanations poetic, and the practices enticing. Who wouldn?t want to do a relaxation practice that allows forward bends while resting on a chair, or uses child?s pose while hugging a bolster?

    More experienced practitioners will love the way Rodney always includes ?One Thing?, a seed of an idea designed to take the pose a little further. 

    Like this suggestion for Hero Pose:

    ?Search for a rising up from the deep surrender and gravity of your legs. Can you feel a strong buoyancy from their density??

    The practices are organized according to feelings, which is a divine way to begin to practice at home. We?ve all had those days when we?re feeling resistance to practice ? perfect, dive right into the feeling of that resistance with a Resistance Practice centred around twists and long holds. Or if you?re just too exhausted to practice, try the Relaxation Practice.

    Rodney wants you to get comfortable with building your own practice though ? his eight practices are just starters to get you going. The last third of the book contains a library of postures, organized organically in the flow of a practice to help you understand how to sequence your own personalized practice.

    Each pose has three of four photos, including modification and use of props, and often a photo showing direction of movement.  Rodney has added in his ?One Thing? here too, plus added an appropriate quote to give you an idea of the poetry of the pose. Like this for Half-Moon Pose:

    One thing. You can be so directly on your bones that you can fly. If nothing else, dream it for a moment.

    We use most of our energy holding up the illusion of control ? it?s fictitious ? it?s tiring.

    The quotes aren?t attributed, so we?ll have to assume they come from Rodney.

    With no obvious lineage ever acknowledged ? although Rodney does talk about what Krishnamacharya says ? this is a great book for any one who wants to start a home practice, regardless of what style.  

    It?s clear, easy to understand, has great alignment tips, is poetic and emotive, plus covers off on how a student?s yoga practice will evolve in time, both on and off the mat.

    About Kara-Leah

     

    Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.

    Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga.  She?s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.

    She?s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and has just published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga ? Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice. She?s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal

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  • A Glimpse of Kundalini Experiences

    A Glimpse of Kundalini Experiences

    Journal Entry - 23 November, 2014

    It has been a disturbing night, so a Sunday nap on the sofa was certainly warranted.  I doze off, despite guests visiting my ailing father, and the excitement around the house as my wife and son preparing for a mother and son dance. Delicious sleep was moments away.

    Involuntarily, the internal buzzing of energy in the brain and body begins soon after.  I was quite familiar with it, the vibration of esoteric, sublime energy and the immense pleasure associated with it.  I welcome it and indulge.

    As the buzzing intensified, it starts to overwhelm one's consciousness.  I know how far I can let it go, because at the extreme it leads to physical paralysis.  This loss of control I am not game for.  But to break it, one simply needs to move and the energy stops.  As one dozes off once again, I know it will restart.  How close can I come to jumping to the other side?

    The ecstasy is great.  But this encounter weaves it's way to more unusual and unique experiences.

    In my mind's eye I see a leaf of a tree and I am so close to it, there is just the leaf and it is delightful beyond description.  I move further from the leaf and take delight in the tree that hosts it.  There is great laughter within as pure joy erupts.  As the energy and joy continue, I am lost in it. I realize too late that I am too deep, I can't move.  I have gone too far.  I try to move, it is impossible.  The paralysis has taken place.  The only way out is to open my eyes.  With great struggle, I do.  Every bit of willpower is needed.  The energy breaks.  Shortly, as I doze off again. The energy is back.

    The intensity of the energy is very great this time.  And it goes on and on.  I keep a finger moving, trying to outsmart the paralysis.  The vibration is in my brain. This time it brings with it different sensations than ever before.  It carries great heat with it.  I am just the witness I tell myself.  I take on a distant view.  

    The heat and vibration intensify further.  My whole brain is on fire.  A channel of heat rushes down to the center of the chest.  There the same heat and vibration, take on a circular shape and continue in the middle of my chest. I think I wake myself up, moving my arm ever so slowly from my heart.

    But I wake myself up only within a vivid dream.  In my dream now I have woken up.  There the mix of dream and energy continue.  The pleasure and energy continue.  Suddenly though, the experience turns dark, as I encounter a foreboding void, I decide that is enough.  I force myself to wake up for good.  

    Kundalini, what to make of all this?  It is what it is.  It does what it does.

    Normal is good, don't seek anything special.  The ordinary is good.  The only thing that makes one not realize the magic of the ordinary, that makes one bored of one's ordinary life, is the desire for the other. The desire for something extra-ordinary.  Normal is great.  Be with what is.  Weather you are experiencing Kundalini or just the normal waking state, be present to it, observe. 

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  • How to Engage with the Mystery of Life

    How to Engage with the Mystery of Life

    Welcome to a new article by our regular contributor, Dr. Bina Nangia. Dr. Nangia is a long-time spiritual seeker who works with children.

     

      

    When I was a kid, I loved reading mystery stories. It was the unknown which excited me completely. The characters in the story became me and I went along with their search, excitement, frustration and adventure.

    Every move, every turn in the story took me closer to the mystery.

    I read till I completed the book as it became difficult to put it down. Such was the power of the unknown, and its excitement to reach it.

    The search and excitement continued for the truths of life. The unknown mystery called life. The questions and the mystery surrounding the questions themselves.

    I learnt to love the questions and the way they presented themselves shrouded in deep mystery.

    It was a seeking for the unknown, which seemed mysterious, yet simple.

    Can the mystery remain simple?

    If we allow it to be so, the answers to the mystery are in the mystery itself.

    Patience is the key to the mystery.

    Like books written in foreign languages, unknown, mysterious life unfolds in every moment.

    Being receptive, aware to this unfolding allows the mystery to reveal itself.

    Life presents it various shades, like a painting with many colours, mixed and matched, yet presenting a beautiful expression.

    The secret is to take every shade as mysterious as it seems to be a part of the big picture.

    The depth to which this acceptance takes place with total receptivity and awareness, will allow the mystery to unfold.

    It is in the allowing that life happens as it is meant to be.

    With our limited understanding and vision we resist the mystery to unfold and keep wondering at what life presents.

    If we could be a part of the unfolding, then we get to realise that we are life and the mystery itself.

    There is no separation which can then translate into every relationship, event, situation, objects and beings.

    Life is then a wonder, an excitement an adventure and we become life.

    So is it so simple to just be with the mystery, in the mystery to understand it?

    The merger brings the unknown into understanding and then the relief of the mystery unfolding.

    The flow of life takes on another meaning and there is peace, harmony within and without.

    So understand the mystery and be it. 

     About Dr. Bina Nangia

     

    Dr. Nangia currently works with special kids. This is her calling and she has been working in this field for 20 years.

    A grandmother of two boys, Dr. Nangia has been practising yoga since her younger days. Her keen interest in spirituality over many years has got her in touch with many masters. They have contributed to her growth tremendously. She shares her thoughts in magazines and newspaper articles.

    Dr. Nangia is the author of Dyslexia Decoded, a handbook for special educators, which was recently published by Penguin and Hayhouse.

    She shares her experiences about special education on various social networking sites, and is a trained therapist and family networker.

    Dr. Nangia lives in Delhi, India. 

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  • Winter Solstice Giveaway

    Winter Solstice Giveaway
    Today is Winter Solstice so lets celebrate that darkness is removed by an increasing light. Solstice became a special time for me back in 1995 when I wandered into my first yoga class at the YMCA. I loved it and signed up for a yoga retreat called Summer Solstice in New Mexico the same year.  […]
  • Great Yoga Gift Ideas for the Holidays

    Great Yoga Gift Ideas for the Holidays
    If you're stuck for a gift this holiday season, share your Yoga Love with these gift recommendations for kids and adults including books, iPad apps, and more!
  • Namaste and Kids ? Book Giveaway

    Namaste and Kids ? Book Giveaway
    Today we have a super special guest reviewer.  Her name is Charlotte Marron and she’s reviewing Mama Yoga and the Story of Namaste by Susanna Stratford. Charlotte is 10 years old and has been doing yoga with Young Yoga Masters for about 3 years.  She’s a wonderful yogi and teacher, you’ll see in her book […]
  • Your Chance to Win: Yummi Yogi Cookie Cutters

    Your Chance to Win: Yummi Yogi Cookie Cutters
    The Night Before Yoga… Twas the 31st of October When ghouls and goblins came out to play And kids of all ages Saw a unique pumpkin on display. “Hey look,” said one kid “A yoga pumpkin!” he’d shout The pumpkin was lit With five yoga poses cut out. “I know that pose,” said a child […]
  • Kids Yoga in Schools ? Not My Favorite Location

    Kids Yoga in Schools ? Not My Favorite Location
    This is Part Two of the Series on Creative Ways to Get Kids Yoga into Schools. How can kids yoga teachers bring yoga into schools?  Let’s talk!  Check out why its not my favorite location and what these teachers do to bring yoga into schools. Leave a comment to give your opinion, advice, or experience […]