Stories from the field, Part XII: Mindfulness for the little ones

Stories from the Field are small moments about how mindfulness impacts the students I work with (and in return, how they impact me), in hopes of capturing what it means to learn and use mindfulness. This story comes from Lila Yoga Studio in Portland, ME:

 Finding tree pose during the story, Penelope and her Puppy Mind

Finding tree pose during the story, Penelope and her Puppy Mind

After a year of working primarily with adolescents, I was both nervous and excited to match the energy of little ones in a Yoga and Mindfulness for Families offering at Lila Yoga studio. Just before 2:00pm on Sunday, 4-6 year olds raced in the door and immediately started grabbing eye pillows to toss into the air. After retrieving one that hit the fan and flew across the room, I managed to settle us down onto our mats, mamas behind the kiddos. 

We started with a round of introductions, using an animal motion paired with our name to share out. The room was full of peregrine falcons, giraffes, and chipmunks by the time we made our way around the whole circle.  I asked to raise their hand if they had a brain (most kiddos did), and told them we would be learning about our crazy brains.

 Kids hold mountain pose as I tell them about Penelope's next move

Kids hold mountain pose as I tell them about Penelope's next move

I taught them how our minds are like puppies, and we have to train them so that they do what we want them to do.  We went on an adventure together to help Penelope find her Puppy Mind, passing through cat pose, frog, boat, snake, tree, mountain, and airplane until we finally found Penelope's puppy mind at home. We trained her by putting one hand on our brain, one on our belly, and took 5 deep breaths together.

Next, we pulled brain fist models out of my box (literally just our fists) and learned about the different parts of the brain and their jobs. After that, we drew out brain maps in families, labeling the different parts of the brain and their primary function. Finally, we identified the part of the brain we were trying to train today (the PFC). 

To train the PFC, we practiced listening to the sound of the bell, and then just the sound of the room. This helped us with our voluntary attention. Kiddos notice the sound of the wind in the trees, cars passing by outside, and other kids rustling in the studio.

After all this training, we blew off some steam by taking our yoga poses into action, crab walking, soaring, and hopping across the room. 

We closed by mamas and kiddos cuddling up for a squeeze and release activity, followed by a filling the body with heavy red liquid activity. 

One mama's reflection:

I thought Erica really held the kids attention during the class. She a loving yet firm approach and the kids seemed to respond warmly to her. My son has looked at his brain map a few times since and we have practice putting one hand on our ‘PFC’ and one of the belly for five breaths. I love the mix up of movement, brain lesson, coloring and connection with mama at the end. What a fun way to introduce the monkey brain to the kiddos.


Tips for working with the little ones:

1. Keep 'em moving. This means incorporating yoga, or breath and movement, throughout the practice.

2. Teach the brain structure. Nothing is cuter than hearing a 4-year-old say "a-myg-da-la." They can do it, just don't overload them with too many big ideas.

3. Make is a story. You can tell them, or you can take them on a journey. 

4. Let them make it their own. Their favorite animals. Their animal walks across the room. Their tree pose may not look like yours, and that's okay.

5. Choose props carefully. They might have different ideas for their function.