Haris Harini Lender has taught Yoga and meditation to every age range, from infants to 90-year-olds. During her 11 years of running Camp Yogaville, she wrote songs and skits and developed many more skills that would help her to create the imaginative style of Yoga for kids, which has become known as “Kidding Around Yoga.” In this article, she gives an overview of the creative ways she’s devised to teach meditation to children.
When I first thought of teaching meditation to kids, I was told they wouldn’t focus long enough and so they wouldn’t benefit. Imagine my surprise when I found out that couldn’t be further from the truth. I start with a minute of meditation and, if the kids are still quietly sitting there after a minute, we continue. We meditate at the beginning and at the end of every class. I think it’s important for kids to feel how, after doing asanas, pranayama and deep relaxation, it’s easier for them to sit quietly. I spend a lot of time showing them that, in Integral Yoga, hatha is only for the purpose of relaxing the body and getting it ready for meditation. So, I always ask them, “Was that easier to meditate for a minute or two minutes after doing the whole class? They have the opening minute of meditation to compare it to, and they agree. And, it’s not just kids—it’s easier for adults to sit to meditate after doing the class too.
I also explain the benefits of meditation through these examples:
- Bitten like a Scorpion: I get the kids to jump up and down like drunken monkeys that were bitten by scorpions (this is from the story Sri Gurudev tells). I first have them jump up and down like monkeys and then they sit. Next, I tell them to stand up and jump around like drunken monkeys. I have them sit and finally they stand up and jump up and down like drunken monkeys who’ve been bitten by scorpions. By the time they get through that, they are tired and ready to sit and listen as I explain how our minds are like that and that’s why we need meditation.
- Cuckoo Head: I have the kids all say out loud, at the same time, what they did from the moment they woke up that day to when they came to Yoga class. You have a group of kids all talking at one time and you hear all the noise, tension, thoughts and it’s crazy as they describe everything about what they ate, what their teachers said and so on. Then I chant an OM to signal quiet and I tell them, “This is what happens in your head all day long. Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could learn how to calm our minds and meditate for a minute?” It’s an interesting way for them to understand what’s going on in their heads.
- Crystal Bowl Meditation: My favorite way to illustrate the mental madness in our minds is Swami Karunananda’s crystal bowl meditation exercise. I put a crystal in a glass bowl filled with water. One at a time, I add different food coloring dyes to show the clutter in our minds. At the end, I pick up the crystal and wash it off to show that meditation is like soap for our minds—it brings back crystal clear thinking. I use yellow first, referencing when they were born. The first thought is: “Mommy my diaper is wet.” That starts the conversation off with some laughter. Then, I pour the blue color, which represents sad thoughts. Red is anger and green is envy. I explain how all these thoughts create chaos in our minds.
Once they understand why we meditate, I give them the choice of meditation techniques we can use for our class that day. Here’s a brief overview of some of my favorites:
- Meditation with a Mala: We use Mardi Gras beads for malas, since actual malas are a little too delicate and since the kids tend to throw them around—hey, they’re kids! I also bring in my own malas, which I treasure and which have been blessed by Sri Gurudev. I want the children to respect the malas and I tell them how I traveled a long distance, on a spiritual journey, to have them blessed by my meditation master. I find it’s really good to always have stories you can tell because this draws the kids in and also teaches them respect. Everything in the class is designed so that, when they grow up, they respect everything we do. I learned the hard way: You hand out the beads, they use them and then you must take them back. Don’t leave the beads around, as they grab them and fight over them. So, these are some of the tricks of the trade.
- Meditation with a Mantra: Sometimes I have the children pick their mantra and other times I give each child their own index card that has a mantra written on it and they keep it secret and sacred. I choose a mantra based on the demographic, or setting or the group of kids. For example, I used to teach Yoga at a local synagogue and so we used the Shema as our mantra. In a church we might use: “God is good, God is great.”
- Walking Meditation: Kids love this. If weather permits and we can go outside, that’s ideal. But even in the classroom, we walk around slowly for about two minutes. After walking we talk about things we noticed that we never noticed in the room or outdoors before. I try to make sure they walk slowly so they feel every part of their feet hitting the ground or carpet.
- Laughing Meditation: When you have 12 kids lying on the ground, you need things to keep them absorbed. For 2 minutes or less, I have them do laughing meditation. At first, usually they have to make the effort to laugh but then it becomes natural. They lay with their heads toward the center and I walk around and tickle them with feathers as I make laughing sounds and snorting. It doesn’t take much and before you know it, they are uncontrollably laughing. It’s really silly but, after 2 minutes of laughing, they get tired and it’s a great preparation for deep relaxation. I only have 45 minutes with the kids and it’s my job to poop them out so when we get to deep relaxation they’re not squirming around.
- Peace Begins with Me: This is one of my favorite methods because it’s one of the most effective and it works for any demographic, regardless of religion, race and so on. This is done by bringing the thumbs of each hand to the index fingers of each hand as we say “Peace;” then we bring the thumb to the middle fingers as we say “begins;” then thumbs to ring fingers as we say “with;” and last we bring the thumbs to the pinky fingers saying “me.” So, as they move their fingers they are saying, “Peace begins with me.” We do this for a minimum of 1 minute and I like to try and continue for up to 2 minutes. During Camp Yogaville, we start on day 1 with a minute and increase by a minute each day. By the end of the week, the kids are meditating for 5 minutes. I get letters from parents that the kids continue to do it after they go home.
I basically follow the structure and script of the Integral Yoga class. We use deep relaxation as a preparation for the closing meditation, and I call deep relaxation, “The Secret Garden.” I have them tense and release each part of the body and then we begin a journey during which their Yoga mats become flying carpets that take them to their own secret gardens. The kids are encouraged to visualize a place that makes them feel safe. I give them suggestions, like a lake with dolphins or mermaids. I create a fairy tale—whatever comes to me at the time. Often, they don’t like to calm down right away. So, sometimes, Tinkerbelle (me!) comes around with a wand and lightly taps their foot and that’s where we’ll bring light into the body and then they visualize the light traveling up through their bodies. When they feel the light throughout, then their magic carpet lifts up to transport them. Once they reach their secret garden, I help them decorate it, offering suggestions.
Then I stop talking. The longer I can go with the silence the better, but generally I try for 3 minutes. I have to include music or it doesn’t work for the kids. So, I’ll put on some quiet flute music and I’ll play the same music each class because kids like consistency; they like to know what to expect when they walk into the class and when they lie down for deep relaxation.
After deep relaxation, I have them sit up and we do some pranayama and at the very end we do the sitting meditation. I’ll close with a chant that goes, “OM Shanti, OM Shanti, peace begins with me. OM Shanti, OM Shanti, peace begins with you. OM Shanti, OM Shanti peace belongs to everyone, OM Shanti, OM Shanti now our Yoga class is done.” A typical class is 45 minutes to an hour. Hatha, games and stories takes the first 25 minutes, followed by 12 to 15 minutes at the Secret Garden, with 3 to 5 minutes of pranayama and meditation. Sri Gurudev said that a real Integral Yoga class means students are floating out the door when they leave. So, that’s my goal with the children also.
About the Author:
Haris Harini Lender is a certified Integral Yoga™ teacher and founder of “Kidding Around Yoga.” She has also been certified in Prenatal, Raja, Children’s and Stress Management Yoga. She offers certified Children’s Yoga teacher training programs and licensing opportunities for “Kidding Around Yoga.” Haris lives in Florida with her husband and four kids. She spends much of her hard earned vacation time in her lovely yurt in Yogaville. Her Kidding Around Books and music CDs are available from Amazon.com and www.kiddingaroundyoga.com.