Cake, Yoga & Home Practice
Creating a great yoga sequence is like baking a cake. That's what I tell the teens, 'tweens & kids with whom I work. One thing that sets me apart from other yoga teachers/therapists is my love of the step-by-step process. I love to understand the "why" of how change comes about and I love to impart that to my students & patients. I don't just want to teach them, I want them to understand why certain yoga poses work together and why. But not everyone geeks out on this stuff the way I do. So I look for metaphors that kids & families can relate with quickly.
Hey, I ask them, if you bake a cake in the wrong order--mix the dry and wet ingredients but forget the baking powder til half way through--what do you have?
Mush, grossness, not-a-cake. They tell me.
Yep, that's right, I say. You don't have a cake.
A lot of the teens & tweens I work with love to bake. So this simple metaphor helps them instantly relate with the complexity (and importance) of yoga sequencing. Even little kids who help their moms bake cookies understand that's there's a sacred order to combining ingredients. You want cookies? You're going to need more sugar and butter. You want bread? You're gonna need some yeast. And if you live in Colorado as I do, baking time will be different than if you're in New York. (Ok, so full disclosure: I love food almost as much as I love yoga. Ok, just as much.)
Anyways, it's the same with yoga: Yoga poses are done in a particular order to get a particular effect. You want to feel energized? Do some sun salutations. You want to relax? Try forward bends and deep breathing that focuses on the exhale. The poses are the ingredients, the breathing techniques are the heat and baking process, and the sequence of the poses is like the baking instructions. I start with this metaphor when I want to encourage home practice, and I want the child or family to understand how we go about choosing poses for his or her practice.
Just like baking, yoga is as much an art as it is a science. But before it becomes an art, you first have to understand the science of it. No wonder those of us who have an interest in baking or cooking start by watching our moms (or other family members) in the kitchen when we're little. First you just have to take in the process. Eventually, mom lets you mix the wet ingredients, melt the butter in a sauce pan, or spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet. It's much the same when you get excited about yoga: Maybe you've tried a few videos online or asked your yoga or PE teacher some questions about yoga poses. But now you want to go further. You want to start your own yoga practice, but you're not sure how. I have my own story about how I started, but things were a lot different back then. So for now, let me tell you about a very cool kid.
Recently I did a yoga practice with a 14-year-old boy who holds a lot of tension in his back & shoulders. Let's call him Dylan. Dylan has also been really stressed about tension at home, and the girl he likes. I've seen him for a while, so I already knew a lot about the stress he deals with at home. On a week when talking didn't seem to help him, I suggested we try some yoga. We started with child's pose into a twisting child's pose, cat-cow, and then moved into a flowing sequence (a gentle sun salutation with a lunge) that led into some seated stretches and then a floor twist. Afterwards, Dylan said he'd never felt so relaxed in his life. I asked him what his two favorite poses were, and he said child's pose and the floor twist. Those two poses became his "home practice." Now he uses deep breathing as well as the twists to release stress, and he uses affirmations to let his body and mind relax. We often don't give 14 year old boys a lot of credit. But Dylan deserves a lot of credit for learning the art and science of yoga for his own benefit. His stepmom says Dylan's practice also helps their whole family because he's in a better mood. That's pretty impressive, if you ask me.
If you also want to start a home practice, here are a few options:
Subscribe to Embodied Youth's yoga series that includes both yoga videos & audio meditations. To get tips about how to use them, check out "How to Use Our Video & Audio Practices" on the Kids Yoga Videos+ page of our website.
Work with me directly by contacting me by email or phone. Perhaps you're like Dylan, and really want to understand what yoga poses & practices work specifically for you.
Start simple: Try our Meditation on the Breath, compliments of Embodied Youth. This breathing practice is the foundation for all our audio meditations, so it's a great place to start if you're new to yoga and mindfulness.
DIY: There's a good chance if you're reading this this that you've already done a yoga class that made you feel as relaxed and energized as Dylan did after our first yoga session. What were the one or two poses that really helped you? Today, try practicing those one or two poses. If you can remember the names, google them for directions. Can't remember the names? Ask your yoga teacher.
Much like baking, yoga is a life long practice that just keeps growing as you grow. And like baking, yoga is nurturing, life giving and endlessly creative once you have some experience. And if you practice yoga regularly, you can indulge in baked goods moderately. So keep practicing, keep asking questions, find a great teacher and enjoy the journey (and some cake)!