I asked one of my very first yoga students who had been in a Friday afternoon class with me for well over a year, what her favorite part of yoga was, "Meditation," was her quick answer. "Why is that?" I asked. "Because it helps me float away for the weekend."
Swinging like tall pine trees in a wild Noreaster, my six hyperactive yoga students began swaying their bodies back and forth in palm tree pose, "Try to move with your breath," I attempted to guide my eager young students, "and, slow down." Twenty minutes later each of these high energy students had settled into a quiet crocodile pose (bodies flat down on their mats) while I read a guided meditation about a wonderful imaginary world where they could ride a tall giraffe and search in the tree tops for a leafy snack or swim with giant humpback whales as they made their way in a wide, blue ocean. My young yoga students, all boys under the age of 8, had gone 100 miles an hour to zero. Only after moving their bodies in yoga pose after yoga pose while breathing slowly in and slowly out, had the stage been set for the peace of meditation.
Meditation....whether I try candle gazing, mantra meditation, walking meditation or guided meditation, my young yoga students all seem to love how we end our yoga sessions.
Candle Gazing or, I See an Icy Wonderland
Mary, one of my younger yoga students who has the flexibility and aura of an up-and-coming yogi master, asked me if she could bring a candle to yoga class. "Yes, that would be nice," I heard myself tell Mary. A week later when Mary arrived for class with candle in hand, we lit the charred wick and then placed it on the floor in the center of our yoga circle after we finished our yoga poses and settled into meditation. The glow of the candle created a peaceful, warm space. Aside from the random thoughts about flames, schools, and children running through my head, the presence of this once-burned, light blue candle made me think about the first time I gazed into the flame of a candle (called trataka in Sanskrit) at my adult yoga/meditation class.
At the time, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about and why in the world anybody would want to stare into a flame, although I do remember staring for hours into a campfire flame as a child and how peaceful that made me feel. Having taken a few classes in Buddhist meditation and even more classes in yogic meditation, I find that I prefer to close my eyes and let my mind "watch" a beautiful white lotus flower unfold or recall the image of kayaking on Newfound Lake on a sweet summer morning. Those images help me feel centered and peaceful.
Staring into a flickering flame just doesn't do it for me but different strokes for different yoga students. Candle gazing, I thought, might really work for some of my students so I decided to give it a try. And, to my surprise, many of my students loved candle gazing. Where I saw a yellow flame dancing around, distracting me from my own much-preferred mental images, my yoga students imagined a cave with all kinds of life in it, an ocean stopped in time, an icy wonderland full of imaginary creatures with a campfire burning bright in the night sky.
Candle gazing into a candle that had burned in such a way so as to leave melted and then hardened wax had become a way for these students to project their thoughts and feelings onto an external object and let their imaginations take off. Next time I candle gaze, I will make sure I burn a well-loved candle so I, too, can let my imagination take flight.
Mantra Meditation or, Meditation Helps Me Float Away
I recently introduced my students to mantra meditation. I knew that several girls were struggling in their relationship with their family members and/or friends, and so, one afternoon, I introduced my students to mantra meditation.
Mantra meditation is ancient (in Sanskrit it means "instrument of thought") and has been practiced for several thousand years. I asked my students to meditate on a positive word or a phrase that speaks to them. Think about what you would like to have happen or how you would like to feel. "I have lots of friends. I love myself. I am happy," were all suggestions I gave my attentive students. After I rang the chimes to signal the beginning of meditation and sat with my own eyes closed for a minute or so, I opened my eyes. I am always curious how my young yogis respond to meditation and part of me is always keeping a watchful eye on them, so I wanted to see what was going on. One girl was looking around the room but sitting quietly and clearly lost in thought. I happened to know that this bright little girl had a lot of challenging life circumstances to deal with and was happy when she had the opportunity to find some peace and quiet, amongst friends, to just sit and ponder life. Several other students sat very still with their eyes closed and bodies unmoving, while one little boy, who cannot close his eyes out of anxiety lay quietly on his mat in crocodile pose, staring off to the right. Not a word was spoken as we sat for 3 quiet minutes.
After meditation I always have an art activity set up. This afternoon, we drew with colored markers. "Draw what meditation is to you," was my direction. Sam, a young yoga artist, described her drawing, Angels Wings (shown above) to me. "That's me sitting on the boat and even though there is lightening, black clouds and rain, and a giant wave almost crashing into the boat, I am peaceful and safe, meditating." How wonderful, I thought, that this little girl has found that quiet, safe place within herself, despite her crazy day-to-day life.
Walking Meditation or, Make Way for Meditative Ducklings
We had just finished a guided relaxation and I watched as my young yoga students lay still on their mats. Time for walking meditation I thought. To prepare, I asked them to roll up their yoga mats and stand quietly in mountain pose (feet firmly grounded, arms hanging loosely by their side). I then began to slowly walk around the room. "Heal, toe pad, toe," I repeated over and over as I made my way around the room in a wide circle. I guided my students to, "Watch and follow me."
The room was soon filled with movement as my yoga students started to mindfully walk around the room, into the corners, up near the piano; each in her own quiet space. "Now, breathe in and lift up your heal, then your toe pad, and finally your toes.....breathe out and place down your heal, toe pad, toes...." I thought about the first time I tried to synchronize my breath with my walking in my adult yoga class. I was in quiet hysterics as I struggled to get my toes and my breath to work together while listening to the yoga teacher direct me, "Breath, heal, toe pad, toes." But not my young yoga students, within a few minutes their feet and breath were as synchronized and graceful as swans dancing in the springtime rain. After a few minutes I sensed the space between us had changed and so turned around. My yoga students had cued up right behind me, with just inches separating me from them and them from each other. "Ducks in a row," I thought.
We continued on "Breath in, heal, toe pad, toe...breath out, heal, toe pad, toe," for the next few minutes all I could think about was that famous sculpture in Boston Public Garden where the mother duck leads her ducklings, all lined up behind her, around the park. "Make way for meditative ducklings," I thought as I smiled to myself.