Teaching gratitude for happier, healthier children

"It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that makes us happy..." - David Steindl-Rast

In almost all of my kids yoga classes, I start class (or sometimes end class) by going around in a circle and having each child name one thing that they are grateful for in that moment.  I remind the children that scientists have done studies that have proven that bringing to mind things or people we're grateful for helps us to feel happier (or in social-scientific terms "increased positive affect"). I let them know that we can actually change our brains by practicing being grateful - it is a super power inside of us that we can use to feel happier and more peaceful inside!

Practicing gratitude is such a simple, yet profoundly beneficial practice for children and adults. Here are a few simple practices that you and your children can do together to build up your "gratitude muscles":

1. Bedtime Gratitude Practice - each night at bedtime, my son and I tell each other 5 things that we are grateful for. It helps us both feel happier and more connected to each other.

2. Gratitude Board - one of the first things that people see when they enter my home is a big dry erase board, known as my "Gratitude Board."  Sometimes, my son and I have a competition to see who can write down the most things they are grateful for, sometimes friends and visitors add things they are grateful for to the board, and every time we walk by, it is a visual reminder to remember to be grateful in that moment.

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For those lucky enough to have chalkboard paint on their walls, a gratitude wall is a beautiful addition to any room!

3. Gratitude Journals - Gratitude journals have been shown by social science research to be a validated method for increasing happiness.

For many years, I kept a gratitude journal where each day I would write down the things I was grateful for. Now, I use the Bliss app for a more high-tech version of a gratitude journal (though I'm thinking of switching back to my low-tech journal in 2018). Children and adults can create their own gratitude journals to write in daily as a practice for cultivating gratitude.  You can use any kind of notebook or journal you'd like, but I really like these journals because children can personalize and decorate the journal covers before writing inside.  Children who are old enough to write, can practice writing 5 things they are grateful for when they wake up and 5 things they are grateful for when they go to sleep.  Children who are too young to write, can draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Parents and children can sit down together and write in their journals together as a daily or weekly family ritual.  

There are so many practices that can help us to cultivate gratitude in our lives and in our children's lives.  I'd love to hear how these practices have worked for you and your family, and any other gratitude practices that you and your family enjoy! Please post in the comments section below, or send me an email at info@shiningkidsyoga.com

Wishing you peace, love, and yoga!

- Andrea

PS - special thanks to my amazing son, Quinn, for helping me write this blog post!



Back-to-School Breathing

Heading back to school can bring up a whole bunch of emotions for children - excitement, anticipation, and sometimes, anxiety.  If your child is feeling some back-to-school jitters, here are two simple breathing techniques that can help your child to feel a little more calm and peaceful:

1. Air conditioner breath (sitali breath) - lots of kids love curling their tongues, so if that is a favorite activity for your child, have them curl their tongue as they imagine sucking in through a straw (there will be a little sucking noise while they're doing this) and then breathe out slowly through their nose.  Tell them to feel the cool air on their tongue as they breathe in (that's why I call it "air-conditioner breath").  Breathing in this way slows down the breath, which promotes a relaxation response in the body, it also produces a cooling sensation which can be helpful as kids can often feel warm or flushed when they're feeling nervous.

2. Starfish breath - have your child stretch out their arm in front of them and spread their fingers like the shape of a starfish.  Have them take the pointer finger of their other hand and trace up and down each finger slowly.  Each time they trace up, breathe in, each time they trace down, breathe out.  Instruct your child to do this as slowly as possible. Breathing in this way puts your child's focus on the action of looking at their hand and tracing instead of getting caught up in anxious thoughts and slows down their breath which promotes a relaxation response.



Both of these breathing practices can be done at home, school, or any time your child needs to feel a little more calm and peaceful inside.   These and other breathing exercises are taught in our before and after-school yoga classes for kids!

How To Make Your Own Yoga Jenga Game

A few weeks ago, one of my private clients was stacking her yoga blocks during our session and mentioned that it felt like she was playing Jenga. I'm always thinking about new activities to do in my classes with children, and her comment got me thinking...what if I created a Jenga game that included names of yoga poses, so every time someone pulls out a piece, we do the pose?

So, I bought a new Jenga game, wrote down a bunch of pose names and some special breathing practices on each of the pieces, and voila - Yoga Jenga was born!



This is a great way of spending time together playing games as a family, and practicing yoga together, too!

I can't wait to play this game with all of my yoga students in class this fall!

Want to make your own game?  Here are some pose and breathing ideas to get you started!  Feel free to add in your favorites, too!

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Andrea Creel 

Andrea is the founder of Shining Kids Yoga, which began as an after-school program at her son's elementary school in 2014. She has been teaching yoga to all ages since 2005.  Andrea completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training & prenatal yoga training at Tranquil Space Yoga in Washington, D.C. In addition, she received specialized training in children’s yoga from the Radiant Child Yoga program, training in postnatal yoga from Baby OM,  and training in therapeutic yoga from  The Samarya Center.

Andrea is also a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) through the State of Maryland, having received her MSW degree from University of Maryland, Baltimore.

She has taught yoga for children at yoga studios throughout the DC area, including Tranquil Space, Budding Yogis, Rock Creek Yoga and Warrior One Yoga. She also teaches classes for adults at Yoga Bliss Studios and Extend Yoga, where she is on the yoga teacher training faculty.  

When not teaching or practicing yoga, Andrea enjoys playing board games with her son, Quinn, singing karaoke, and trying out new vegetarian recipes!

Practicing yoga with your kids

As a yoga teacher, I get pretty happy when I get to do yoga with my son, Quinn.  We laugh, fall down, and help each other stretch and open our bodies.  It's a chance for us to connect and be present and let go of the busyness that can often envelope our day-to-day lives. I know the days when he will want to do yoga with me (or do anything with me) are limited, and so I savor each double down dog and lizard on a rock pose we do together. 

I love being able to bring yoga to other families, too.  To show them new ways to connect with each other through poses, games, and relaxation.

This summer, I'll be offering 3 Family Yoga Workshops for children ages 5-11 and their parents. If you'd like to join me, you can sign up your family for one, two, or three classes (discounts available when you sign up for multiple classes!).  I look forward to seeing you and your family on the mat.

~ Andrea


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