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Love and Gratitude

Posted on July 18, 2016 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (840)

By Diana Scharf


One of the funny things about teaching yoga to really little kids is that I'm always surprised that it doesn't translate into my own practice. For example, one of my instructors does a lot of "Elsa Pose"...but why doesn't she call it call it Elsa Pose? Sometimes it takes me a minute to realize I'm in "grown up yoga." Call it an occupational hazard.


So this morning I went to a class where the theme was "love." (Wait, what? You mean like, "Love is an Open Door?" Love will thaw a frozen heart? Nope! Just plain, straight up love. And yes, Topsy Turvy Yogi did just teach a class on Frozen, why do you ask?). Which got me thinking, could I ever teach such a plain (yet complicated) concept to my little ones, without all the bells and whistles that usually go into their lessons?


In yoga we sometimes talk about "heart opening" poses, which are supposed to leave you open to love. But how does one bring that concept to three-year olds, who, as my mother once put it, are already "sweet little bundles of love?" Their hearts are naturally wide open, ready to accept love. The answer, I've decided, is to focus on gratitude. Gratitude for the people we love.


Ironically, while three-year olds are super open to love, they are also completely self-centered. Ask anyone who has ever given a present to a three-year old. Do they say thank you for the Elsa doll? No! (At least not without prompting). They just ask for Anna and Olaf too! So gratitude is just not a natural concept to them.


Luckily, in yoga (as in life) there are many opportunities to express gratitude. And as a teacher, it's my job to point them out. I was recently talking to my three-year olds before our class began. The conversation, started completely randomly (as is usually the case at this age), went something like this:


Kid 1: "I have a mommy!"

Kid 2: "I have a mommy and a daddy!"

Kid 3: "I have a mommy and a daddy and a grandma!"

Kid 1 (not to be outdone): "I have a mommy and a daddy and 2 grandmas and 2 grandpas and a baby brother!"


I tried not laugh as they each one-upped each other, listing their entire family trees. (I seriously love they way the three-year old mind works!)


First I have to show them how impressive I think this all is. But then I tell them, "you are so lucky to have all those people in your life who love you and keep you safe! Do you feel lucky?" They all nod and smile in agreement. Then I ask them if they feel special, knowing that they have all this love in their life. More nods and smiles, and even a few "yeahs!" "And do you hug them and let them know that you love them? And that you are glad you have them? That must make them feel so happy!"


So help your children find ways to be grateful. They will become better people for it. Gratitude is so much more than just saying thank you. Be grateful that you had a fun day at camp. Be grateful that mommy worked hard to make you a yummy dinner. Be grateful for people who make you laugh. Be grateful for love.


Among many other things, I am grateful that my teacher finally let me come out of Elsa Pose this morning...felt like I'd been stuck there forever! Flowing into Olaf Pose...what do you mean that's not what we call it?

Giving "Props" To Yoga

Posted on May 26, 2016 at 7:20 AM Comments comments (1343)

By Jessica Brown


One of the biggest misconceptions about yoga is that props are considered using a "crutch," and that crutches are a bad thing. No one knows better than children that this is further from the truth.


Let me take a few steps back. A year ago I broke my knee. Before I knew it, I was relying on crutches to get from point A to B. As a mom this was even more difficult because I had to #1 - accept my situation, #2 - accept help from others and #3 - make the best out of the next two months laid up on the couch.


Yoga played an instrumental part in getting through this time because while I knew how forgetful the body can be, I also knew that if I focused on "being in that moment" the rest would fall into place. As it did.


The hardest thing to adapt to was being on crutches. Which makes sense because the name alone already sets off a negative energy. Which is why my AMAZING caregiver re named them my "walking sticks" because in reality that's all they really were.


My children learned very quickly that taking them away from me was the easiest way to get candy because without them I could not go very far. That's not exactly how props work for children in their yoga journey, but I give them "props" for figuring that out.


In yoga, props are essentially the "walking sticks" that get us from point A to B as we develop our practice. They help us visualize what our body is doing and what needs to be done to get the final result. Children especially are visual learners since they communicate with the world through their play and imagination.


To encourage proper breathing exercises, I often use props so the children can "see" their breath and where it is coming from.

One of my favorite props is the Hoberman Sphere


Not only is it fun to play with, but also it can easily simulate their little bellies expanding and contracting. Often I hold it up to my belly to demonstrate and they think its SO FUNNY that I have a belly outside my belly!


For children who are a bit older, I like to use bubbles to teach them how to control their breath. Making bubbles smaller and bigger is a developmental milestone for them. To make it more challenging, we add in a balancing pose like tree pose or airplane pose. They get very wobbly so we always make sure a grown up is around to assist. This allows them to visualize what it means to control a breath and use that to work on a challenge whether that be in a yoga pose or simply calming themselves down after a tantrum.


Literally anything in your home can be used as a prop. In the picture below my daughter used a Wisconsin cheese hat in "mouse pose" to support her head. She was able to stay in the pose much longer and of course had fun doing it.


So today I am giving props to using props, as well as never to see asking for help as a "crutch". Asking for help allowed me to heal and ultimately how Topsy Turvy Yogi was born (another blog for another day!)


At Topsy Turvy yogi we see props as walking sticks towards positive development!

Meditate Like A Butterfly!

Posted on May 18, 2016 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (693)

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By, Diana Scharf

The New York Times recently ran a piece (click here for full article) on the benefits of mindfulness meditation in elementary school-aged children. Recent studies showed that, in addition to feeling calmer and more focused, students who meditated consistently showed improvements in cognitive control, working memory, cognitive flexibility and better grades in math. All the more reason to introduce meditation at the preschool level.


"Yeah, right," you must be thinking. "Good luck getting my three-year old to sit still and just breathe!" Well, I will tell you, like anything else you do with a toddler or preschooler, you need to trick them into it by making it a fun game. Anything you can do to make them focus on a single activity will work. Coloring is a great example.


When adults meditate, we focus on our breath, the feel of our body touching the floor, the way the air feels as it flows in and out of our lungs. When toddlers and preschoolers color, they are focused on their paper. They notice how the crayon makes a mark on the page. They experiment with different pressures on the paper. They make scribbles by repeating a single type of motion with their arm. All of this causes them to focus on a single activity, blocking out everything else. In essence, they are meditating.


And just as with adult meditation, there is no right or wrong way for them to approach this. I have a boy in one of my classes who prefers to take his crayon and repeatedly stab the paper, poking holes in it. His mother, of course, gets embarrassed and profusely apologizes. But this is exactly what I like to see from my young students: he is focused on his activity, focused on the motion of his arm, on the way it feels to pierce through the paper, and on the hole he leaves when he raises his crayon again (circles are also very yogic). This is very meditative! (Even though he completely destroys my crayons every time we do this activity, it still makes me proud).


In my Topsy Turvy Yogi classes, I sometimes use coloring as a prelude to savasina (resting meditation). After we put the crayons away, I have the children lay down on their mats, and practice being still while they notice their breath. On the days when we color beforehand, I notice a difference in the children's ability to do this. They settle on their mats more quickly, with less talking and less movement. They are also able to stay in their resting pose for a longer period of time.


Another fun trick I like to use in my Toddler and Me classes is cuddle time with mommy or daddy. When I lay down for a cuddle with my own young daughter, I focus on my breathing. I take deep breaths so she can feel my belly move up and down against her back. If I say anything (and I don't always) I tell her to notice what my belly is doing. Soon enough, she will match her breathing to mine, and fall asleep (hallelujah)!


At Topsy Turvy Yogi, we recently taught a class of three and four year olds where we did a lot of coloring. When we laid down for savasina, four of the girls cuddled up together and spooned each other. Aside from being one of the cutest things ever, I noticed a couple of other things: (1) these four laid perfectly still the entire time; and (2) they were among the last to sit up when it was over. While I'm sure the girls were not aware of this (they are only four after all!), they were meditating on a deeper level: blocking out the room around them, focusing on the contact of their bodies, and possibly even on their breathing (a teacher can hope)! The important thing is that they were able to stay quiet and still for the entire length of the exercise, which, as any mom can tell you, is quite an accomplishment for the average preschooler!


So practice mindful meditation with your young toddlers and preschoolers. Do it at their level and in a way that's fun for them. It will help prepare them for bigger and better things down the road. In the meantime, good luck and enjoy the cuddling!

When A Tree Falls....She Gets Back Up!

Posted on March 20, 2016 at 6:45 PM Comments comments (1269)

By, Diana Scharf

Yesterday my 4-year old daughter and I were having a great time doing yoga...until I asked her to do tree pose. Then she started to cry! When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was upset because she always falls out of tree pose, and that meant she couldn't do it at all.


What a teachable moment! And it really made me reflect on life and society in general. Like how much pressure there is for us to do things perfectly. Or how many of us simply don't pursue our interests because we feel we aren't good enough at them. Yoga teaches us to get away from this confining mindset.


In yoga, it is never about how perfectly you can execute a pose. It's about the journey to get there. When you are on a journey, you need to start at the beginning. You can't compare yourself to someone who is further along on their own journey. So I tell my young daughter, of course you can't balance in tree pose the same way mommy does. Mommy has been practicing this for a long time and you are just beginning! When you are just beginning, you need to keep your toes on the floor, and that is okay!


I see this often when I teach my classes. There is always at least one kid (yes, even at three years old!) who will come up to stand in a perfect tree, foot to thigh and hands in the air. Most kids cannot do this. So I basically have one or two tree kids and a bunch of other trees wobbling on one foot as they try to copy them. Timber!


You can't begin a journey in the middle. So I go around the room and set everyone at the beginning of the path. First I show them how they can balance with just their toes on the floor. If they can balance there, I move the whole foot to the ankle. Voila, tree pose!


I have no words to express the way these kids' faces light up when they realize what they have accomplished. They are so proud of themselves, amazed and excited. And it's not because they have caught up to their peers, because they haven't. It's not because they did the pose perfectly, because they didn't. They accomplished something that they couldn't do before, and in yoga we celebrate that growth. These kids feel pure joy from this kind of accomplishment. More importantly, they feel the kind of satisfaction can only come from within, not from any external factors. What a thing to experience at only four years old!


So I tell my young daughter, honor your body and just do the best you can. Because it's not about being perfect and it's not about catching up to anyone else. Yoga is about your own personal journey. And sometimes, even Mommy falls out of tree pose. And that's okay too.

Letting Their Imaginations Take Flight: A New Twist on Yoga for Kids

Posted on February 22, 2016 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (803)

 Photo by: Jenny Simon Tabak

Article By, Jessica Brown

It seems like everywhere you go all you hear about is mindfulness and yoga.

Everyone has their own opinion on the best type of yoga (hot, vinyasa, yin, etc.), but the truth is that yoga is not one size fits all. Kind of like our kids right? We all know that yoga is beneficial for young children.

The New York Post even wrote an article about it this past December "5 Reasons You Should Be Doing Yoga With Your Kid". The article states “Nearly 2 million kids ages 4 to 17 channeled their inner yogis between 2007 and 2012, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.”

However, how about kids who are younger? You may think that they aren’t “developed enough” or “have a long enough attention span.” These things are all true, except they are the exact reasons why they SHOULD be practicing yoga.

During their preschool years these little yogis are just starting to learn what their bodies can do. And trust me, their bodies CAN do!

Yoga helps them safely explore poses using their imaginations to keep their attention and burn off some of that never-ending energy. So they can stay focused for the next part of their day, yoga also encourages the use of mindfulness and creativeness to ease transitions or changes, which are often challenging for these young ones. For me it all falls apart when trying to leave the house. Lately I have been using this little trick to get things moving a little faster. When its time to start getting ready to leave, give yourself a little more time on top of that. Ask your child to pretend he or she is a bird and together you are going to “fly” to your next activity. Does baby bird have to use the bathroom? Does mamma bird know where her keys are? While helping your child with their shoes (since you will already be in a in a seated position) wave your arms slowly like a bird up with a deep breath in and down with a deep breath out. Then you explain that the mamma bird is going to put on your shoes while your child continues to fly. You then explain that when they are all ready, they can stand up and fly, with mamma bird of course, right out the door!

I know what you are thinking.This is time consuming and who has that? I hear ya. However as time goes on you can move on to other animals and siblings can get in on the fun to help keep the momentum going. Sometimes in the winter we like to do our “bear walks” (downward facing dog on tip toes) who have to put on their “bear coats” to come out of hibernation. So practice yoga with your little ones. Even if it is for a few minutes each day and let your imagination take flight!


Posted on February 5, 2016 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (809)

Welcome to the Topsy Turvy Blog!

We will be posting some exciting stuff soon, so please come back and visit us.

If you have questions for the team or there is something specific you would like us to write about, please email us at [email protected] .


Jessica and Diana