Fit Abilities Student: What I Have Learned

One of our students wrote a mini-essay on her experience in the Fit Abilities Program.  You can her thoughts below.

I like the Fit Abilities Yoga Program because it is an interesting experience. Some of my favorite things to do at Fit Abilities is hang out with Natasha’s guide dog, Marie, doing yoga poses that makes me feel strong and relaxed and meeting other students who are Blind and Visually Impaired.  You would think Marie could stay on task but once Natasha takes off her harness, she is very that I can pet her when her harness is off but I know that I cannot pet her when her harness if on since that is her reminder that she is helping guide Natasha around.My favorite yoga poses are tree pose, warrior pose and when we lay on our backs at the end of class.I liked playing the ping pong ball racing game where we had to blow a ping pong ball across the room with a straw to see who blew it the furthest.

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Images are representations of the activities of the Fit Abilities Program and are not our actual students. Photo Credit: Huffington Post Story about Lighthouse Guild for the Blind’s Teen Yoga Program





The Yoga Octupus

Originally written and posted by Natasha Baebler at

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Photo from Be Here Now Yoga 108


At the end of each of my kids’ Yoga classes I say, “May the world be filled with love and light and lots of peaceful children.” But in today’s chaotic world, how do we help children experience peacefulness? How do we help kids live and internalize the lessons and feelings they experience in a Yoga class? I use the Yoga Octopus!

Like an octopus, the practice of Yoga has eight limbs. Sometimes we call these limbs paths, or collectively “the eight-fold path.” The origin of this path is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. You are probably familiar with one of these limbs of Yoga, the physical postures or Asana. But, when I teach Yoga to children, I teach them more than the postures of Yoga. Every class includes other parts of and lessons from the eight limbs of Yoga.
My Yoga Octopus I share in my classes has eight arms. Attached to each arm is a word or phrase representing each of the components of the eight limbed path. These components are:
YAMAS: Universal Morality
NIYAMAS: Personal Observances
ASANAS: Body Postures
PRANAYAMA: Breath Control
PRATYAHARA: Control of the Senses
DHARANA: Concentration and Inner Awareness
DHYANA: Devotion and Meditation
SAMADHI: Union (with the Divine)

The first two limbs are the ethical outline of the practice of Yoga. They are suggestions and guidelines of how we should deal with ourselves and the people around us. The Yamas are the attitudes we have toward the people and things outside ourselves,  while the Niyamas are the ways in which we relate to our inner selves. The Yamas and Niyamasdefine our fundamental nature as compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful beings.

This brings us to the third limb, the most well known limb, and the path of Yoga most commonly practiced in the western world-Asana. The physical postures practiced in Yoga were created to move the body until it becomes ready for stillness. And in that stillness, our minds will be able to settle down, too. To that end, in kids’ Yoga classes, there is a lot of movement – jumping, rolling, spinning, and balancing are all used to get the children ready to relax at the end of class.

Prana is life and so Pranayama (the 4th limb)  is life breath or life’s energy. Breath and air can be a hard thing for kids to understand when they can’t see it. So help them understand by making it both visual and tactile. One fun activity to help kids understand the power of pranayama is to have breath-controlled ping-pong ball races. Lay out two long parallel lines of tape about five or six feet apart. Give each child a ping pong ball and a different color magic marker. Have them decorate their ball however they wish.Then have the kids lie down on their tummies along one of the lines facing the other line. Be sure there is enough room between each kid so that they aren’t blowing on their neighbor’s ball! Each child should place his ball just in front of his mouth. and nose and then clasp or interlace his fingers behind his back-no hands allowed! Now the game begins! Each child must control his breath to move his ball across the ‘finish line’. In playing tis game, kids can see their pranayama and experience the direct result of different strengths of breath. TIP: To make this game harder, use cotton balls or different color pompoms instead of ping-pong balls and make the lines farther apart.

Teaching Pratyahara,  control over the senses, to kids can be hugely beneficial in their social-emotional development. The word pratyameans drawing back while aharaalone means nourishment. So think ofpratyahara as the drawing back from that which nourishes-the senses of the body. Kids growing up today are bombarded with so many stimuli that they can easily become overwhelmed, exhausted and overstimulated. Before we can actually teach kids to control their senses, they need to understand what it is to do so. Start by having kids identify their five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. Then have them talk, draw, or write about the sense they use the most and how they use it. Have them try one everyday activity without this sense. If you are teaching pratyahara in the context of a movement or yoga class, have the kids try the same pose or movement without each of their five senses. How was the pose or movement effected?

As kids grow and mature, so does their sense of inner awareness-their knowledge about themselves. Dharana is the process of coming to that self awareness, discovering new things as we grow. Whether its in the classroom, at home, at the grocery store, or on the Yoga mat, kids and adults alike have a plethora of opportunities to increase their dharanathrough mindfulness and observation. Spend some time with a child just noticing and observing. Ask him questions about what he sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells. Ask about the physical and the emotional, likes and dislikes. Explore the reasons he holds those likes and dislikes without trying to change his opinion. Hear and acknowledge his observations about himself rather than validating them. The other part ofdharana is concentration; focus on the task at hand, the present moment, the role of the self in the current experience. Craft activities can be a great way to build focus while at the same time helping to develop a child’s fine motor skills and self-expression. The completion of a craft project requires a child to focus on what he is doing rather than what is going on around him. He is able to experience being in his own body, in the present moment.

As a child becomes more self-aware and able to concentrate, she also grows toward meditation and devotion, or Dhayana. The goal of meditation is not thinking about nothing at all, it is to make the thoughts conscious. Meditation is something that becomes much easier with practice and kids catch on quickly! Meditation can be as simple as picking something to think about. With kids, I often encourage them to think about their happiness place. The place where they want to be more than anywhere else in the whole world. I ask them to think about that place and only that place. Not just the name of it, but it’s sights, sounds, smells, and textures. I encourage them to let these pieces of this favorite place fill their mind until there is no room for anything else. There is no room for worry or sadness, only happiness associated with their favorite place. Once kids experience the state of peace that comes with meditation, they want to experience it again and again for longer stretches of time. Maybe their first mental visit to their favorite place lasts just two minutes. Eventually it might last ten! The first time they visit their favorite place in their mind, you may need to ask lots of questions about the place to guide them there. As they visit again and again, slowly fade out the questions until they can reach their favorite place just by being prompted to go there. That’s dhayana.

All of this growth, self-awareness, mental work, and physical practice help us travel on a journey. That journey moves us ever closer to one state – the ultimate – the eighth limb of Yoga – Samadhi or union. All of Yoga brings kids (and adults) closer to this experience of oneness where we recognize ourselves in others, and in the divine. Here’s where the waters can get muddy. ‘Union with the divine’ is where some people find the misconception of Yoga being linked to a religious or spiritual practice. This misconception leads many kids’ Yoga teachers to call their classes things like “movement and breath learning”. The word “divine” has been linked to words like ‘God’ for centuries. We as Yoga teachers aren’t going to change that. What we can do is work to demystify the yogic context of divine. In my kids’ Yoga classes, ‘divine’ is a feeling. “I feel divine.” Meaning “I feel peaceful. I feel happy. I feel euphoric.” To unite with the divine then is to become one with the feelings of happiness and peace. That is not that we experience only happiness, but that we allow these feelings to fill us completely when we do experience them. To let these feelings take over the moment in which we experience them. Kids are great at this! They scream, cry, and laugh in sheer delight. Encourage it!! This is an expression of living in unity with the divine. A child who is grinning from ear to ear is experiencing her moment of Samadhi.

Want to do an entire unit on the Yoga Octopus? Just devote a couple of classes to each limb of the eight-fold path. Find and print coloring pages featuring an octopus. Label each of the octopus’ legs with one of the paths and have color in part of the leg representing the path they worked on that day in class. At the end of the unit, they have a great visual take-home to remind them there are many parts that make up one yoga, one peaceful union, one world made up of peaceful children.











5 Games to Improve Coordination

This post originally written posted by Natasha Baebler, RY200 Yoga Teacher at the UDforYoga website at

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Coordination can be tricky, even for some adults! We all know, and perhaps we were, that kid who is just uncoordinated or klutzy. Yet coordination is something we can build as a young child and improve through the lifespan. Coordination building games can be great fun for the entire family and lead to much laughter and silliness! Here are five to get you started.

1. MUSICAL CHAIRS – This age old classic can really help with gross motor development and spacial awareness. Play it the traditional way with kid friendly chairs. When the kids get good at it, replace the chairs with mats, carpet squares, or “spots” on the floor. For an even more advanced version ask the kids to perform a yoga pose or other task when they get to a spot. They aren’t “safe” until they’ve completed the task! Not only can this game help kids improve their balance and reflexes, it teaches social skills like turn-taking.

2. ALPHABET MEMORY YARN TOSS – Buy a big ball of yarn at any craft store. The bigger and more brightly colored, the better! Start sitting in a circle on the floor or in chairs. One person starts by naming something that starts with the letter A. They then grab on to the end of the yarn and toss the rest of the yarn to someone across the circle from them. That person catches the ball of yarn and names something starting with the letter B. They then hold on to the yarn and toss the ball to someone else across the circle (not the person who tossed it to them!). That person names something starting with C etc. etc. With young kids this can be a great way to work on both coordination and alphabetic memory. With older kids the leader can pick a theme such as “things in winter” or “animals.” Each person then has to not only remember what letter they are on, but find an answer that fits the theme. The most advanced way to play this game is to stay with the same letter of the alphabet and the same theme until someone flubs and can’t come up with an answer. You can also put a time limit on answering such as five seconds. A medium size ball that bounces can be substituted for a ball of yarn for a lesser coordination level.

3. OBSTACLE COURSES – These can be great fun to both build and complete. Get as creative as you want. Use mats, chairs, blankets, foam/soft blocks, boxes, boards, jumprope and hula hoops! An obstacle curse for a very young child may be practicing stepping on or over different objects and surfaces. School age kids can practice heel-toe walking, stepping quickly on and off specific targets, crawling low under low-hanging “roofs”, or working in pairs or teams to get everyone through the course. Even tasks that seem easy like jumping from hula hoop to hula hoop can be made challenging for kids and adults alike by changing how they must travel from target to target (i.e. feet have to stay together, hop on one leg, etc.). This game helps build confidence, teamwork, spacial awareness and both fine and gross motor skills depending on the obstacles chosen.

4. HOOP HOP – This can be played with any object that is safe to land in or on while hopping. I suggest hula hoops or carpet squares with non-slip backing. First place the hoops in a straight line with edges touching. Hop from hoop to hoop without touching hands down, skipping any, or stepping on the hoops. After everyone has the idea with the hoops in a line, rearrange them into progressively challenging arrangements such as staggered positions, further apart, etc. Think of this as a changing version of hopscotch. Kids can jump on both feet or advance to hopping all the hoops on one foot without touching the other foot or their hands down! This can be loads of fun (and great on the abs too!) as the hoops move further apart! This game is great for eye-body coordination, spacial awareness, and gross-motor skills.

5. PLAY-DOH BALL-SNAKE PASS – This is best played in groups of three. All you need is a blob ofPlay-Doh for each group. The first person rolls the Play-Doh into a ball using only the palms of both hands. They then pass the ball of play-doh to another member of their group who must take it using both hands and NOT touching the other players fingers! The second player rolls the ball out into a long snake or string of Play-Doh and pass the snake onto the third player who has to take it, again not touching fingers. Player three uses only his palms to roll the snake back into a ball and passes the ball to player one. Player one rolls the ball back out to a snake and so on. When the kids get really good, they can try to do this one-handed! This game teaches bilateral coordination, turn-taking, patience, and fine-motor skills.

With a little modification, any of these games can work for kids young and old. Have very young kids? Try number five without passing the Play-Doh back and forth. Just rolling and unrolling the ball is great for motor skills and bilateral coordination. Have a house full of teenagers? Try musical chairs with their favorite music using chairs of different heights (boxes, bean bag chairs, kitchen chairs, mats, etc. Get their brains going as well as their bodies!) Seriously, what better time than the holidays to give family bonding through coordination building games a try? You’re already together. Make it fun AND grow while your at it!

Stop and Listen

A post by Fit Abilities Yoga Teacher, Natasha Baebler, RY200 and Special Education Teacher

The video below was a Doodlecast created by one of our students describing what made her excited about the Fit Abilities Program.

How often do we listen to what kids say? How often do you as an adult feel unheard? Daily? Maybe just once or twice a week? How often do you think this is for the kids in your life? Sometimes we as adults are so busy “teaching” our children that we forget to stop and listen to what they already know. Even less frequently do we listen to what they perceive. Yes, the minds of children learn fast. But that doesn’t mean we have to directly teach them everything. Sometimes they just need the chance to recognize what they already know. Sometimes they have things to teach us.

When was the last time you sat down with a child and let them tell you how they see their world? Have you ever asked a child to describe what she is seeing around her. When she does this, how quickly do you start talking-filling in the “gaps”?

What would happen if you let the “gaps” be? Let the child fill her own gaps. You may both discover something about the way she sees her world. The way she thinks. What she knows and who she is.

Children do not process as quickly as adults. Yet our fast paced world rarely gives a child the time she needs to really observe, process and then express what she has observed. We move children from thing to thing, topic to topic, subject to subject at an adult pace. Sometimes we say it’s because kids have short attention spans. Yes, they may have short attention spans, but they can also focus. Sometimes they just need to be given the opportunity.

I have a private yoga client who is the middle child in a family of six kids. His parents started him working with me because “he doesn’t pay attention” and they heard yoga was good for kids with ADHD. Yet, when I brought him into my yoga space, he was more attentive than some of my adult clients. After his first class, his mom asked me how he did. My response was to defer to my student. How did you think that went? His mom immediately started asking him question after question. I watched his attention drift to the kids playing down the street, to the dog barking, to everything but himself. The focused child I had in my studio not five minutes before was tuning out. “Matt, is there anything from yoga today that you want to share with your mom?” I asked. I was giving him the opportunity to a.) choose if he wanted to tell his mom anything, and b.) what he felt was most important to him from class. And then I waited. His mom started to ask another question, but I put my hand on her shoulder signaling her to remain quiet. After a minute, what my client said wasn’t anything we had talked about in the hour long lesson. He told his mom that he liked the knit pants he was wearing because they didn’t have a tag. The itch of the tag made him want to scratch and made it hard to think. Not only could my client identify something that was a frequent irritant, but he could articulate what about it bothered him and why.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach our kids and should just leave them to figure it our on their own. There are things that need to be directly taught. But particularly when it comes to their perception of the world in which they live, children need to be heard. They need to know that they have observations, perceptions, experiences that are all their own. It is through learning how they see the world that they learn who they are. And we as the adults in their lives get to discover that right along side them. Yet it’s their journey;their discovery. Just as we as adults have our own.

Kids need to learn to process and problem solve, something they largely learn by doing and practicing. If we keep asking our children questions, keep telling them what they see, there comes a point where they can’t see or think through our chatter. They are neither able to hear what we are saying nor process their own thoughts on the subject. The line starts to blur between what they are seeing/perceiving and what they are being told someone else is seeing or perceiving. Then, they lose sight of their own through that of the other.

So how do we as adults help our children learn about their world and themselves? Easy, we ask one question and then we stop and listen. We encourage them to tell more; to describe. Even if you know you just have to tell them this one thing. Stop, and listen. Their sense of self depends on it.