Yoga Hits the Super Bowl: 5 Tips for Teaching Boys

Mrs. Gillen, if everyone did yoga, the world would be pink!

This comment from an 11 year old boy was typical of those Lynea heard from the boys in her elementary school’s behavior classroom when she first brought in yoga 15 years ago. And considering the dominant media image of the thin, young and flexible woman doing yoga, it’s no surprise that many boys (and men) still see the practice as a strictly female pastime.

Tell that to the Seattle Seahawks as they head to Arizona this weekend.

The Times, They Are a-Changing

Russell WilsonCredit: Photograph by Peter YangWhen an ESPN feature appeared a couple years back on the Seahawks’ embrace of yoga and meditation training, many wrote it off as just another fad. This year, they have the opportunity for back-to-back Super Bowl wins.

Other major sports teams have taken notice. Sports psychologists are ever more common, teaching relaxation, meditation and visualization techniques. Professional athletes know the value of yoga and stretching to prevent injury.

“Meditation is as important as lifting weights and being out here on the field for practice,” Seattle offensive tackle Russell Okung told ESPN.

How Did They Get There?

Anyone who has tried to get their husband to a yoga class has probably encountered the many reasons men don’t relate to yoga. But when my karate teachers brought a yoga teacher into our dojo 40 years ago, we didn’t complain. Why not? They framed yoga in a way that we could understand and desire. For us, it meant things like the ability to kick higher and stay relaxed when sparring with someone who was trying to hit you. Breathing techniques helped us to aerobically recover faster.

What they didn’t tell me – and what I later discovered – was that my yoga practice would also help me deal with anger, gain perspective, control impulsivity, accept more, and stay focused.

Looking back, I realize that that early introduction was seminal in my development as a man.

I recently shared that story with the group in a recent Wellness 1 training we taught. Then Lynea and I shared our five favorite tips for getting boys and even husbands into yoga:

1. Reframe

One of the best ways we’ve found to connect with boys and men in our yoga classes is to use stories of how professional athletes use yoga to improve their performance. For instance, you can say things like, “Look at the ready position of a football center, and you’ll see how Straddle pose can help,” or “Ever see a professional basketball player take a few long, slow breaths before shooting a clutch free throw?” Or you can talk about legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the NBA’s all-time scorers, who credits his yoga practice for his long career.

There are plenty of examples of athletes doing yoga.

“I think it’s really exciting,” said Jennilyn Carson, a yoga teacher who writes the blog YogaDork. “When you hear that football players do yoga, it changes the image, helps make it more accessible. Yoga isn’t just for girls, or for the thin and flexible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It helps people who aren’t thin or flexible.”

2. Use Language of Strength
It wasn’t until we changed the name of our boys’ yoga class to “Jedi Training: Yoga Calm for Boys” that enrollment took off. After all, don’t Jedi knights exemplify the yogic principles of self-control, self-knowledge, and a respect for the force (i.e., “life”)? And what young boy doesn’t want to be recognized for heroic actions in the service to others?

Try using language like, “Activate your body your body like a superhero!” the next time you teach Mountain pose or, “Send laser beams from your fingertips!” when teaching Warrior 1 and Star.

3. Challenge Them & Acknowledge Their Strength
Ask which pose would help them achieve their sports goals and how long should they hold it. Then have them lead the group in that pose while another student beats a frame drum to count. Finish by asking for “compliments” from the group on how the leaders did.

Our Online Certification Courses highlight the use of these and other motivational techniques.

4. Practice Ignoring to Focus
Ever great athlete has to learn how to stay focused when under pressure, and kids can certainly relate to the need to ignore distractions! We love our Tree Circle and Tree Challenge series (included in our book Yoga Calm for Children) for this, where students activity practice ignoring others who are trying to throw them off.

Brain research validates these and other yogic techniques, as we now understand the benefits of strong proprioceptive input for nervous system regulation and the role inhibition plays in lighting up the attention centers of the brain.

5. Visualize to Realize
boy meditating Most all top athletes and teams work with high performance sports psychologists. Predominantly, what they are teaching players are relaxation, meditation and visualization techniques. Every athlete knows how important it is see yourself on top of that podium, to believe that you can do it and to speak your dreams.

Use our Positive Self Talk poster (“I am strong. I am in control. I can do it.”) when you first start teaching, and then later ask the students which words they used after a challenging pose. Write them up on the board for the whole class to see.

Another technique is to use a guided relaxation at the end of yoga class. Ask students to “imagine seeing yourself doing something really great; that took practice and great effort. It could be anywhere – at school, with your friends, perhaps in your favorite sport. What did you do? Who is there with you? How did you prepare?” After the visualization, ask them to share. Then discuss how every great deed began with a dream, a vision. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a great example.

Of course, there’s nothing like modeling to help with acceptance. We recently got a great comment on this from a student who just finished her online course with us:

What is so funny is that my significant other, Joe, actually has been watching the videos with me! Ha! Now this is a blue collar male who eats meat and taters!! AND he loves the videos!! And is also commenting on how great Jim and Lynea are as a team! HA! He said “You should keep doing yoga”! My response: “Yeah, and you should start!!” hahaha!

For more tips, see our post “Working with Yoga-Resistant Teens.”

We also want to hear your favorite ideas for – or questions about – teaching yoga with resistant individuals. Share them in the comments!

Top image via ESPN,
lower by Nene la Beet, via Flickr

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A Somatic Approach Toward a Bully-Free Future

boy looking downResearch shows that children who are bullied often carry a posture and a story of victimization. Trauma, low self-esteem, learning disabilities and obesity also can set up a child for ridicule and rejection. As we’ve noted before, such children begin to walk and talk in a victimized way. They begin to form a story of rejection and low self-worth that perpetuates bullying.

Yet “the bully” often comes from a place of trauma and victimization, too, posturing him or herself in a way that threatens, hurts and ridicules others. As the poet WH Auden put it years ago:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Bystanders, meanwhile, are often caught in a conflicting role, not knowing what to do. All too often – and even if it happened only once, it would be too often – the result can look something like this:

This is a powerful message, aiming to override the various resistances young people have toward expressing warmth and kindness. Such messages are vital. But as with so many other well-intentioned interventions, they are not enough. They speak to emotion or reason or will.

But speaking to mind or heart alone is seldom enough.

For even when bullying is “just words,” it is a physical experience, as well. A child being bullied may feel their stomach knot, their eyes burn, their throat constrict or any number of unique physical sensations that can come with feeling overpowered. The bully may feel large, energized, buzzing with energy as he or she exerts power over another.

The body receives the impact of the experience, and the body remembers – sometimes even more so than the mind or even the heart.

In fact, research continues to show that the mental/emotional experience of being bullied actually changes the structure of the brain. Studies have shown that bullied children have less grey matter in multiple regions, abnormalities in the corpus callosum (the area connecting the two lobes of the brain), and possible damage to the hippocampus.

Clearly, what’s needed is a somatic approach to bullying, through which body, heart and mind are brought together to nurture strong, resilient children.

Bridging Hearts & Minds Conference logoThis is something that Yoga Calm co-founder Lynea Gillen and Yoga Calm Trainer Kathy Flaminio will be presenting next month in San Diego for Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth, an annual conference on mindfulness and compassion in clinical practice, education and research. Through interactive role play, yoga and simple mindfulness practices, participants will learn how to teach K-8 youth practical skills that build self-awareness, leadership, resilience and a positive life story.

One of Lynea’s experiences with a student powerfully illustrates how this holistic approach gets put into practice and makes a difference:

Jacob, a 12 year old student who was often teased, rushed into my office exclaiming, “It worked, Mrs. Gillen! It really worked!”

“What worked?” I asked.

“That thing you taught me about bullying. I stood in Mountain, rooted myself, looked him in the eye and said ‘Stop’ in my strong voice. And guess what? He stopped!”

Jacob looked as though he still couldn’t believe he had the power to stop the bullying behavior.

Bullies likewise can learn to stop through such self-awareness and self-regulation as we teach throughout the Yoga Calm curriculum. Those in the middle can learn how to express positive feeling or to stand up for what is right.

Only by addressing the issue on all three levels – physical, mental and emotional – can we make long-term progress toward a bully-free future.

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High-Stakes Tests, Kids’ Soaring Stress – and a Lesson Plan for Creating Calm & Focus Instead

Not even two weeks into the new year, and already, testing season is underway in many school districts around the country. And so is the backlash against standardized testing, which – according to a recent Marketplace feature on NPR – is only expected to keep on keeping on.

Now, complaints about standardized testing are nothing new, but they’ve definitely grown in strength as No Child Left Behind morphed into Race to the Top and Common Core. And there’s certainly plenty to complain about. The testing schedule has grown so vast and complex that this –

– doesn’t sound quite so far-fetched and silly anymore.

Over the past year, we’ve heard a lot more about the effects of high-stakes testing on children’s mental health and well-being. Even grade-schoolers are feeling the heat. A recent article in the New York Times described parents decrying

a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.

“My third grader loves school, but I can’t get her out of the car this year,” Dawn LaBorde, who has three children in Palm Beach County schools, told the gathering, through tears. Her son, a junior, is so shaken, she said, “I have had to take him to his doctor.” She added: “He can’t sleep, but he’s tired. He can’t eat, but he’s hungry.”

One father broke down as he said he planned to pull his second grader from school. “Teaching to a test is destroying our society,” he said.

test stressA public radio feature from Jacksonville, Florida presented similar scenes. One local pediatrician said that she’s seen a major increase in stress-related conditions through recent years.

[Dr. Wendy] Sapolsky said the uptick at her office usually occurs between February and April. During those months, she said she typically sees a new patient each day suffering some level of test-related anxiety, with symptoms ranging from stomach aches to panic attacks.

“Sometimes, these kids get so worked up as early as third grade with having to pass the FCAT’s to pass third grade, that this time of year we have some children…that have such severe anxiety that we can’t get them to school at this time of year. Literally, they will not get out of the car,” she said.

Other parents report damage from their children being held back in school despite excellent grades. Severe anxiety over testing puts an artificial drag on scores. For such children, testing can become an exercise in discouragement.

Not much research has been done yet on the phenomenon, but one of the few published studies showed that while just about 10% of students experience extreme anxiety over testing, far more children experience increased stress when the stakes are raised. A substantial number of students assessed to be “low-anxiety” in normal classroom test situations move into the moderate anxiety range in high-stakes scenarios.

These results are consistent with the hypothesis that students perceive high-stakes testing situations as more stressful and anxiety-provoking than typical testing situations that occur as part of the curriculum. Similarly, students reported significantly more cognitive and physiological symptoms of test anxiety about the NCLB assessment.

The study also found that teacher anxiety shot up, as well – both with respect to their own performance and that of their students.

Is it any surprise, then, that kids pick up on the teacher’s stress and then do less well on the test?

standardized testMaybe the biggest irony is that the stress created by high-stakes testing not only impedes a student’s performance in the moment; it actually makes long-term changes in brain structure. Research on the neurobiology of the stress response has found that the high levels of catecholamine released during stress rapidly impair the top-down cognitive functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), while strengthening the emotional and habitual responses of the amygdala and basal ganglia (our “fight or flight” response). Chronic stress exposure leads to dendritic atrophy in PFC, dendritic extension in the amygdala, and strengthening of the noradrenergic (NE) system.

It’s clearly a no-win situation.

Yet the hard fact is that standardized testing is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. That means kids – and their teachers and parents, too! – need tools and strategies for dealing with the accompanying anxiety, to become stress-hardy and able to deal with stressful situations in the moment, as they arise.

This is, of course, close to the heart of Yoga Calm. By practicing stress mitigation techniques during testing and other stressful times, we strengthen the PFC and develop good habits. Whether taking a quick time out for some Hoberman breathing; remembering “I am strong. I can do this. I can be in control;” being aware of their bodies speeding into stress response – how that feels – and confidently knowing that they know how to slow that down, that they can in fact control their physical and mental experience – all these things can help children manage the bothersome and even frightening feelings that can come up around test time.

Teachers who integrate Yoga Calm practices and processes into their classrooms regularly and reliably report less test anxiety, so perhaps it’s no surprise that they also report better test scores and grades overall. With anxiety out of the way and the stress response under control, kids can focus on expressing what they know and do better when asked to prove their knowledge or skill in a testing session.

Here’s one test prep activity from our online Practicum course:

Sample Strength Lesson Plan

Date: September 21, 2014
Population: Elementary School
Teacher: Lynea Gillen
Time: 30-40 minutes

Yoga Calm Principle/Lesson Goal: Strength
Words: “I can change my thoughts and feelings”


  • Hoberman Sphere Breathing: “Notice how watching your breath slows your mind down?”
  • Pulse Count for 30 seconds. Then run in place for one minute. Feel the pulse and count for 30 seconds. Feel the pulse slow down. We can change our heartbeat and the way our body feels by what we choose to do.
  • Changing Channels: Use images that children can relate to.
  • Volcano Breath 3 times, then 3 more times with Heart Thoughts: “Think of how you would like to feel today. Get that thought strongly in your mind, then as you exhale, spread that feeling around you.”


  • Wild and Calm: Children get “silently wild” with fast beat of drum, then they put their heads down and calm their bodies for 10 beats of the drum. You can also allow students to walk around the room like satellites for 10 beats, then come back to their desks for 10 beats. Words: “I can go from wild to calm quickly.”
  • Warrior I or II, 15 beats on each side. Words: “I can be strong, even if I feel afraid or confused sometimes. I can choose to be strong; sometimes difficult things make me stronger.”


  • Twist in chair or on mat (depending on setting).
  • Relaxation – Mindful Moment card on Strength.

Download a PDF of this lesson plan.

Images by Megan Skelly &
Alberto G., via Flickr

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A Nation of the Sleep-Deprived – & How to Turn Things Around

granddaughter“It’s time to get up and make pancakes, Grandpa!”

It was 5:30 in the morning.

Still, I thought it might be good to get up a little earlier than usual for my four year old granddaughter’s and my favorite ritual – though neither of us had got much sleep the night before. She’d had a bedtime meltdown. I stayed up late afterwards, savoring a bit of alone time.

I was really tired!

And the irony was that I’d spent a good chunk of that alone time watching a National Geographic special on sleep deprivation in America. As I headed to the kitchen for pancake time, one of the tips offered in the documentary really stood out. Later that day, Anna’s mom and I talked about establishing a consistent bedtime and ritual for her between our homes.

Developing good sleep hygiene habits is important for all of us, kids and adults alike. Losing a little sleep once in a while, as I did, is no big deal, but chronic sleep disturbance and sleep loss add up to one major health issue. Just consider a few of the facts highlighted in NatGeo’s Sleepless in America:

  • Forty percent of adults are sleep-deprived. Among teens, fully 70% fall behind the recommended 9 to 10 hours of sleep nightly.
  • “Every aspect of who you are as a human,” NTSB member Mark Rosekind explained, “every capability is degraded, impaired, when you lose sleep. What does that mean? Your decision-making, reaction time, situational awareness, memory, communication, and those things go down by 20 to 50 percent.”
  • Research has shown links between sleep deprivation and increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and even cancer. And sleep deprivation is “universal in every psychiatric condition, from bipolar disorder to anxiety disorders.”

Is it any wonder that sleep improvement is big business these days? Billions of dollars of business – an increase of nearly 10% since 2008.

As we say in our Wellness 1 session on children’s health issues, sleep deprivation is the greatest hidden health issue facing our country.

We Lose More Than Just Sleep

In some ways, our society and culture are set up to get in the way of good sleep. One big hindrance, of course is overstimulation from our always-connected, always-online world, as we’ve written about plenty before. But also adults are overworked and kids are overscheduled. Come the weekend, we may stay up too late doing things we couldn’t get to before – or sleep in too much in an effort to compensate for sleep lost during the week. (Unfortunately, a longer term effort is needed, say researchers.)

For kids, ever earlier start times for school are yet another barrier. These days, some schools start before 7:30 in the morning – even as evidence of the folly of this continues to mount. The record shows that more sleep means higher test scores and lower rates of depression for teens. “Even one more hour of sleep per night,” writes psychologist Dr. John Cline at Psychology Today, “results in improved mood, attention and learning for students.”

Sleep also, as the documentary noted, can “inspire creativity, re-balance emotions, help refresh cardiovascular health, metabolic health and boost our immune system.”

And, fortunately, better sleep habits can be developed – at any age.

How to Get More, High Quality Sleep

sleeping bearThe NatGeo documentary’s tips for better sleep included a number that we shared in our 2009 post “10 Tips for Better Sleep”:

  • Have a regular bedtime and wake time.
  • Keep the bedroom dark and cool.
  • Keep media and technology out of the bedroom.
  • Make the bedroom environment a haven.
  • Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine, all of which are bad for sleep.

Other recommendations that Lynea makes in both her private counseling practice and our Yoga Calm work include:

  • Make sleep the priority and first thing on the schedule. For example, for families with school age children, schedule 9-10 hours of sleep time, then school, then family time and everything else after this. Given the health issue of sleep loss, replacing sleep with sports or even homework is the same as – or even worse than – chronically skipping meals.
  • Practice relaxing. Pediatric nurses at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital are using Yoga Calm’s storytelling and other relaxation techniques to help children and teens get comfortable with that transition zone before sleep. (This is often a time when fears and the effects of past trauma show up.)
  • For the 70 million Americans who suffer from insomnia, a cognitive behavioral therapy approach (CBT-I) has proven effective.
  • Don’t get in bed unless you’re sleepy and don’t stay in bed unless you’re asleep. This creates a positive association of the bed with sleeping and helps condition your “sleep response,” helping you fall asleep more quickly.

Bear image by MJ Boswell, via Flickr

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Bullying & the Language of the Body

A wonderful anecdote from senior yoga teacher Patricia Walden recently caught my eye in a post at Yoga Journal. She recalled a statement BKS Iyengar made to her when she struggled with depression: “If you open your armpits, you’ll never get depressed.”

She was in her early 20s then. She never forgot that statement.

“Of course, what he meant,” she says, “was that if you stand straight and your armpits are lifted, this opens your chest, and it will affect your mental health.”

Yoga teachers know that the way we carry our bodies affects how we feel – and the way others feel about us. This is the somatics of mental health. (Somatics: the “study of self from the perspective of lived experience encompassing the dimensions of body, psyche and spirit.”)

The Language of the Body

At a recent Yoga Calm for Therapists course I taught at Lewis and Clark College, I had participants turn and look at one another. Then I asked them to slump their posture and notice what that communicated. Then, on the count of three, we “activated our inner superhero” and stood straight and tall. I asked them to notice what that communicated.

“We look stronger,” one person said.

“More attractive,” said another.

“Like we will stand up for ourselves,” another chimed in.

It was clear within just a few minutes that posture makes a powerful statement.

Superheroes to the Rescue

The power of the superhero symbol is strong – an archetype that captures the imagination of people around the globe. We all want to be strong, competent, and physically capable. We want to be protectors of our families, our values and our homes.

superhero kidsConsider the posture of superheroes. They are physically strong. They stand upright. They speak with a commanding voice. They typically don’t overreact.

Students who are bullied or harassed seldom carry this posture. They walk with a posture of victimization and fear that merely invites more victimization.

Research has borne this out. For instance, a study published last year in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that some criminals are very good at sensing weakness based on the way you walk.

The authors secretly filmed 12 people walking – eight women and four men, some of whom had been attacked before. Then, they showed the footage to a group of inmates, some of whom exhibited interpersonal traits commonly associated with psychopathy – manipulativeness, a lack of empathy, superficial friendliness – and asked them whether or not each person would make a good victim.

These “victim ratings” were then compared against each person’s actual history of victimization. Sure enough, the people whom the psychopaths picked as “likely victims” were usually the ones who had been victimized in the past. These people were often said to have “walked like an easy target” – slowly, asynchronously, with short strides.

Fortunately, the tools of strength and confidence can also be taught to reduce the likelihood of victimization and bullying. Children can learn to be less reactive, to stand in their personal strength, make eye contact and set boundaries. Here’s a Yoga Calm lesson plan from our Online Certification Course that helps to develop these skills:

Sample Strength Lesson Plan

Population: Grades 3-12
Time:30-40 minutes

Yoga Calm Principle/Lesson Goal: Strength


  • Strong Voice: Lead Strong Voice writing activity (where they describe their “strong voice” and allow students to share with a peer.
  • Belly Breathing: Ask a student leader to lead the breathing with the Hoberman Sphere. Ask what kind of strength is necessary to get in front of a group and lead.
  • Pulse Count: Have students count their pulse for one minute while you try to distract them. Ask them what their strategies were to stay strong in their minds and not let you throw them off.


  • Mountain Test: One student stands in Mountain, activating their “superhero” (firming muscles and standing strong) while another gently presses on one side and then the other “testing” their ability to not tip over.
  • Warrior Flow: Practice the following flow two to three times holding each pose for at least eight beats. Finish by standing in Mountain.
    • Star Pose
    • Warrior II to left
    • Star Pose
    • Chair Pose
    • Warrior II to right
    • Star Pose

  • Archetype Game: Students squat down and on the count of four grow into statues of “kings and queens.” With a soft drum beat they then walk around the room as their noble self. When the drum stops, they squat down. (Repeat again for “arrogant/boastful”, “shy” and “confident”.) Discuss their experiences of the different characters/archetypes.


  • Forward Bend: Bring the students back to center after Archetype Game, by forward bending from a standing position or by resting forward on hands on a table or back of chair.
  • Mindful Moment Card: Students rest on the floor or in chairs as you read this card on Strength: “Remember a time when you stood up for yourself or someone else. Where were you, and what did you stand up for? Think of the things in your life that are important to you and how you stand up for your beliefs.”

Bridging Hearts and Minds Mindfulness Conference

Bridging Hearts & Minds Conference logoWe will be sharing more about the underlying issues of bullying – including the roles of the bully, bystander and victim – at the Bridging Hearts and Minds Conference this coming February in San Diego. Having previously featured such notable speakers as Jon Kabat-Zinn, this is the world’s largest conference on mindfulness in education, and we’re honored to be taking part in it once again.

In our special session on bullying prevention, we’ll be sharing how to use interactive role play, yoga, mindfulness practices and storytelling to help youth build self-awareness, leadership, resilience and a positive life story. I’ll also be sharing tips from more than 30 years of teaching yoga and mindfulness in elementary schools and findings of a Wayne State University study of Yoga Calm in a high poverty, Detroit school. Our National Training Manager, Kathy Flaminio will also share from 20 years of school social work experience and teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, mindfulness and social/emotional skills at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

View the complete conference schedule here.

Learn more about our Online Certification course here.

Superheroes image by your neighborhood librarian

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Bones! (And 3 Tips to Help Your Kids Develop Healthy Ones)

Jim Gillen with skeletonIt’s the time of year when you can’t turn your head without seeing bones – in store displays, in front of homes, even in our yoga trainings!

One concept we explored a lot in our recent Yoga for Seniors courses is how yoga can improve bone health. That’s because exercise strengthens not only muscles but bones. A regular, properly designed program may in fact help prevent the falls and fall-related fractures that so often result in disability and early death. For exercise also improves balance, coordination and flexibility.

This is especially important for older adults who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis – a bone-thinning process that raises risk of fractures. The Surgeon General estimates that by 2020, half of all Americans over 50 will be affected.

The best way to prevent this from happening to others? Get our kids on the path to good bone health early!

3 Factors in Better Bone Growth & Development

Most of our bone mass is formed by late adolescence – and that’s it. We can’t add to it later. We can only keep from losing it as we age. It’s estimated that a 10% increase in peak bone mass in youth can reduce the risk of adult osteoporotic fracture by 50%.

So how do you increase it?

  1. Exercise

    According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, children should engage in physical activity for at least 40 minutes each day for optimal bone growth.

    Weight-bearing exercises build bone density and mass, making them stronger and less vulnerable to osteoporosis later in life. Building bone density and mass is particularly important for young people aged 8 to16.

    Research has shown physically active young girls gain about 40% more bone mass than the least active girls of the same age. In girls, the bone tissue accumulated during the ages of 11 to 13 approximately equals the amount lost during the 30 years following menopause.

  2. Vitamin D & Calcium

    Eating for healthy bones means getting plenty of foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. Most kids do not get enough. Of course, milk, cheese and yogurt are obvious sources of calcium, but did you know that your kids can also get calcium from dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale and bok choy, as well as foods such as broccoli, almonds, tortillas, or tofu made with calcium? Many popular foods such as cereals, breads, and juices now have calcium added, too.

    While kids can get plenty of vitamin D from time in the sun – sunlight converts a cholesterol precursor in our skin to vitamin D3 – there are good dietary sources, as well: fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, fortified milk and other dairy products.

    Along with vitamin K – found in dark, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, avocados, meat, eggs and other foods – D helps the body to better absorb all the calcium it gets.

  3. Limit Soft Drinks & Caffeine

    As the NIH’s Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center notes,

    Soft drinks tend to displace calcium-rich beverages in the diets of many children and adolescents. In fact, research has shown that girls who drink soft drinks consume much less calcium than those who do not.

    But the problem is not just one of displacement. Soda consumption itself seems to detract from bone health. For instance, research out of Tufts University showed that regular, heavy cola drinkers had significantly lower bone mineral density in their hips – even after controlling for calcium and vitamin D intake. Why should this be?

    Phosphoric acid, a major component in most sodas, may be to blame for lower bone density, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and authors of the Tufts study like Katherine Tucker, PhD. Phosphorus itself is an important bone mineral. But if you’re getting a disproportionate amount of phosphorus compared to the amount of calcium you’re getting, that could lead to bone loss.

    Another possible culprit is caffeine, which experts have long known can interfere with calcium absorption. In the Tufts study, both caffeinated and non-caffeinated colas were associated with lower bone density. But the caffeinated drinks appeared to do more damage.

    The only skeletons that should be spooky are haunted house and Halloween décor. The healthy human skeleton, on the other hand, is a wondrous thing…even beautiful, poetry in motion:

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From the Archives: 3 Activities to Start the School Year Right

As a new school year gets underway, we re-post these tips from a couple years back to help you get the year off to a positive start…

Parents and teachers know how important establishing routines is for healthy child development, but the shift from summer fun to school schedules can be challenging.

Of course, “challenge” is just a different word for “opportunity.”

Here are three ways you can make the most of the opportunities a new school year brings and prepare kids for a successful transition to their new routine – some new ABCs:

1. Attend to the Basics
One of our most basic needs is the need for quality rest and sleep, especially children, who need significantly more sleep than adults (up to 12 hours for the youngest school age kids, 9 for tweens and teens). But according to the National Sleep Foundation, the average youth gets up to two hours less than the minimum they need each night to support learning, emotional regulation and physical growth. There are many reasons for this sleep deficit, including electronic media use, lack of exercise and irregular sleep patterns.

For young children going off to school for the first time, sleep can also be disturbed by the natural anxieties that can arise from such a milestone event. (Their parents’ sleep can suffer, as well!) This is one of the things Lynea had in mind when writing her new book, Good People Everywhere. A soothing story, it makes a great bedtime read, easing fears and nurturing awareness of – and gratitude for – the many caring people in their lives. You may even want to download some of the free activity sheets from Three Pebble Press, which provide more ways for your child to identify the good people they know and feel safe and secure in the world.

2. Bring the Body into Balance
We all know that most kids don’t get enough exercise. Add to this increasing academic demands, excess media consumption and reductions in PE and recess time, and we have the perfect storm for attention problems, behavior issues, obesity and other long-term health issues.

Adding movement breaks into a classroom’s daily routine is a well-known tool of master teachers and a well-documented brain-based learning principle. The Top Ten Routine from our book Yoga Calm for Children (and taught in our Wellness 1 course) was specially designed to help reduce children’s stress, develop self-regulation and attention, and encourage imagination – all in just 10 minutes!

If you’re a teacher, have your students take turns leading the Top Ten each day, and you will also build classroom community and reduce behavior issues. (Student-led poses and sequences are a hallmark of the Yoga Calm approach.) As one of our carpenter friends says, “Ten minutes spent sharpening your saw first makes your work easier and more fun!” Download a free copy of the Top Ten here.

Of course, the Top Ten can be done at home, as well – where kids can also get moving with our Kids Teach Yoga: Flying Eagle DVD. (It makes for a great theme-based environmental education class, too, inspiring children to move and to protect nature.)

3. Create Community & Compassion
With the constant distractions and influence of electronic media, setting norms of behavior and practicing face-to-face social skills are more important than ever.

The Communication Game – also in our book – is one fun way to develop prosocial behaviors, communication skills and compassion in both classroom and counseling settings. In pairs, one student expresses a typical experience while their partner practices important skills such as restating, reflecting feelings, asking questions, sharing their experiences, encouraging and empathizing. Download a free copy of the Communication Game here.

One of the variations we cover when we teach this activity in depth for our Wellness 3 course brings a dynamic element to this social/emotional learning (SEL): Have two pairs compete against each other and the clock while the rest of the class keeps score.

And don’t think there’s no academic benefit here. According to psychiatrist Daniel Goleman, SEL in the classroom has been shown to improve academic achievement.

Starting your school year off right with healthy habits and behavioral skills lends itself to more than just academic success but life success, happiness and health. Who says we can’t have it all?!

Image by The Consortium, via Flickr

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