The Yoga of Helping This Holiday Season
We are wired to help! Whether we know it consciously or not, humans love helping.
Our beloved yoga tradition has a culture of helping, embedded in the ancient spiritual practice of Karma Yoga. You know about karma, right? We have all heard of “good” or “bad” karma. Simply put, karma means action. Doing the wrong thing, the neutral thing, the right thing, or the next right thing. Karma Yoga is the yoga of action, often called the yoga of service.
The idea of karma can be useful for just about anyone. Our actions determine the reward or punishment either now, later, or in the next lifetime. It’s a way to remember to Do The Right Thing in this complicated and distracting world. Karma Yoga is the commitment to doing the right thing as a way of uplifting both the self and others.
Mantras to Help Kids Do the Right Thing
Can we teach our children about this? Yes! Kids can learn anything grownups can. With kids (as with all of us) a super way of learning is by forming habits.
Early in my yoga journey I learned about mantras. I was also working on impulse control, particularly automatic judgmental thinking about me and others. I tried this - when I had critical thoughts about someone else, I would replace it with the loving-kindness mantra “May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be at ease.” Later, I began using it on things that caused me anxiety, such as an ambulance whizzing by with sirens blaring. I would redirect my anxiety to offer loving-kindness to the person inside. The most difficult part was repeating the mantra when I had negative thoughts about myself. Hard, but really important when it comes to karma, as Buddhist tradition teaches that loving-kindness practice should always include oneself.
Just like everything in life, it wasn’t perfect. I am not free from judgemental thoughts. It’s more like it offers the mind an alternative to automatic negative thinking. Simply having that alternative is a type of freedom. I am no longer trapped in the urgent, “necessary” need to judge. There is now another option.
Let’s teach this to kids too! It’s simple to offer a loving-kindness meditation to kiddos while in savasana, or to remind them if they get into squabbles during class. Will they think it’s weird? Probably. If you repeat it often enough will it sink in anyway? Yes. Will kinder thoughts eventually translate into kinder, more generous actions? I am absolutely sure they will.
More Ways to Help Kids Do the Right Thing
As Thich Nhat Hanh, the iconic Buddhist monk, says:
There is a kind of onion that grows in Vietnam. They are delicious in soup. If you do not cut them, they do not grow. If you cut them bit by bit, that’s how they grow. That is how generosity works too. The more you give, the richer you get, in joy and wellbeing.
Children can visualize something really yummy, and imagine them giving it away to someone they love, or to someone who needs it. Ask them to notice how their body feels, and how their mind feels when they imagine giving. What does generosity look like? What does it feel like?
A Kindness Scavenger Hunt!
Looking for support this holiday season to help kids make kinder decisions? Sign up to The Yoga Buggy newsletter for a free Kindness Scavenger Hunt printable. Once kiddos have completed everything (or several things!) on the list, treat them to a hot chocolate and game or a cozy family movie.
Books that Help Kids Do the Right Thing
These beautiful books work like magic in kids’ yoga classes.
Be a Tree by Maria Gianferrari. This book reminds us beautifully that we are part of nature and that nature is generous.
Outside In by Deborah Underwood. Another one about the generosity of nature. We may forget about nature, but nature remembers us.
One Love by Cedella Marley. The lyrics to Bob Marley’s iconic anthem, set to bright and joyful drawings about being kind to animals, family, nature, and our neighbours.
How Kind! by Mary Murphy. A perfect story for preschool yoga, with one farm animal doing a kindness for the next, creating a chain reaction of generosity.
Doing the Right Thing in Your Community
Speaking of doing the right thing, the holiday season is a great time to lend a hand to the hardworking charities and nonprofits in our community. Volunteering, giving generously, and doing Karma yoga, has tangible benefits for our collective wellbeing. The experts want us to know that it’s good for us too!
I am directing some metta, or loving-kindness to some of our non-profit partners we have had over the years. These partners do great work to support our communities in a million ways. Special thanks this holiday season to Neighbourhood Houses, YMCAs, BC After School Sport and Art Initiative and Community Schools Teams. We are very much looking forward to our partnerships with SOS Children’s Villages, Vancouver Aboriginal Health Society. We are honoured to partner with you to bring more yoga to more kids.
This holiday season, please donate your time, your energy, your love. Even an hour can make a difference, both to you and to our community.