An arts camp, with the future in mind.

I took thousands of pictures while I was in India on the Fulbright. I carried my camera around with me wherever I went. The one time where I ran out of memory and battery power was the time I spent at the arts camp in Kuppam at the Agastya Foundation. I wanted to record everything I witnessed all the days I was there. The Kanavu Pattarai arts camp was something I wasn’t sure I was going to experience. Fortunately, I did. The experience was something that I will never forget.

This particular Kanavu Pattarai camp is supported by collaboration between the NalandaWay Foundation and the Agastya Foundation. NalandaWay provides the teachers, the curriculum, the resources, and Agastya Foundation provides the space. The camp pulls from near by towns. Both boys and girls, ages 13-16, attended this camp. It was not a residential experience but a day camp for 3 full days.

The first day students were introduced to each other and jumped right in on camp activities. The teachers organized the whole camp, and when there was some spots that needed an activity I filled in with yoga and a quick lesson in making origami cranes. I also participated in a trust exercise, which was really fun for all of us.

All the students were extremely excited to participate. They made a large amount of art in just three days, and presented on topics that were important to them and their school community. It just goes to show you, that when students are given a chance to perform, act, interact, create, make, design, and do—THEY WILL! Most of the students were really into the arts projects and produced a lot of amazing work together.

Collaboration is a big piece of the puzzle for this kind of camp, especially since the goal is to build a community of peers. One of the best parts of the camp for me was when the students were tasked with creating a group song. It was a huge challenge. Many students were very happy doing visual arts, or even making posters, and speaking. BUT singing? That was a big leap for some of them. Many of the students didn’t know what to do, or how they should attempt that particular task. However, there were a few girls who would not give up. While the group took a break from song writing, a couple of girls stayed back to finish the melody and lyrics. They were the only ones in the building, and I don’t think they were even aware that I was paying attention. What I saw was true collaboration, respect for one another, and the desire to come together to accomplish the task. These girls continued working on the song until everyone came back in the room. They shared their lyrics and taught the whole group of students the melody of the song. The other students were amazed, excited and couldn’t wait to be a part of the musical task once again.

As a group they practiced (led by the girls and a few other boys). The way the girls problem solved and helped their fellow peers was amazing. They reached out as a team to put something together that would bring a lot of joy to everyone in the whole entire room.

On a whole, this group exhibited a wide variety of talents and problem solving skills. I thought that this was a strength because they all had a particular way to exhibit that strength. It made the group of 30 kids extremely strong.   Students exhibited a lot of empathy and compassion for each other. Most times when one member of their group was having difficulty another would job in and say,” Maybe we try this?” The students always seemed like they were looking for ways to solve problems, think creatively, use the set limitations to their advantage, think outside the box to use limited art materials in a new way, and most importantly not give up on the project or each other. Only a few students really needed some extra help, but I think it was only because they had never had this much going on at once. Not much exposure to arts, not much exposure to group work and collaboration.

The Kanavu Pattarai camp is much more than a few days for kids to get away from school and have fun. This program is creating ways for kids to build their self-esteem, gain leaderships skills, practice problem solving, and be more self- aware. Without the arts, students are unable to see some the values that already exist within themselves. By providing arts camps, NalandaWay is essentially strengthening the school communities. The students who participate in these camps take everything back with them and share it at their school. They are able to talk about their experiences and show what they accomplished by participating in the camp.

 

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The camp space.
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Student receiving a welcome pin!

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Camp rules.
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Students creating their small group poster.
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Student beginning work on her self portrait with a tiny mirror.
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Decorative self portraits.  Using color and pattern as symbols.
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Students had a lot of discussions with each other for collaborative projects.

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Working on their community poster, discussing issues that are important to them and their community.

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Presenting their community posters to all the other groups.

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Me!  Teaching origami cranes, step by step.

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Uma and I on a tour around Agastya.
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All the camp goers and the teachers.
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The lovely girls who put the song together.
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Traveling to the camp spot.

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Shadow puppets to tell a story.
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Clay figures.

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Trust game– “Crazy taxi”.

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I was delighted to collaborate with NalandaWay on this program. I was able to expand the camp to five days, and add additional components like yoga and mindfulness. The more time we spend providing meaningful programs for youth to connect to each other and their own communities, the stronger we build the future for all of us.

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Road trip to Camp

The major highlight of being involved with NalandaWay Foundation was being able to attend, observe and help facilitate an arts camp called Kanavu Pattarai (dream workshop).  The purpose of the camp is to immerse youth in community building strategies. By using arts based and mindfulness practices, Kanavu Pattarai camps educate and train diverse communities to create responsible children who are expressive and positive in their choices.

Before we arrived at the camp for this session, our group stopped along to visit some other groups at some different schools who had already experienced Kanavu Pattarai in previous sessions.  The kids had recalled what they learned, shared with us the art and skits they created during camp.  I even got to facilitate some group yoga practices.  What a treat!

The best part for me was being able to interact with the kids, and noticing how receptive they were to my presence and trusting me to guide them through some poses.  What a warm reception and some stand out, unforgettable moments.

Here is a glimpse of some of the students I met, the schools I visited, and what they shared with us:

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Students were game for a few yoga poses.  Tree pose is always a good one to try.
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In Andhra Pradesh, the land is a lot drier and rockier.
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Mural painting is big everywhere you go, although this one is fades, it’s still beautiful.
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I had a chance to visit a girls school, the whole school was bright, cheerful, and boasted lots of arts integration.
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Meeting with a group of girls who participated in a previous camp.
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We also visited a residential school.  These kids were energetic, lively, and so friendly.
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Listening carefully to a few members who were speaking about the importance of the arts, but also how the arts can be a catalyst for social improvement among peers.

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Part of the camp process is to create a banner to bring back to the school.  This group worked hard to create a message about equality and acceptance.

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More to come from this trip. Stay tuned.

Stress, contiuned.

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Water usually has a calming effect on me, but sometimes the water gets churned up, causing a lot of movement and instability. Stress is like that too!

Friday I actually had to really be aware of my stress response.  I’m fine, but something happened where I had to notice how stress was affecting my body.  Since I was able to recognize my response to the stress, I was able to manage it.  Because I managed it, I was able to think clearly and act.

Has that ever happened to you?  Ever get nervous or anxious because of a particular situation and didn’t know what to do next?  Have you been in an argument and it got so elevated that you couldn’t even think about what was being said?

In some cases stress can actually shut down parts of your brain that remembers and thinks.  So, managing your stress can actually keep your brain working, even in extreme stress.  You may notice what happens in your body when a stressful situation occurs. For example, on Friday, I noticed that my breathe quickened, my heart rate increased, I was in a state of freeze.  I didn’t know what to do next.

I believe that by regularly practicing yoga and mindfulness I am getting better at being aware those sensations.  I was able to recognize I was feeling stressed and then do something to calm myself down so I could do something about the situation.

Here is a practice you can use to notice sensations that come up in your body*:

Focus Breath

  •  Start by closing your eyes or softening your gaze, exhale and let all the air out of your lungs.
  • Now breathe in and breathe out. Continue this breath 4 or 5 times.

Arm Movements

  •  Sit with a straight back and your feet on the floor.
  • Press your hands together at your chest.
  • When you breathe in, take the palms out in front of you and then apart to the sides.
  • When you breathe out, bring the hands back together, then to the chest.
  • As you bring your hands out try stretch your fingers out wide.
  • Do this a few more times to find a rhythm.
  • Now sync the movement with your breath, inhale for 4 counts and bring the arms out, exhale for 8 counts and bring the arms in.
  • Do this for 4 more rounds.
  • After your rounds, relax your arms down to your lap and just sit.  See if you can notice sensations.  Notice how your arms feel.  Take a few breaths here just to notice.

Mountain Pose

  •  Stand on mountain pose (feet parallel and hip distance apart, standing up straight, shoulders down, tall spine).
  • Press your hands together at the center of your chest and close your eyes or look down towards your hands.
  • Breathe in and out for 4 rounds.
  • On your next breath in, tense your whole body from the bottom of the feet to the top of your head.  Breathe in and tense all the muscles you can – your toes and feet, legs, stomach, arms and shoulders, hands and fingers, even your face.  Hold!
  • Breathe out and release and relax the muscles.
  • Repeat tensing the muscles again on an inhale and hold.
  • Breath out and release and relax the muscles.
  • One more round, tense the muscles from the feet to the head.  Hold.
  • Breathe out, release, and relax.
  • Shake out your arms and legs.
  • Come back to stillness after a few breaths.

Standing Crescent Moon

  •  Begin in Mountain Pose
  • On your next breath in reach your arms up above your head and clasp your hands
  • On your exhale, keeping your arms straight and hands together lean to the right just enough to feel a stretch on the side of your body
  • Inhale, come back to center, arms still straight above your head, and hands clasped.
  • Breathe out, and lean to the left
  • Continue the sync the movement with your breath
  • Do a few more rounds
  • Next time you exhale relax the arms down at your sides
  • Now do the same movement, but hold the pose 3 breaths per side.
  • Notice if you start to feel more sensations, or have an urge to come out of the pose early.
  • Notice small and big sensations
  • Use your breath to keep you call, even if it’s uncomfortable.  Knowing that you’ll come out of the pose any time if you need to.
  • After 3 rounds of holding Standing Crescent Moon release your arms down to your sides relax.
  • Stand in mountain pose and just notice if you feel anything.

Neck Movements

  •  Sit down in your chair once more.  Straight back.
  • On an exhale let your right ear fall towards your right shoulder
  • Inhale and bring your head back to center
  • Exhale, and let your left ear fall towards your left shoulder
  • Repeat and sync this movement with your breath for a few more rounds
  • Bring your head back to center
  • Exhale look right
  • Inhale back to center
  • Exhale look left
  • Inhale back to center
  • Repeat  this movement with your breath a few more rounds
  • Back to center
  • Inhale, lift your chest up an look up slightly, be careful not to strain your neck
  • Exhale, tuck your chin and roll your head forward towards your chest
  • Repeat a few more rounds

Mindful Breath

  •  Notice the rhythm of your breath right now.
  • After noticing, deepen your breath.
  • Close your eyes or just soften your gaze.
  • Continue to make full and complete breaths.
  • Notice if you are sitting up straight, or if your posture has changed.
  • Place your hand on your chest.  Notice how your chest moves as you breathe.
  • Now place your hand on your belly. Notice how your belly moves as you breathe.
  • Place both hand in your lap, and now see if you can notice the belly and the lungs move as you breathe.
  • Notice your ribs expanding and contracting.
  • Notice the small movement in your shoulders as you breathe.
  • Just notice, no judgement.
  • Open your eyes and notice how you feel.

Silent Refection

  •  Sit silently for one minute and just notice how you feel.
  • Close your eyes or just look down and focus on yourself.
  • Notice your feet resting on the floor.
  • Notice your legs relaxed on the chair.
  • Notice your arms and shoulders, a bit more relaxed.
  • Notice your breathe and notice the muscles in your face may feel more relaxed.

How do you feel? When you notice sensations that mean stress in the body, what can you do next time?

*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good for yourself or for your students. This is how I usually sequence a practice for myself and for students.)

Stress! Oh no!!

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High levels of stress can really effect our abilities.  We can see stress crop up in a lot of different areas in our life: home, lack of support, traumatic events, pressure to do well, and even pressure from those who are close to us.  What mindfulness does is bring awareness back to our reactions to stress.  We can learn ways to practice managing those stresses.

How does stress feel?  Why does it happen?  Is it even useful?

The stress response is our body’s way of telling us to get to safety.  It gives us the action to find safety, fight or freeze until the danger goes away.  It has been useful for humans when survival was of utmost importance.  However, in our modern times, our stress response is activated when we aren’t really in danger, and that can cause some problems.

When the stress response is activated, that deactivates our brain.  When that happens it’s less likely for us to think, remember, make choices, listen, and control our impulses.  In this way it really does effect how we interact with people around us and even in environments where there appears to be no threat.  Over time, activating the stress response can have a lot of long term negative consequences on our health and well being.  Managing stress to activate a different kind of response, such as relaxation can help lessen the damage stress can cause on our body.

Here’s how you can start:

  • Identify what causes you stress
  • Notice the signs of stress in your body
  • Use tools (like deep breathing) to help defuse the stress response

In the coming weeks, look for more tools and commentary on handling stress,  being emotionally aware, self-regulation, and creating healthy habits.

Creative Connections Week 2

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Winter Trees, mixed media, 2015

Students began week two of my art and yoga program called “Creative Connections”.  The focus pose of the week was vrkasana, or tree pose.  It’s always a favorite, and everyone seems to know this pose no matter what.  This group was no exception and was very open to learning more about balance when we practiced yoga.

Why is vrkasana, or tree pose important?

Tree pose is a really good pose for a lot of reasons, but I think the main reason is because it allows us to practice a lot of different things within one pose.  We have to be patient, focused, and steady.  If we’re not, our body definitely lets us know because we may lose our balance.

Patience:  tolerance, acceptance, self-restraint.  Vrkasana requires a bit of determination. But it’s also about slowing down and being purposeful with your practice.  It’s not necessary to quickly pop up into tree. It’s important to slow down, notice what you feel, and adjust to make sure you’re not over doing it.  We may know how to do tree pose already and feel like we can balance, however, what knowledge do you lose by not taking your time and being mindful of how you got there?

Being patient also means accepting where you’re at.  Have you ever noticed how you feel when you do tree on the opposite leg?  Well, it may feel different, or you may not feel at ease on one side.  It’s ok, notice what you feel, accept that one side is different from the other and breathe.

Having tolerance is also an important part of vrkasana and all throughout yoga.  Yoga allows us to practice tolerance by being willing to participate.  There may be a time when your mind is sending you all kinds of messages to stop what you’re doing.  Coming back to your breath and realizing that it’s just tree pose, remind yourself it’s temporary, you will come out of the pose and move on to something else.  If you’re uncomfortable in tree pose, notice what you notice, be willing to adjust and practice what you can, knowing that the pose is there to teach you something about yourself.  Balancing is an action, and if you’re in the act of being in tree or falling out of it, it’s all part of the pose and the practice of yoga.

Focus:  centered attention.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  This is a hard one.  I like to look around the room and see what’s going on with everyone, just like the rest of us.  I get interested in what others are doing, I get distracted by noises and what’s going on in the environment.  It’s hard sometimes to be mindful only about yourself, because we care about so many other things.  Some of those things are even thoughts that keep us from focusing on our yoga.  So the next time you notice yourself looking or thinking, check yourself.  All you have to do is notice, call it what it is, and come back to the breath.  This focus can allow us to do really amazing stuff, not just balance on one foot on our mats.

Steady: stable, constant, unchanging.  When we first learned about steadiness, we talked about tadasana,”mountain pose”.  The reason why we started there was to use the simple act of standing to physically feel a connection with the surface beneath our feet.  We actively paid attention to how we were standing and grounded down through to bottoms of our feet so we could feel the whole foot on the floor.  In this way, we created a stable structure to build from.  When moving from your foundation of tadasana to vrkasana we still need to feel that constant to be able to balance on one foot.  To do that, we root down through our one foot, and actively pay attention from the ground up to the top of our head.  In any yoga pose you’re not only noticing your steadiness in the physical pose, but also your breath and in your thoughts.  Notice when your breath changes, or if thoughts come into your mind when you practice.  If it happens, just remind yourself to breathe, and come back to that.

At some point you may notice that practicing yoga mirrors what is going on in your life.  If you take some time to reflect on your practice you can use yoga as a tool to develop self awareness and to give yourself greater insight about the world around you.  Yoga has so many benefits, but the best benefit is that it’s for you.

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Ms. Fitz practicing vrkasana, tree pose.

Mindfulness

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Are there some times when your emotions get the best of you?  Do you feel out of it? Or have difficulty focusing on something that is important to you?  Here is an excellent article about mindfulness in schools and the impact it has on improving attention and emotional regulation.

It all starts with paying attention.  The small action of paying attention to your breath can have enormous positive long-term effects with regular practice.  In fact, studies have shown that practicing mindfulness decreases stress, improves attention, and aids in how you respond to situations.  So breathe mindfully, notice what you notice without judgment, and repeat.

Chair Yoga Anyone?

IMG_9783Sometimes you may find yourself in a particular place at a particular time and you feel sore, anxious, or tense.  There’s no time for you to get up and go for a walk, change your clothes to go to the gym, or take a yoga class.  Chair yoga can be a good choice to make you feel like you took a well deserved break from your day, help you refocus, or just catch your breath.  Whether you’re studying or working at your desk, sitting in a library, or a passenger on super long car ride you CAN do yoga anywhere! Unwind, refocus and rejuvenate all without doing much except allowing yourself time.

This practice can be coupled with the pranayama practice I posted yesterday, or you can do this chair yoga practice on its own.  You can also repeat the practice more that once, whenever you need it.

Below is the script I wrote out for the practice I did with faculty at my school.  It’s broken down into different stretches or poses so you can change them around or just do a couple that suit you.

Chair Yoga*
Begin by sitting in your seat so you can feel your feet on the floor. You may have to move forward a little in your chair a little to sit tall and feel your feet on the floor.

-Center/ground-
Find a place to relax your hands on your legs
Relax your shoulders away from your ears
Notice your breath
Lower your gaze or gently allow your eyelids to close
Just notice

Keeping your gaze low or eyes closed bring your awareness to the room (or your environment)
Notice the sounds, the temperature, or maybe how the light shifts
Remember just to notice, no passing judgment, or deciding if it’s good or bad
And breathe

Now bring your attention to yourself
Notice the temperature and the movement of the air on your skin
Notice how your clothes feel against your skin, just making a note if they feel soft, or scratchy
Notice how your feet feel in your shoes, do they feel snug or lose or heavy
Remember to only notice, and if anything else comes up, remind yourself you are only noticing and come back to the breath

Bring your attention to your physical body. Recognize any areas that feel tense or relaxed
If you find an area, just notice and breathe
Making sure you are not passing judgment, it’s just how you feel

Notice how you feel your energy level or how you feel today
Holding no judgment about it, just noticing

Now bring your awareness to your breath
Notice if it’s heavy or light, deep or short
Making a mental note if feels dry or not
No opinion about it, just noticing your own breath

-Pranayama Practice –
Stay focused on our breath by practicing 4 part breath
If you’d like you can place one hand on your chest and one on your belly
On your next inhale take a deep breath through the nose by inhaling into your belly, up through your rib cage and then chest
Pause at the top of your inhale
Then slowly exhale and reverse the movement by exhaling from your chest, the rib cage, and into the belly
Pause at the bottom of your exhale.

Again, inhale through your nose from your belly, rib cage, chest, and pause
Exhale through your nose from the chest, to the rib cage, into your belly , and pause
Keep going to find your own rhythm, inhale belly, rib cage, chest, pause
Exhale from your chest, rib cage, into the belly

Inhale, and when you come to your exhale see if you can create a seamless connection between the different parts of your breath and the next inhale

Inhale once more, from your belly, your ribs, into your chest, pause
Exhale from your chest, into your ribs, and belly, pause

Come back to your regular breath and just notice if anything has changed or shifted
Gently blink your eyes open

-Shoulder Stretch-
Inhale and bring your hands together in front of your chest
Extend your arms in front of you and take 3 breaths here
Flip the palms and reach your arms over your head
Notice if your shoulders creep up and try to relax them away from your ears
3 breaths

Inhale and lean to the right, extending your arms to the right, 3 breaths
Inhale come back to center, exhale can go to the left
3 breaths here
Inhale come back to center
Release your arms down so they’re resting on your legs

-Hand and Finger Stretch-
Extend your right arm in front of you, palm facing up
Using your left hand gently press your right fingers back towards you and breathe
Using the left hand gently bend each finger back toward the hand as you breathe
Switch hands and gently press your left fingers back towards you and breathe
Using the left hand gently bend each finger back toward the hand as you breathe

Release your hands and rotate your wrists in circles, going one way and then the other

-Chair Cat/Cow-
Bringing your hands to your legs, sit up tall, on an inhale, arch your back and look up
As you exhale round your back and look down.
Repeat 5 times
Come back to a neutral seat inhale arms reach up over head

-Arm and Side Stretch-
Exhale bring the right arm down and hold on to the side of your chair
Bring your left arm over to the right and take 3 breaths here
Inhale both arms come back up to center
Exhale bring the left arm down and hold on to the side of your chair
Bring your right arm over to the left and take 3 deep breaths
Inhale both arms come back to center

Exhale forward fold
Inhale reach up both arms above your head

-Twist-
Exhale arms come over to the right for a twist, 5 deep breaths here
Inhale arms to center
Exhale over to the left for a twist, 5 deep breaths
Inhale arms come back to center
Exhale bring your arms down

-Leg Stretch-
On your next inhale, bring your hands behind your left thigh
As you exhale bring your knee and nose together as you lift your knee and round your back
Hold here and take 3 deep breaths
Inhale release your leg and come back to a tall spine, exhale
Inhale and bring your hand behind your right thigh
As you exhale bring your knee and nose together as you lift your knee and round your back
Hold here and take 3 deep breaths
Inhale and release your leg and come back to a tall spine, exhale

-Hip Opener-
Make sure you can feel both feet flat on the floor
Pick up your left foot and bring it across so your foot is resting on your right knee pause here to notice how it feels
Breathe
If you ‘d like a deeper stretch, bring your hands behind you to provide some leverage, press your hands down and fold forward
Breathe here for 5 deep breaths
If you took the deeper stretch come back up from your fold
Release your left foot back to the ground

Switch sides
Pick up your right foot and bring it across so your food it resting on your left knee. Pause here to notice how it feels
Breathe
If you’d like a deeper stretch on this side, bring your hands behind you once again and fold
5 breaths here
Come back up if you folded over your legs
Then release your right foot back to the ground

-Eagle Arm Stretch-
Bring both arms in front of you, palms facing down
Cross the right elbow over the left elbow, turn your hands up and bring your palms together in front of your face, clasp hands if you can
Pause here to notice how it feels, if you’d like a deeper stretch raise your elbows and breathe
5 deep breaths

Release your hands so your arms are out in front of you again, this time cross your left elbow over the right elbow, turn your hands up and bring your palms together in front of your face, clasp your hands if you can
Pause here, notice how it feels, raise elbows up for a deeper stretch and breathe 5 deep breaths

-Final Relaxation-
Release your hands, relax your arms down on your legs
Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders down and back
Once again lower your gaze, or close your eyes and just notice how you feel
After all the movement, see if you can come back to stillness by finding your breath
Notice once again the rise and fall of your breath, notice the length of your inhale and exhale
Notice how your body feels as your breathing
Notice any sensations that you didn’t notice before
Remember there is no judgment, just noticing what you notice

Let’s close today’s practice with 3 cleansing breaths together
Inhale deeply through our noses and then exhale out through our mouth like a deep sigh

Inhale through the nose
Exhale out though the mouth
Again, Inhale
Exhale
One last time, inhale
Exhale

You have completed your chair yoga practice, feel free to practice the series again or in parts. Notice how you feel in the moment and notice any sensations or feelings that arise.  May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be at ease with what is.

*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good.  If you feel uncomfortable stop at any moment.  This is only a suggested practice.)