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.

Thoughts

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It’s been a busy week, and I’ve felt like my mind has a bit flooded with a lot of different things.  Most of them good, but some of them not so much.  It happens sometimes, but I try not to let it plague my decision making or effect me.  When it does, I refer back to some of my tools I’ve learned through yoga and other mindful practices.  It’s not that I should forget about stuff that bothers me, but a way to kind of put it on hold so I can be mindful of how I want to proceed.

One of the things I find myself doing a lot more lately is looking up at the sky.  I feel like this time of year it’s so nice to see the blue sky, but every once in a while you can see these big fluffy clouds just floating in the sky.  They actually look like they have some sort of weight to it, and it seems impossible that they can just sit there in the sky like that.

Anyway, when I see one of those cotton-like clouds, I’ll stop for a moment and give a cloud one of my thoughts.  Maybe this sounds like something silly or strange, but it’s something I do when I feel overwhelmed with my thoughts.  It’s more about being in the moment, taking a quick break from rushing around, and feeling centered and grounded.

Here’s what you can do:

  1.  Stop where you are, as long as it’s safe and you feel comfortable doing it.
  2. Take a deep breath in and exhale out.
  3. Notice your own breath for a few moments and scan your body for any sensations.
  4. If you notice something, just notice and keep breathing
  5. After you’ve taken a few more breaths, bring your awareness to how you feel today.  Do you feel tired? Stressed? Anxious?
  6.  See if anything comes up, and if you notice a thought or feeling come up note the feeling or thought and keep breathing.
  7. Next, look up at the sky and spot a cloud.
  8. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale think about the thought you would like to release to the cloud.  Imagine that your thought or feeling is with that cloud, and notice your breath.
  9. Take a moment to notice your surroundings, take a few more deep breaths.
  10. Notice if you feel any sensations.
  11. Come back to your breath and rejoin your day.

Sometimes these little practices, or taking these moments can really help us reflect on how our day was.  We know we can’t change the past, and we don’t know what the future holds, but we always have our breath.  And focusing on our breath can help us be in the present.

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.)

A light yoga practice

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Yesterday I did a post about the stress response.  Today I put together a little yoga practice that might help deactivate the stress response to calm the body and mind.  Part of the practice is seated.  If you sit in a chair make sure you can keep your feet flat on the floor. We’ll start with breathing, then some movement, some more breath work, and then a silent reflection.*

Focus Breath

  •  Start by focusing your attention on your breath.  Don’t try to change it, just notice.
  • You can close your eyes or just look downLet all the air out of your lungs and then just breath in and out
  • Do this for 3-4 rounds

Arm movement

  • Sit up a little straighter and clasp your hand together in front of you.
  • As you breathe in reach your palms up toward the ceiling
  • As you breathe out bring your hands back down to your lap
  • As you breathe in count to 4
  • As you breath out count to 8
  • Make this rhythm of your breath  and arms for 4-5 rounds

Chair Cat/Cow

  • Let’s move our spine now
  • Breathe in and draw your shoulders back
  • When you breath out bring the shoulders forward and chin down
  • If you want more of a stretch make larger movements. For example, when you breathe in bring the shoulders back and life the center of your chest.  When you breathe out found the back and pull your belly in as you bring your chin to your chest.
  • Try 4-5 rounds

Mountain Pose

  •  Mountain pose helps us feel our feet firmly planted on the floor so we cen feel connected and focused.
  • Stand up with your feet pointing forward, parallel to each other.
  • Breathe in and lift the top of your head as if your balancing something on it
  • Breathe out and let your shoulders and arms relax
  • Continue breathing in and out for 4-5 rounds

Mountain Pose Variations

  •  Close your eyes or look down
  • Lean slightly forward and notice how it feels to have your weight shift
  • Lean back and notice how it feels to feel your weight shift
  • Experiment going back and forth a few more times and come to center
  • Now try shifting your weight to the right side, and pause
  • Do the same on the left
  • Try experimenting a few more time going right and left and come back to center
  • Now begin to sway in a slow circle to see how the shift of weight feels in your feet
  • Make your circles smaller and smaller until you find stillness again
  • Find your center of gravity and take a few breaths noticing your feet on the floor and the top of your head reaching up
  • Bring your hands together in front of your chest and take 3 slow deep breaths
  • Now, standing up  straight breathe in and raise your hands above your head
  • Breathe out and bring your hands to your chest
  • Try to match the movement with your breath, 3-4 more times
  • Shake your arms out and bring them back by your side

Standing Twists

  •  Bring your feet a bit wider and make sure you have enough distance around you so you don’t hit anything with your arms
  • Let your arms be loose and swing them as you twist from side to side
  • Notice how the air feels as swing your hands
  • To protect your knees, try lifting the opposite heel as you twist to the side
  • Try breathing out each time you turn to the other side for more twists
  • Allow for 30 more seconds
  • Let the twists get smaller until you are still and come back to Mountain Pose with your hands together in front of your chest and take 3 deep breaths here to notice how your body feels

Mindful Breath

  •  Sit back down in your chair with your back straight and feet resting on the floor
  • Once again notice the natural rhythm of your breath
  • See if you can find your pulse by pressing your fingers on your wrist, under your jawbone, or on the left side of your chest.
  • Notice the rhythm of your heartbeat as you breathe
  • If you have a hard time finding the heartbeat, don’t worry, it’s in there somewhere.  Sometimes it’s hard to find
  • You may notice the heart beats faster when you inhale, it gives the body more energy and the heart beats faster
  • When we exhale, the body relaxes more and the heart beat slows down
  • That’s why when we did the focus breath in the beginning.  We inhaled for 4, and exhales for 8
  • Try the Focus Breath again from the beginning.  Inhale 4 and exhale 8
  • Find your rhythm and count
  • Repeat 4-5 rounds

Silent Reflection

  •  Sit in the chair for one more minute and notice how your body feels
  • Close your eyes or just look down to help you concentrate
  • Notice your feet on the floor and legs relaxes
  • Notice where your arms and hands are, and relax your shoulders
  • Notice your breath
  • Allow the muscles in your face to relax as you breathe

How do you feel?  If you could rate your level of stress right now from 1-10, what would it be?  Why?

Yoga can happen anywhere or at anytime.  Even just doing a few of the deep breathing exercises can help make you feel more connected and to help find some ease in your day.

*(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.)

A yoga sequence

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A tree can become a guiding theme when planning a yoga practice.

A lot of students ask me how I decide to make yoga classes. I tell them that there are a lot of things to consider when sequencing* a class. Most importantly, I need to know “who” I’m teaching and what the specific needs of the students are. I pick a theme as a place to start. A theme can be as simple as focusing on one particular pose to something educational or inspirational. A yoga class may flow seamlessly, but it definitely is purposeful and has a beginning, middle, and end. I tend to over-plan and try to give a few options when it seems necessary.

When a yoga class first starts, it’s important to do something called “centering”. This really just means a time to get calm, and have a first glimpse at how the body and mind feel in the moment. At this time students might notice how they’re breathing or I may introduce a specific theme so everyone knows what the class is about. After that, sometimes I introduce a meditation or focus on breathing. Most often, this is done seated, but we also begin class standing. It all depends who is in class and what the theme is.

After that, it’s time to “warm up” with some simple stretching to get the large muscle groups moving. Nothing rigorous yet, just preparing to move mindfully with breath. This movement is often gentle so students can notice where they might feel some sensations. Depending on the focus, theme, or intention of the class, this can be a few minutes or most of the class. It’s important for me to pay attention at this point to see how students are doing. If I notice there is difficulty or something comes up, it may be time for me to switch my plan and go a different direction.

The middle of the practice is where I put the most challenging components. It doesn’t always mean physically challenging. Here, students may become keenly aware of how they feel. To me, this is the most important part of the practice because it’s when students can become more self-aware as they are noticing a lot of different sensations in their bodies and minds. A particular pose may occur here or the theme of the practice may reach its peak.

After moving mindfully it’s time to come down for relaxation, this is the cool down. I usually plan a series of seated poses and end up in final relaxation, savasana. This is an extremely important part of all yoga practices because it helps students reap the benefits of the entire practice. Students can settle their minds once again, the heart and breathing rate come back to normal, and it gives their bodies a chance to relax.

The final phase of a yoga practice is the closing. After everyone is out of savasana (final resting pose) and seated comfortably, we will take a few cleansing breaths together, acknowledge the theme of the class, and I may offer a closing quote or thought.  We always end the class acknowledging and thanking each other for the class we had together. No matter what, I always remind my students that yoga is a practice.   They can practice wherever they are, without a yoga mat. I remind them that if they’re breathing they can practice!

*(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.)