Even though it’s winter here in DeLand, Florida, sometimes it’s warmer outside in the sun than it is in the house! Being outside to work, teach or play is something I do as often as I can anyways because the garden has always been for me a place of great healing and connection to the world around and within me.
Research confirms that healthful benefits accrue when people connect with plants by viewing, planting, growing, and/or caring for them, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. It calms my mind and body to see a plant and connect to what it reveals beyond it, inspiring something that Mythologist Joseph Campbell defined as revealing maya, the Hindu idea of an obscuring or revealing factor of the divine and ineffable. An example being the Buddha held up a flower as the answer to a question during a sermon, allowing the depths of nature to speak for itself in the silence that it holds, and I connect to that depth.
Being in the garden and connected to the Earth connects me to my body, which in turn gives me a sense of safety and support, especially as breath threads the inner and outer worlds. I like to take kids yoga and kids yoga therapy sessions outside in the garden to give kids the same benefits.
Taking kids outside teaches them to relate to the natural world as well as learn about themselves, as nature reflects itself in us, our bodies, for the nutrients and care we need are similar to plants! We need minerals, sunlight and water. Stress affects plants and trees just like it does humans!
In addition to yoga asana and class outside, walking meditation is one of my favorite activities in the garden to teach balance, awareness, breathing, meditation and to connect with nature. With a story of course! It's especially affective for ADHD and for yoga therapy I've found. Breath work and taking the time to BE in nature and in JOY the present moment make up walking meditation with kids in the garden. Walking slowly and pausing to observe and interact with sensory features herbs and flowers creates meditation in action for kids or others who have a hard time staying focused in sitting meditation.
Vegetable gardens, fruiting trees and bees connect kids to the food they eat and put inside their bodies and to make better choices that encourage healthy qualities like vitality and vibrancy and discourage diseases like diabetes and obesity. Being in the garden presents other opportunities to relate to the food kids eat, such as telling other stories that are in the Library under Storytime Yoga in the Garden.
Storytelling and Walking Meditation in the Sensory Garden
Story: The King and his Servant
Once upon a time there was a King who instructed his servant to walk around his palace with a glass of water and a candle on his head. He was not to spill a drop of water nor spill a drop of wax as he walked through every hall and door to the 100 rooms in the palace. The servant dutifully and carefully did as he was told. It took him days, but he did it.
The King then asked him, “Good job. What did you see in my palace?”
“Oh, good King, I saw nothing! For I was so focused on not dropping the glass of water or candle on my head!”
“Excellent,” the King said. “Yes, wonderful focus. But now you must do it again. Go through the palace with the candle and glass of water on your head and don’t spill a drop! But tell me everything that’s in my palace!”
The servant was calm after the experience of his past walking meditation, so the thought of doing it all again didn’t bother him. He walked with the candle and water on his head, never spilling a drop, but now so focused on that he was also able to see all the beautiful and brilliant displays of gold, art and architecture the King had in his palace and enjoy the beauty of the world, while still focusing on the inner life and spirit.
“You see,” the King said. “I want you to enjoy the beauty of my palace, but also keep your focus on the beauty of the palace within.” And the servant became enlightened through his meditation practice.
I instruct kids to connect to their deep breathing, connecting to the earth with the inhalation, energy moving up the spine, then the exhalation, returning down to the earth, releasing, down the spine, before breathing back in again, starting the cycle over. Connecting to the earth, connecting to creation. The creation that is a part of us and all of life, and which was the basis of pre-Hellenistic Greek mythology. That we are identical with creation and the cosmos, laid out before us in the garden.
Then I instruct kids to focus their attention on the feet. The space where the feet connect to the earth. In older kids, 3-5th grade, kids can start to become aware of their alignment. We connect to the feet, ankles, knees. Second two lining up with the center of the ankle. Then moving up the legs. Muscles hug the bones and create muscular energy.
I then instruct older kids and little kids by demonstrating the walking action, emphasizing heel toe, slow-mo, walking very slowly. Heel toe, slow-mo, and to really press off with that big toe, which helps the inner thigh move back and strengthen. There’s a lift as the tailbone tucks and mula bandha kicks in as support for the lower half of our bodies from which we can breathe deeply into our chests, into our hearts and open our hearts. Open our gifts to the world, the joy of being. Being in nature and with one another!
I say to kids that, just like the story, we need to stay steady, focused within the body and present moment and on the balancing act with the object on our heads. But we must also still connect to the breath, our feet and see the beautiful garden around us.
I teach kids to make a fist with the left hand and place it into the right hand. Then they follow me as I walk slowly. I lead them to different spots in the garden – herbs to smell, then taking them a little way farther to smell or observe another herb, flower, fruit or insect. We do it in silence, with only my reminder for them to breathe of feel their feet or hands, clothing on their skin, air on their skin. Other times I can mention the herb’s uses, medicinal, culinary or ornamental.
To challenge kids, place a stone or a plastic Easter egg filled with sand or an alphabet block or other object on a kid’s head to walk around the garden with. Remind them to breathe and repeat the “heel toe, slow-mo!”
Get a prayer wheel and have kids use that while walking slowly around the garden in walking meditation.
After a while, kids can go on their own with walking meditation.
In my book, Storytime Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story, I feature walking meditation in which kids can act crazy during times in which you ring a bell. Then ring the bell again and return to walking meditation, quit and calm.
For follow up, I like to instruct kids to talk about how they felt. How they connected to the story of the King with the walking meditation. This is how we can be in the world. Deeply connected to a source of self and safety, via the body and environment, via the breath, connected to the entire cosmos within, and relating in harmony with the entire cosmos without.
I ask older kids to journal. Younger kids you can dictate.
Have kids draw pictures on what you dictate or what they journal.
Encourage kids to practice at home and to create green garden spaces at home and to encourage their parents to participate.
NAMASTE AND HAVE A MAGICAL DAY!