Yoga, Nature and Dying

Mindfulness in the Classroom is a trending concern nowadays. Mindfulness in the mainstream, often translated into scientific language, continues to speak of the spirit that runs through all living things, saying “Hello” to the form and that which animates the form.

I am always excited to bring yoga and mindfulness into a classroom setting, for the students and the teachers alike. Everyone wins when we are centered and having fun inside our bodies.

Specifically for the primary grades, I bring I bring a collection of yoga games I have researched and created over the years as well as nature awareness games that I gathered through my studies with Jon Young, former high school biology teacher and founder of Wilderness Awareness School. 1.

Yoga and nature awareness games are intrinsically related. Yoga mimics nature forms and nature awareness games invite students to adopt the inner world of nature. From the inside out, students experience and connect to the pressures, concerns, strategies, beauty and specialized skills of nature’s creatures and environments.

The benefits of playing yoga/nature awareness games is the connection it fosters in young students to themselves, to others and to nature. Most students relish the opportunity to become an animal whose powers are outside our regular range of attention. The centered, silent steps of Fox Walk, the wide open visual perception of Owl Eyes, the ever shifting responsiveness of Deer Ears, the grounding and inner stillness of Mountain, the power and balance of breathing in Warrior II: in each of these is a way of Being, where students receive their cues from the inside. They learn that everything they need to know begins with quieting themselves. Plus its tons of focus on your own super-powers!

The dichotomy of chaotic activity and inner silence play a big role in nature/yoga awareness games. We learn one in contrast to the other. Silence is so much richer after the body has been spent playing hard and the outside stimulus has been combustive. Then when silence does awaken, as the space between movement and sound, it is a totally enriching experience.

Empathy is a huge piece of the process and the end result. When we have empathy, or an intrinsic connection to what it is we are studying, the flow of information easily becomes applicable knowledge at a very personal level. To take on the characteristics of another creature is to experience personally that creature’s challenges, strengths and environment. Nature awareness and yoga games are an inter-disciplinary approach of exploring various subjects such as science, social studies, history, drama, and physical education.

It is worth noting that all indigenous cultures mentor their younger members through a playful mimicking and eventual mastering of nature forms and animals. Again empathy is the process and the valued product.

In nature all multicellular organisms experience death and dying. It is not something that can be overlooked in a wilderness experience and it does not have a morose or frightening overlay, because dying always seems to have a purpose that is surprisingly positive. It is commonly life affirming, life building and life enhancing. 2.

In yoga terms, Shavasana or Corpse pose is the most challenging and important pose. It is also the one most of us feel we can do without. "Is it OK if a leave the class early? I'll only be missing Shavasana?" I think it is time I started saying, "No, I'm sorry. Corpse pose is not optional."

With a (wilderness) awareness that all life is born to develop, grow and someday die, and that everything that we know and love will also die, shapes us. Without this full awareness we are not protected but misshapen. This awareness is not a bleak outlook but rather enhances our chances for survival. Death provides meaning to the living world around us and life becomes sacred again because we are connected to it.

 

1. http://wildernessawareness.org/

2. Kellehear, A. "The Inner Experience of the Dying Person" Columbia University Press. 2014. p 13.