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Activities, Lesson Plan Ideas, Yoga

Mindfulness Through Mandalas

Today’s yoga class was wonderful! I was looking for something new and interesting to do and I found this article about making mandalas on The Kid’s Yoga Resource website. We arranged our mats in a big circle (for those without mats, we marked off a mat-sized area for them to sit) and placed paper plates full of objects around the inside edge of our big mat circle. The Yoga Resource site suggests taking a nature walk and using found objects – shells, stones, twigs, leaves – which I like the idea of. I used items I had lying around the house. There was a plate each of chop sticks, hazelnuts (in their shells), colored rubber bands, bobby pins, small pipe cleaners, and different colored and sized ribbons. Then, I showed the students a few examples of mandala patterns explained that people make them to relax and be mindful. We talked about what it means to be mindful, and how the patterns repeat and reflect.

We went around the circle, taking turns adding to the mandala design in the center, one at a time. There were three rules only to our mandala-making.

1) Move slowly and with intention. We discussed the word “intention” and I modeled what it would look like to be unintentional while adding to the mandala, not realizing it was my turn and tossing a piece onto the pattern. Then I modeled what it would look like to add to the design with intention, taking my time to think about what kind of object I wanted to add, slowly picking it up, considering hard where to put it, laying it gently and meticulously in its place, and sitting quietly back in my spot.

2) Only move one piece at a time. Think hard about it, but then the piece you take is the piece you take. You place it down and you move no others, whether on the plates or the pattern. This means the group wouldn’t hear any, “No! Don’t put that there! Move it over!” Instead, it means that we respect the decisions that everyone else makes and build on them, only concerning ourselves with one piece at a time.

3) Be as quiet as possible. We had music playing in the background which seemed to help the students focus and stay quiet. Students were allowed to talk if they needed to, but giving them the objective of staying as quiet as possible so that we could think about the task and the others around us seemed to work well.

After the design is done – either the kids mutually seem to decide the design is done, or the teacher runs up against a time limit – all the students will take turns in the same way to disassemble the mandala, placing one object at a time back on its plate.

I was amazed at how well this activity went over. My students worked on it for the entire hour without getting bored or making much noise at all. I am convinced they could have gone on longer, but we had to  finish at about 45 minutes to disassemble. It was interesting to see how the kids engaged with the activity. One older girl, who is not always sure of herself, started the activity putting objects down in random places that her hand seemed unsure about. But by the end of the activity, she was intently working on symmetrical designs. One younger boy, usually a ball of moving energy, took lots of time to think about what he wanted to use and where he wanted to place it. More interestingly to me, when we were disassembling the design, he took a moment to examine and play with the objects before putting them back on their plate of origin. He pulled the rubber bands back and shot them lightly onto their plate. He reared back, using a chopstick like a dagger, but stopped right above the plate to lay it down gently. He shook the hazelnuts to feel them rattling in their shell. He twirled and looped the ribbons around their plate before coiling them on top. He straightened the twisted pipe cleaners. Two other girls had a hard time sitting still, but confined all their movements and dancing around to the music to their designated mat space. Not once did I have to remind any student that it was his or her turn. Each person may have been wiggling around, curled up in his mat, but he was paying enough attention that he knew when it was his turn.

After we had finally finished the whole activity, one boy said, “No savasana! I don’t want to do savansana, can we skip it?” I told him that we weren’t going to do it today because we had basically been doing a different kind of savansana for the entire class. He looked a little surprised and thought about that one.

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I'm an alternative educator interested in revolutionizing the role that museums and community arts non-profits play in the formal education system. If you'd like to learn more, click on my picture!

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