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Sunday, August 19, 2018

My Goal in Heart, Mind, and Body

How Yoga and Mindfulness Can Support Life Goals

Teens Share How Yoga Helps Them In Life

The following is a guest post by Abby Wills of Shanti Generation.

Note: This lesson plan was originally designed for teaching youth, but it could also be appropriate if you teach life skills to adults who are preparing to go back to school or reenter the work force. 

Before explaining about this goal-setting lesson plan, I want to be very clear that it is NOT about setting goals FOR yoga practice. Instagram has done a fine job of instigating ‘pose goals!’

Yoga and mindful practices are non-competitive and process-oriented by nature. And that is exactly why yoga class can be a supportive environment to help students cultivate a positive vision for their future.

The purpose of this lesson is to:
1) help students set positive, conscious goals for their lives; and 
2) help them discover how their yoga and mindfulness practice can support them through the inevitable obstacles life will present.

How It Started

photo courtesy Shanti Generation
In my first year teaching as part of the psycho-physical education department at a progressive middle school, I was a bit confounded to discover a mandate by the school to devote the first couple of classes to goal setting.

Of course, I didn’t want to begin our practice experience by imposing goals on the practices themselves!

The first thing I did to make sense of this requirement was to delve into the current research on adolescent development. I was looking for clues to bring meaning to the experience of goal setting within the realm of yoga and mindfulness.

I learned that teens who have a vision for their future, like a positive goal to work towards, are better able to access their innate resilience. This became the foundation for building a goal-setting activity within the context of yoga and mindful practice.

Part of the joy and challenge of teaching yoga and mindful practices in schools is navigating their particular assessment needs and curriculum constructs. Creativity and discernment are needed to meet the needs of the school and the students while holding true to the nature of the practices. 

In this case, what started as a conundrum led to an activity I continue to engage with youth, even when I’m teaching outside of a school setting.

Integrating a Goal-Setting Activity 
with Yoga and Mindful Practice Sessions

The following ideas can be offered within a 1.5 hr session. 

Or the themes of:
  • goal setting, 
  • balance, 
  • overcoming obstacles, 
  • identifying supports, and 
  • building inner capacity 

could be used over 5 or 6 class periods.

photo courtesy Shanti generation

Opening Circle and Discussion Prompts

Start class with an introduction to the idea of goal setting. Express to students that we are not asking them to set goals specifically for yoga and mindful practice. 

This is a prime opportunity to build students' understanding that practicing yoga and mindfulness is a process. Success is not based on a particular outcome, like touching your toes or sitting for a specific length of time. Success in yoga and mindfulness is measured by our own willingness to engage in practices for well being.

I encourage teachers to share a personal goal to get the thinking started. I often share my ongoing personal goal to find balance in my life. My yoga and meditation practices bring awareness to where I need to slow down and where I can give more energy to the different aspects of my life including family, work, education, recreation and self care.

Facilitate a short discussion with inquiries like:
  • Do you think balance is important in life? Why?
  • What does balance mean to you?
  • When in your life do feel balance?
  • Does a balanced life contribute to health? How?

Experiment Time!

“Let’s find out if yoga and mindful practice can help us find balance in our own bodies.”
Have the class try a balancing pose in the beginning of class before you really begin to focus attention on the body and breath. 

Pick a pose you practice and teach: tree, warrior 3, or a modified eagle pose work well. (If you aren't a yoga teacher, you could do something like having the students stand on one foot.)

Encourage students to try the pose without judging or assessing their ability. Let them know you will try the same pose again at the end of class to notice if it feels any different after a period of practice.

Mindful Contemplation

Have students place a journal or paper and writing instrument nearby before beginning.

Give 2-3 choices for postures appropriate to your students, environment and resources, such as:
  • Laying down on the back or belly
  • Legs up the wall
  • Laying down on back with feet and calves on a chair
  • Sitting cross legged with or without a cushion or wall
  • Sitting in a chair

Guide students to bring their awareness to their bodies with eyes open (gently gazing in one direction) or closed. Notice all of the parts of the body that are touching the floor, wall, or chair. 

Spend a few minutes leading them into a mindful awareness of the present moment with kindness towards themselves. 

Remind them that this practice isn’t about getting anything right. There are no wrong answers to the questions you will pose. 

Once everyone has settled, guide them through a contemplation on their personal goals using prompts like:
  • What are your goals for your future? During this reflection, you can set any kind of goal you want. You can dream big if you want to!
  • What obstacles or challenges do you think my come up as you pursue your goal?
  • Think about the supports you already have in your life to achieve your goals. What supports do you have on the inside of you? My hope is that yoga and mindfulness can become a part of your inner support system.
  • What attributes can you begin to cultivate within yourself to achieve your goals? Name a few characteristics that will support you from inside, like patience, courage, discipline.

"Let’s discover how yoga and mindful practices can support you in developing those attributes now and in the future."

Guide them back to body awareness, then to the feeling of the floor or others supports and finally to the room and people around them. 

Ask them to open their eyes or lift their gaze to readjust their sight to the space around them before slowly moving out of the pose. 

Give them a few minutes to record a few of the goals or other thoughts might want to remember.

photo courtesy Shanti Generation

Waking Up the Body and Mind

Guide students through an 8-10 minute period of continuous movements that increase heart rate. Choose from the kinds of repetitive movements you practice and teach. Options include:
  • Half sun salutations 
  • Full sun salutations with appropriate modifications
  • Series of standing poses
  • Abdominal strengthening movements
  • Har Aerobic Kriyas
(If you're not a yoga teacher, you could try movements like jumping jacks, burpees, high knees, push ups, or jogging in place. Make sure to provide options that are suitable to the fitness level of your students.)

Pause and invite students to notice when the practice becomes challenging. 

  • Is the challenge in the body? If so, what part of the body is challenged? 
  • Is the challenge in the mind? How so? 
  • What feelings are associated with challenge? Are the feelings physical or emotional?

Then, inspire them to do 5 more minutes of continuous movement. This time, dedicate the movements to their own personal goals. The strength and courage you build in this practice are yours to keep and use in your life!

Upon completion, divide students in groups of 2-4, depending on your class size. 
  • Give each group a poster, half poster or chart paper and markers. Ask them to share and write or draw about the challenges they encountered in their 15 minutes of practice on one side of the paper. 
  • After a few minutes, ask them to flip the paper. Share and write or draw about the kinds of obstacles they foresee in reaching their personal life goals. 
  • Give each group a moment to share their posters with the whole group.

Balancing Through Challenges

Create a sequence of balancing postures for your class not including the pose you previously chose for the experiment. 

Options include:
  • Tree pose 
  • Eagle pose
  • Warrior 3
  • Crow
  • Handstand
  • 1/2 Handstand with the wall
  • Half moon pose
  • Side plank
  • Partner poses requiring balance 
(Think carefully about what poses are suitable for your students' abilities, as well as what you are comfortable teaching.)

Thoughtfully teach each pose, step by step, emphasizing support. 

  • Teach students how a focal point can support balance. 
  • What parts of the body are the supports in each pose? 
  • How can the breath support development of balance? 
  • Encourage the use of a chair or wall to support the process.

If this is appropriate for your students, highlight how support works in the dynamic of a partner pose where each person is supporting and being supported simultaneously.

Teens Speak About Mindfulness and 
What It Means to Them in Their Day-to-Day Lives 

Keeping My Goal in Heart, Body and Mind

Before final relaxation, ask students to name some of the inner attributes they think will be helpful in reaching for their goals. Write them on a poster or white board. 

Suggest that students choose one attribute to bring with them into their rest time. 

As you guide them into deep relaxation, ask students to consider where their chosen attribute lives within their body. 
  • For example, if you are seeking to develop patience, is there a place in your body you can go to when you feel impatient? 
  • Can you create an anchor for patience in your body? Perhaps your feet or your heartbeat can become your patient place.

Once you’ve guided students out of final relaxation, invite them to apply their attribute to the “experiment” pose. This is an opportunity to encourage silent practice. 

Choose a method to let them express their findings. Options include:
  • Journal
  • Worksheet (Before and After)
  • Share verbally with a classmate
  • Group discussion
  • Art activity: create a small card illustrating your attribute to keep in your backpack or room.

Remind students that practice doesn’t have to stop when they leave the room. They can continue to cultivate the healthy qualities of heart, body and mind throughout their day.

Connecting the Dots

This approach of integrating the social and emotional development of adolescents with yoga and mindfulness can be used as a template for exploration of many other themes.

Here are a few helpful reminders to approach teaching youth yoga and mindful practices:
  • Guide students to slow down and be in process.
  • Start class with movement before asking students to sit in mindful practice.
  • Give choices.
  • Build in activities for social interaction.
  • Emphasize skill development over specific outcomes.
  • Offer multiple ways of creative expression.
  • Connect the practice of yoga and mindfulness to their daily lives and the aspects of life they really care about.

When we are able, as teachers, to shine a light on the connection between how we approach our yoga and mindfulness practice and how we function in our lives, students can learn a lesson that lasts a lifetime.

About the Author

Abby Wills (MA, E-RYT) is a Movement, Mindfulness + Social Emotional Development Specialist for Full Circle Consulting Systems, Inc., and is on faculty at Barnsdall Arts in Los Angeles, where she delivers programming in middle and high schools. Abby is also the co-founder and program director of Shanti Generation, through which she has produced several yoga DVD's for kids and teachers. (Shanti Generation: Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers is also available for streaming through Amazon.)


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