Medicine Cards for Kids in Yoga Class
May 10, 2019
Pick a card and do a pose. It’s a simple “game” that can be engaging for kids while creating a theme for the class. There are many Yoga pose decks out there that often include an image of the pose along with instructions. I encourage families to use these cards at home and they can be a great aid for sequencing a session. The downside is that they often don’t have blank backs. The pose on the other side is known so we can’t pick a card as one does in any card game like Go Fish.
I like to use Animal Cards. Many Yoga poses are named after animals and once the children know these poses, they love to pick a card with a bear on it and then walk around the room like a big brown bear.
Connection through Play
My favorite deck is Medicine Cards created by Jamie Sams and David Carson. They have an accompanying book with a description of that animal’s attributes and “medicine” according to the Native American way. Animal medicine, as defined in the book, is “anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all life.” This is also the intention of the practice of Yoga, to facilitate an experience of connection to all that is. So…perfect prop for a kids’ Yoga class.
The illustrations are gorgeous and include additional symbols such as feathers, shells and bones. There are 52 animals and number 1 is Eagle. This also happens to be a number one Yoga pose to do with kids. Eagle (Garudasana) crosses the midline of the body and is a balancing pose. Both promote better brain function. It’s a pose I teach in almost every kids Yoga class.
Stack The Deck
I don’t have an animal pose for all 52 cards in this deck, so I stack the deck. I pull out porcupine, badger, opossum, ant and wild boar (if you have Yoga poses for these, leave them in the comments!) and leave in all the others – butterfly, crow, deer, swan, frog, blue heron, hummingbird and so many others. With 14 children in my class, I will pick 14, 28 or 42 cards out of the deck so each child can take one, two or three turns depending on time available and what else we have planned for class.
Rules of The Game
There are many ways to play with cards in a kids’ Yoga class. I like to teach in a circle so all the kids are facing the center of the room. I place the cards face down in a pile in the middle of our circle. Each child takes a turn to pick a card and teach the Yoga pose. Young students and new students may not know the pose so I’ll teach it. We all do the Yoga pose that is associated with the animal on the card and then it is the next child’s turn.
Where Traditions Meet
Another use of the Medicine Cards is a mash-up of Native American spirituality and the Yoga of Patanjali. Patanjali wrote a book called The Yoga Sutras about 1,500 years ago. It’s a guidebook for the practice of Yoga. Patanjali talks about how to live in the world (yamas) and personal codes to live by (niyamas) as well as breathing exercises, Yoga postures and meditation. This system is called the 8 Limbs of Yoga. In our lesson plan called Patanjali's Yoga, we’ve paired each of these eight limbs and all 10 yamas and niyamas with an Animal Medicine Card. The system of Yoga is brought to life with the beautiful animal imagery and interactive process of taking turns picking a card.
Children love props. It’s fun to take turns, pick cards and play games. This is one way we can make the practice of Yoga more engaging for children so they enjoy the practice for years to come.