The air is thick with smoke from endless firecrackers popping in the streets. Oranges heaped in piles like gold and crisp red envelopes containing lucky amounts of money are given with wishes for a prosperous new year. Homes are being cleaned and swept and scrubbed from top to bottom—clearing out bad energy and preparing for a fresh beginning. Families gather around steaming kettles to have “hot pot,” a meal that can last all night with courses of vegetables, meats and little bits of dough shaped like anything from Hello Kitty to baseballs bubble and bounce in the simmering broth, a never-ending feast. Xin nian kuai le! Happy Lunar New Year!
This year, February 8th begins the Year of the Monkey, and celebrations will last for weeks in many parts of Asia, but the holiday is celebrated in almost every part of the world. After spending three years living in Taiwan, my winters back home in the US feel brighter when I find ways to celebrate Chinese New Year—keeping me in touch with a culture that I fell in love with and a place I adopted as another home.
I created this class a few years ago for my 4s-5s at Kids’ Work Preschool in Chicago, where I taught yoga & creative movement classes that went along with their weekly educational themes.
CHINESE NEW YEAR: Yoga and Creative Movement Class for Ages 4-7
Suggested Props and Materials to Prepare and Bring:
-Music (I downloaded a few songs from an album called “Gongs and Drums to Welcome New Year” from iTunes (Taipei Municipal Chinese Classical Orchestra & Chen Chung-sheng)
-A Clementine orange for each student
-Picture cards of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (I searched for printables, colored and laminated them, and cut them out)
Suggested reading for story time before or after yoga:
The Dancing Dragon (Marcia K. Vaughan)
Sam and the Lucky Money (Karen Chinn)
Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac (Ed Young)
Bringing in the New Year (Grace Lin)
Chinese New Year Yoga & Creative Movement Lesson Plan:
Start with Firecracker Jumps as a warm-up. I played “Attracting with Gongs and Drums” from the album of New Year Music, and the children tried to jump along with the clashing of the cymbals. Squat down low (like Malasana or Frog) and then jump explosively, stretching arms and legs in all directions, making shapes in the air. The firecrackers are loud to scare away evil spirits and bad luck.
Next, we clean the house, a traditional family activity at New Year to prepare for a fresh start. I played the song “Pleasant Trip to Jingchou.” To clean the ceiling, stretch arms high in Standing Upward Reach. Next, wash the dishes with a variation of Lotus Tree.Standing on the left leg, hold right ankle with right hand. Use the left palm to “scrub” the bottom of right foot (the dirty dishes!); change legs and repeat. To wash the floor, stand in Wide-legged Standing Forward Fold and use hands to wash the floor in circular motions. Lastly, lay on the belly in a variation of Locust Pose/Superhero to reach under the bed in search of dust bunnies.
Now that our house is clean, we can eat our delicious “hot pot” dinner, a big kettle of broth that we will cook all of our favorite meats and vegetables in. Sit facing a partner in Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana) and allow knees to bend and feet to touch, forming a circular “pot.” Hold hands and stir in circles to each direction.
Now, practice the poses of the animals in the Chinese calendar! There are different stories about how the animals were chosen, but many of them tell how the emperor had a race on his birthday, and the order in which the animals crossed the finish line determined their place in the zodiac. I showed the kids the laminated cards before each pose, and then if you have extra time, you can use the cards for games like Musical Poses (set them around the room in a circle and when the music stops, do the pose you land on), flash card games to review the poses, etc.
Rat Child’s Pose with elbows on floor, head propped up in hands, wiggle fingers like whiskers.
Ox Cow Pose.
Tiger Cat Pose/Spinal Balance (stretching arms and legs one by one) with growling.
Rabbit Stand on knees, wiggle nose with short breaths, tuck head down toward knees.
Dragon Low Lunge, arms reach up, open-mouth exhale (fire).
Snake Cobra Pose.
Horse Shakti Kicks. From Downward Dog, kick legs up toward seat.
Ram High Crescent Lunge with hands clasped behind head (elbows make shape of ram’s horns).
Monkey Gorilla Pose, swing arms (OR Hanuman’s Pose, starting in a runner’s hamstring stretch).
Rooster Sit in Lotus or Easy Pose, slide hands to floor between thighs and ankles, press down and flap legs like a rooster’s wings. Older/more practiced students could try Bakasana/Crow arm balance instead.
Dog Downward Dog.
Pig Tabletop with hands in fists like hooves and toes curled under, wag curly pink tail and look over each shoulder, twisting side to side.
To finish class, do Lucky Orange Relaxation. Because of their bright color and round shape, oranges symbolize gold coins and good fortune for the coming year. Give each student a Clementine and ask them to lie down on their backs on their mats. Tell children to breathe slow and deep, so the orange stays on their tummy while they rest. They may watch the orange rise up and down with their breath, or they may close their eyes and rest. I played some soft bamboo flute music from China for a few minutes.
Come back to a circle after the rest, sitting cross-legged. Wish each other prosperity for the Year of the Monkey with this gesture: Make a fist with the right hand and cup left hand around the fist. Shake hands slightly forward and back at each friend around the circle, saying Gong xi fa cai, or “congratulations” for the new year (see http://goodcharacters.com/newsletters/gong-xi-fa-cai.html for pronunciation).
Happy Year of the Monkey!