Halloween, also known as All Hallows' Eve, can be traced back about 2,000 years to a pre-Christian Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced "sah-win"), which means "summer's end" in Gaelic.
Samhain was an annual communal meeting at the end of the harvest year, a time to gather resources for the winter months and bring animals back from the pastures. Samhain is also thought to have been a time of communing with the dead. There was a belief that it was a day when spirits of the dead would cross over into the other world.
Samhain was also about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy of nature as summer turned to winter. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on this night the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.
Death is a concept that does occupy children, and a topic which sooner or later we need to discuss. Halloween provides a safe way to play with the concept of death. People dress up as the living dead, and fake gravestones adorn front lawns... activities that wouldn't be tolerated at other times of the year.
As we know from teaching kids yoga, making it fun is a great way to explore deep and meaningful and even uncomfortable topics.
In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.
When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.
So it seems it was a celebration not just of death, but also of rebirth and new beginnings.
For this class, I highly recommend that you come dressed up to help and create the right atmosphere…
Along the yoga games and poses in this class plan you will find some facts about Halloween’s traditions, feel free to share those with your students as you find appropriate.
There is enough here for a 2 hours class, so pick and choose as needed. Have fun!
It’s Halloween’s Night & the Spirits are Out
Ghost Mirror Dance - Standing in a circle, make eye contact with someone across from you in the circle and point at each other to connect as partners. After partnering with someone across the circle, each couple starts to move, mirroring each other’s movements. One partner leads a bit and then the other, but the goal is that they’ll be so much in sync that they will lose the sense of leader and follower, moving as one like ghost reflected in a mirror.
Many Armed Monster - Stand one behind the other and make different shapes, all standing with feet apart, like Warrior Pose, Triangle, Goddess, Side Angle etc… have the kids pass underneath one after the other. Each child can be the head of the monster when they reach the front and have the other kids follow their movements.
Get To The Haunted House
Walk Through The Spooky Forest - One person is going on a walk through a spooky forest. They expect to only see tall and unwavering trees on the way... This person stands facing the wall. Everybody else starts on the other side of the room. While music plays the group starts to walk slowly towards the other side. When the music is paused by the teacher, the person against the wall quickly turns around and should only see very still trees. If someone is in another pose than a tree or is wobbly, falling out, talking etc, they will be asked to go back to the farthest end of the room and start again. The person to reach the opposite side of the room first is next to walk through the spooky forest.
Now as we get closer to the haunted house, you can create a little Yoga Landscape using some of these poses…
Flying on a Broom - Stand tall and slowly lean your upper body forward with your arms straight ahead. Try to lift one leg high enough so that your body is parallel to the floor.
Ghost Ride - Sit one after the other with legs straight and wide apart. Making ghost sounds travel downhill by bending forward, uphill by leaning all the way backwards andmake sharp scarry turns by leaning to either side!
Crescent Moon - From kneeling, bring one foot forward to come into a low lunge (the back knee stays on the mat). Bring your hands up high and, if comfortable, lengthen your spine up and back.
Half Moon - This is a challenging pose requiring leg strength and lots of balance; it is not appropriate for small children. It’s usually easier to come into this pose from the Triangle or the Side Angle. Put your right hand on the mat in front and a little out to the side (right knee is bent at this point). Slowly begin to put weight into your hand, bringing the toes of your left foot to the floor, heel off of the floor. When you feel steady, slowly lift the left leg up and hold it parallel to the floor. The right hand should be on the floor under your shoulder (arm straight) and the left stretching up toward the sky. Afterward, switch sides. And to make it way easier, you can also practice it with your back against a wall!
Screeching Gate - From kneeling, bring one leg out straight to the side, with your whole foot on the floor. Put one hand on your straight thigh and stretch the other arm high up. To complete the pose, bend sideways toward your straight leg, lengthening from the tip of your raised palm. After a few breaths, switch legs.
Scarecrows - Make different shapes standing on one leg and freeze in them as instructed by the teacher.
Jack-O-Lantern - One child does the Bow Pose as pumpkin while her partner slides through and does the Cobra Pose making a carved pumpkin face.
The carved pumpkin may have originated with the witches’ use of a collection of skulls with a candle in each to light the way to coven meetings.
You can also make many other shapes of Jack-O-Lantern…
Black Cat - On hands and knees, place your palms on the mat shoulder-width with your knees directly under your hips.
Look down towards your belly button, rounding your back like an angry cat. Look up, bringing your belly down, like a spooky cat. Meow and purr!
We avoid crossing paths with black cats, afraid that they might bring us bad luck... This idea has its roots in the Middle Ages, when many people believed that witches avoided detection by turning themselves into black cats.
Black Cat Massage - In pairs, one partner does the cat pose while the other lies on the cat, back to back, so that the top partner’s lower back is on the cat’s tush and her head rests between the cat’s shoulder blades. The cat can now round her back up and down to give this best massage in the world to her friend on top! If it’s not comfortable for the top partner, she can move and find a spot on the cat’s back that feels comfortable. The top partner can relax her arms to the sides and completely surrender to the cat’s movements… Then switch places!
And a few more games...
Giant Wiggle Monster Worm - This goofy race requires kids to work together and stick together as a team. Divide the group into two equal teams. Teams must line up and form a "worm." The person at the front of the line reaches his left hand between his legs; the player behind him grabs it with her right hand, and so on all the way to the end of the line. When you say "Boo!", each team must run to a goal line and back. Whichever team gets back first is the winner—but only if their worm is still intact. Mix up the groups and play a couple more times!
Pass Under a Ladder - The kid who is “it” chases after all of the other kids, and if she touches them, they have to stand in a yoga pose until another free player passes underneath them to release them. Guide the kids to choose yoga poses than have enough space underneath them, like Triangle, Warrior, Bridge, Wheel, Dog, Crab, etc.
This superstition of having bad luck if passing under a ladder may have come from the ancient Egyptians, who believed that triangles were sacred… It also may have something to do with the fact that walking under a leaning ladder tends to be fairly unsafe! And also around Halloween, especially, we try to avoid breaking mirrors, stepping on cracks in the road or spilling salt… Interesting!
Enter The Haunted House
Trick Or Treat - Divide the group in two and have one group sit in a circle facing the centre and the other group standing behind them. The standing kids are going to “knock” or “ring the bell” on the sitting kids back and ask “trick or treat?” If the sitting kid says “trick”, they both do a yoga pose of their choice. If the sitting kid says “treat”, the standing kid will massage them.
Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. For these friendly spirits, they set places at the dinner table, left treats on doorsteps and along the side of the road and lit candles to help loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.
On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits.
On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.
The idea of trick-or-treating is further related to the ghosts of the dead in pagan, and even Catholic, history. For example, among the ancient Druids, the ghosts that were thought to throng about the houses of the living were greeted with a banquet-laden table. At the end of the feast, masked and costumed villagers representing the souls of the dead paraded to the outskirts of town leading the ghosts away.
Going from door to door seeking treats may result from the Druidic practice of begging material for the great bonfires.
As for the “trick” custom of Halloween, this is related to the idea that ghosts and witches created mischief on this particular night. For example, if the living did not provide food, or “treats,” for the spirits, then the spirits would “trick” the living. People feared terrible things might happen to them if they did not honor the spirits.
“Treat” may also be related to the medieval custom of "souling" in Britain and Ireland, when poor people would knock on doors on Hallowmas , asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead. Poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling,” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighbourhood and be given food and money.
Ghost Path - Arrange the kids in two rows, standing and facing each other. One at a time, each kid from the start of the row passes between the two rows, walking very slowly and with her eyes closed, as the children from both rows caress her gently like ghosts while they howl. When she reaches the end of the rows she comes to stand at the end of the row she started from – this is so nourishing if the ghosts are friendly!
In the Haunted House
House Pose - Standing in front of your partner, lift your arms up and touch palm to palm with your partner. Let your bottom stick out, and pushing your palms one against the other, see how your chest and your upper back open. It’s a beautiful house!
To open the house, lift one pair of arms up and lower the other pair down.
Flat Roof House - Standing in front of the other with feet slightly apart, place your hands on your partner’s shoulders or shoulder blades and come far enough from each other so that your hips hinge at 90°. Let your chest sink down as you let go, supported by your partner’s shoulders.
Frankenstein and Zombies Trust Game - In pairs, establish a unique and distinctive scary sound that you will both be able to recognize. Then one partner closes her eyes and puts her hands forward and walks like Frankenstein, and the other partner starts moving around the room directing the first partner to follow her by using only their unique sound. Start at close proximity and gradually create more distance or move faster. Guide your partner in a way that they will not hit anything or anyone else.
This game should be played with no background music.
Zombies Vs Monsters - Divided into two groups. The two groups will roam around the room, trying to become the biggest group by turning members of the opposite group into one of them. The zombies walk with stiff legs and arms stretched out. The monsters move around on their hands and feet. Monsters can turn zombies into monsters and zombies can turn monsters into zombies touching or gently grabbing them with their hands. Keep the drama element strong by requiring everyone to keep moving and making sounds like monsters and zombies… It is not allowed to get out of character and just run around.
Spider - Two kids are placed perpendicular (90% degrees to each other) one on top of the other in the crab pose – obviously it created a spider with 8 legs. The kid on the bottom can sag down their hips a bit to accommodate the kid that is on top. They can walk around the room and interact with other spiders.
Cobweb - Standing in a circle, have everyone in the group bring their right hand into the centre of the circle and hold hands with someone across from them. Now have everyone bring their left hand to the centre and hold hands with someone else. Pass a handshake current and see if it completes a whole circle and comes back to you – if not, let go of hands and start again from the beginning.
Clarify that in this game we do not let go of each other’s hands, no matter what (we have very strong glue on our hands). Now without letting go of hands, try to unknot the group by moving and turning, go under or above other people, arms etc.
At the end, the whole group should be in one big open circle with one person facing the center of the circle and one facing out alternately.
It took me a long time to figure this out… this game only works with an even number of people!
Dead Bug - Lie on your back and raise your arms and legs toward the sky like dead bug. Move your hands and legs like a dying bug and make a dead bug face!
Spiders Wrapping Their Pray In the Web - Standing in a circle and holding hands with your neighbours. Then, two kids let go of their hands. One of those two kids with a free hand stays still as the other kid starts walking in a spiral around the standing kid, leading the whole group behind her. As the group continues to walk in circles, it slowly tightens into a very close spiralling hug around the standing person
The Grave Keeper - Choose one player to be the Grave Keeper. All the other players should lay on the floor as if they are dead. The Grave Keeper should keep an eye out for moving zombies. If she sees someone move, they are out. The zombies’ goal is to stand up without being seen. The first zombie to rise from the dead becomes the next Grave Keeper.
Ghost Detector - Have guests sit in a circle and close their eyes. The player who is the Ghost walks quietly around the circle and stops at someone’s back. The Ghost counts to 10 and if they are not detected, the seated player is dead and they lie down quietly playing dead until the end of the game. If the player detects the Ghost, they should say "There is a ghost behind me." If they are correct, they stay sitted in the circle. If they are incorrect, they become the new Ghost and the current Ghost joins the circle.
Mummy - Lie down on your yoga mat sideways and close to the edge of it. Hold onto the edge of the mat with one hand, keeping the other arm beside your body. Roll toward the long part of the mat and let yourself be wrapped in it. Close your eyes and rest like a mummy for a thousand years.
This is a good time to tell a ghost story… Matching the scariness of it to the age of the children.
Add To The Fun...
Use these playlists for each part of the class!