The Chinese Zodiac - Yoga For The Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Kung Hei Fat Choy means Happy New Year!
Nine Asian countries celebrate the Lunar New Year with public holidays and variations on the activities you will find described below. About 1/5 of the world's population will be enjoying the Chinese New Year festivities, and New Year's Eve is the world's biggest annual migration, with over 200 million people making every effort to get home for a big celebratory dinner with their extended families!
What is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is the most important of the Chinese holidays, and is a time of feasting with the family, celebration, fireworks and gift-giving. It is a 15-day holiday, beginning on the first day of a new moon and ending with the full moon on the day of the Lantern Festival.
The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar year, so the date of Chinese New Year changes every year. The Chinese calendar follows a 12-year pattern with each year named after an animal. There are various stories which explain this. The simplest is that Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited all of the animals to join him for a New Year celebration, but only 12 animals turned up. To reward the animals that did come, Buddha named a year after each of them in the order that they arrived, starting with the Rat, followed by the Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat (or Sheep), Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
Depending on the year you are born, you are believed to have the various character traits of that year's animal… Lots more to explore here!
This class is designed around the story of how the years received their names in that particular order and it is full to the brim with traditional Chinese games with some yoga sprinkled into them.
To Bring: 10 Sticks
The Zodiac Wave Flow
Describe the Chinese Zodiac and how each year has a different animal that is guarding it. You can even have all the kids share under which year/animal they were born.
Then say that we are going to flow through poses like the years flow through the Chinese Zodiac calendar.
Sit or stand in a circle. You begin by doing a pose and the person on your right follows the same movement. The next person continues and the next until the pose goes around the whole circle… Then send another pose around. Make it flow with the music and put into your flow as many of the Chinese Zodiac animals as you can.
The Heavenly Gate Race Story
Long, long ago, there was no Chinese zodiac. The Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals to be his guards. He sent an immortal being into man's world to spread the message that the earlier one went through the Heavenly Gate, the better the rank one would have.
Forcing The City Gates - Forcing The City Gates is a traditional Chinese game - and one which requires a fair amount of energy and some space to play! This game can get rough.
You will need a group of at least 6 people. Two captains are chosen, and each picks his team-mates. The two teams line up opposite each other, holding hands.
Now one boy from one team starts by hurling himself at the other side's line, trying to break through between two boys. If he breaks through, the boys on either side of him must go back with him and join his team. If he doesn't break through, he stays and becomes a member of that team.
Alternate between the teams until one team's wall is totally broken up.
Play with yoga poses too such as Warriors or Goddesses (very stable), or Tree Poses (Easy to break) - Yay!
Why There Is No Year Of The Cat
Although Cat and Rat were neighbors, the former always bullied the latter, and Rat felt very angry but dared not say it out loud; therefore, he sought revenge on Cat.
Upon hearing the Emperor's decree Rat chuckled to himself and thought: "This is an opportunity".
The sleepyhead Cat kicked open Rat's door, ordering Rat to keep him informed of when he was going to the Emperor's party, and Rat readily promised that he would.
On the morning, however, Rat left quietly without informing Cat. Cat didn't wake up until the race was over and it was too late — he was not able to make it into the zodiac cycle.
After the party, a great enmity grew between Cat and Rat, so that rats scatter in all directions when a cat appears.
Rat Pose - Begin in sitting on your heels, toes pointing out behind you, and bring your chest to rest on your thighs/knees. When you are ready slowly roll forward, bringing half your weight to the top of your head.
Fun Rat Facts:
- Baby rats are known as kittens or pups
- A group of rats is known as a pack or a mischief!
- Rats can live longer without water than camels!
- They can swim for three days without stopping
Cat Pose - On hands and knees, place your palms on the mat shoulder-width with your knees directly under your hips.
Fun in this pose:
- Look down towards your belly button, rounding your back like curious cat
- Look up, bringing your belly down, like a happy cat
- Let this movement of your spine happen like a wave, starting from your tailbone
- Bend your elbows and lower your head to the mat to have a drink of water
- How would you move if you were a kitten or a cat?
- Meow and purr!
Cat Catching Rat - This traditional Chinese chase game can cause much screeching and excitement!
One child is chosen to be the Cat (the chaser) and one child is chosen to become the Rat. All the other children form a circle, holding hands, with the Rat inside and the Cat outside.
The children in the circle move around while calling out the following rhyme:
"What time is it?"
"Just struck nine."
"Is the cat at home?"
"He's about to dine."
When the rhyme stops, the children stop moving and the Cat starts to chase the Mouse, weaving in and out of the ring of children to do so. However, the Cat MUST follow the Rat's path. When he catches the Mouse he can enjoy pretending to "eat" him, and then two more children take a turn.
Try it with children in the circle standing or kneeling or squatting in their favorite yoga pose. Switch poses every round!
Early Risers: Quick-Witted Rat and Diligent Ox
The next day, animals set off towards the Heavenly Gate. Rat got up very early. On his way to the gate, he encountered a river. He had to stop there, owing to the swift current. After waiting a long time, Rat noticed Ox about to cross the river and swiftly jumped into Ox's ear.
The diligent Ox did not mind at all and simply continued. After crossing the river, he raced towards the palace of the Jade Emperor. Suddenly, Rat jumped out of Ox's ear and dashed to the feet of the Emperor. Rat won first place and Ox was second.
Ox Pose - Stand with feet wide apart. Bend your knees and place your palms on the side of your head to create buffalo horns.
The River is Flowing - Have all but one of the children lie down on the floor, hands straight over their heads, side-by-side. The single child lies on top of everyone else. Have the whole group roll together in one direction; it is imperative that you coordinate your rolls for the game to work. If you are doing it right, the person on top will be 'swimming' down the 'river' of all the people that are rolling… so much fun!
To help coordinate everyone turning together, I usually dictate the rhythm by saying “1 yoga. 2 Yoga. 3 Yoga. Roll! Roll! Roll!”
Competitive and Fast: Tiger and Rabbit
The third one to come was the Tiger. Even though it was strong and powerful, it explained to the Jade Emperor that the currents were pushing him downstream.
Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the Rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another, in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race, but it was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the fourth animal in the zodiac cycle.
Tiger Pose - Begin in the Cat Pose, stretch one hand forward (you can scratch the floor a bit) and then switch hands. Do the same with the legs, one at a time; this could be your leopard tail. Imagine that you are in the forest, the mountains, grassland or even the desert.
Fun in this pose:
- Lift opposite leg and hand at the same time. It’s not easy to balance here!
- Lift the same leg and hand at the same time
- Lift one leg up, bend the knee and hold the ankle with the opposite hand; try to gradually bring your foot up and away from your hips, while still holding onto the ankle
Did you know?
- Unlike most cats, tigers love water and they swim well
Rabbit Pose - Balance on the tip of your toes and stretch your arms up high to male big long bunny ears. Can you wiggle your nose like a bunny? Test your bunny balance as you bounce your bottom from your heels!
Fun in this pose:
- Wiggle your nose like a rabbit
- Breathe like a rabbit: Three small inhalations through the nose followed by one long exhalation
- Bring your hands forward and make a rabbit paw by tucking your fingers into your palms (this is an easier variation)
- Another easy variation is to keep your shins down on the mat and holding your legs by bringing your arms behind your knees
One-Legged Rabbit - This game should involve an even number of kids. Players are split into two groups, and one group is designated "the rabbits." The other group must stay inside a designated area (the area could be marked off in chalk). One at a time, the rabbits hop on one leg into the chosen area and try to tag the other players. If the players leave the area, they're out of the game. In addition, the rabbit can't put her other foot down. If all the players are tagged, the rabbits win.
In fifth place, was the flying Dragon. The Jade Emperor was wondering why such a swift airborne creature such as the Dragon did not come in first. The Dragon explained that it had to stop by a village and brought rain for all the people, and therefore it was held back. Then, on its way to the finish, it saw the helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log, so it did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was astonished by the Dragon's good nature, and it was named as the fifth animal.
Dragon Pose - High Lunge with dragon hands or wings to the sides or Dragon Claws.
Catch the Dragon's Tail - This game hails from China and works best with 10 or more players. The players form a straight line and hold onto the shoulders of the player in front of them, except for the first player in line, who is the "head" of the dragon. The last player is the "tail." Keeping the line unbroken, the head attempts to tag the tail. Every player tries to stop the head, but if he succeeds, the tail moves up and becomes the head. All the other players then shift back one space, and play continues.
Sneaky Snake and Kind and Modest Horse and Goat
A galloping sound was heard, and the Horse appeared. Hidden on the Horse's hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance gave it a fright, thus making it fall and giving the Snake the sixth spot.
Snake Pose - Lie on your belly, hands on the floor under your shoulders. Squeeze your legs together tightly to make one strong cobra tail. Push your hands into the floor and lift your head and chest up (keep your elbows a bit bent).
Fun in this pose:
- Hiss like a snake
- Stick your tongue out, flicking it up and down to smell what’s around
- Look over your shoulder, turning your head to one side and then the other
Did you know?
- Our spines have 26 vertebrae, but a snake skeleton can have up to 400 vertebrae!
- Snakes replace their skin a few times a year
- Snakes never blink; their eyes always stay open (they have transparent permanent eyelids)
- Even in total darkness, some snakes can 'see' and then capture their prey. How? They use super-sensitive heat sensors to zero in on the warmth given off by the prey's body
- Everybody knows that snakes have long, forked tongues. Snakes can use their tongues for tasting and even touching. But they mostly use them for smelling
Horse Pose - Kneel down, hands on the mat, shoulder-width apart. Push your hands into the floor and lift your hips up.
Fun in this pose:
- Jump up one leg at a time
- And of course neigh!
- And you can even go all the way to Handstand here!
Assisted Flying Horse (Handstand) - A fun and safe way to come into Handstand!
In groups of three the Horse starts in push up position and the two others stand on either side of the Horse. The outside arm holds the shoulder of the Horse and the inside arm holds the ankle. Horse keeps body tight and legs together, the shoulders will act as a hinge. The two partners then lift the body and legs up into a handstand position. If the horse is comfortable here two partners can let go of the Horses body and hold hands around the legs forming a protective circle to help the flying horse stay up a little longer independently.
Did you know?
- Horses can sleep both standing and lying down
- Because horses eyes are on the side of their head they are capable of seeing almost 360 degrees at all times
- Horses gallop at around 45 kph (27mph)
Goat, Monkey and Rooster Team work!
After a while, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster came to the heavenly gate. With combined efforts, they managed to arrive to the other side. The Rooster found a raft, and the Monkey and the Goat tugged and pulled, trying to get all the weeds out of the way. The Jade Emperor was pleased with their teamwork and decided to name the Goat as the eighth animal followed by the Monkey and then the Rooster.
Goat Pose - Begin standing, facing forward. Step one leg far back. Bend your front knee, and stretch your arms up! Make sure it’s comfortable to rest your whole back foot on the floor; usually it’s on an angle or parallel to the back of your mat. Your long hands are goats horns!
Monkey Pose - Stand with your feet apart, then bend down and let your head and arms hang loose.
Fun in this pose:
- Swing from side to side like a monkey
- Scratch your armpits or head like monkey
- Pick ticks from your monkey friend’s fur
- Make monkey sounds
- Where do monkeys sleep at night? In trees! Do the tree pose
- What do monkeys love to eat? Bananas! Do the banana pose
- Sometimes, I let the children just go wild like monkeys and climb on me and hang down from me as if I’m a big tree; it’s super fun, but also hard work and they never want to stop!
- Two monkeys (Partner Pose) - Stand back to back with a friend keeping around a foot between you, spread your legs apart and bend down, holding onto your monkey friend’s hands. Can you see your monkey friend? You can also swing from side to side like two monkeys and make monkey sounds.
- Try to practice counter-balance by holding wrists and leaning away from your partner, separating your bottoms.
- Try also practicing with legs together and hands outside of the legs. See if you can gradually climb up each other's arms and even hold each other's shoulders.
Did you know?
- There are currently 264 known monkey species
- Scientists discovered that chimpanzees take care of themselves while sick by using plants from the forest as medicine!
- Monkeys have tails, apes don’t
- Groups of monkeys are known as a tribe, troop or a mission
Rooster Pose - Squat down, keeping both feet on the floor, and bring your hands onto your shoulders; these are the chicken’s wings!
Fun in this pose:
- “Cluck cluck” like a chicken!
- If your heels don’t reach the floor try to bring your feet a bit farther from each other
Did you know?
- Chickens make sounds with actual meaning. They give different alarm calls when threatened by different predators
- Chickens are very social animals. They will fight to protect their family and will mourn when a loved one is lost
Hawk Catching The Young Chicks - This is a traditional Chinese chase game!
One child is chosen to be the Hawk, and another the Rooster. All the other children are Chicks, and line up behind the Rooster, holding onto the clothes of the child in front of them.
The Hawk and the Rooster face each other, and the Hawk now tries to catch the Chicks. The Rooster protects her Chicks, holding out her hands and moving from side to side (with her Chicks swaying in a line behind her).
Any Chicks which are caught move over to stand behind the Hawk, and the line of Chicks closes up.
Hopping Chicken - This traditional Chinese game can be played with two players or in two teams, indoors or out. It is similar to Hopscotch. It works well for children aged about 6 or over.
Each player or team (of two) has 10 sticks, each about 12 inches long. They are laid on the ground like a ladder, about 10 inches apart, one ladder for each player or team.
How to play:
- One player from each team starts, hopping over the sticks without touching any of them. If a stick is touched, the player is disqualified.
- When the player has hopped over all the sticks he stops, still on one foot, and bends down to pick up the last stick. He then hops back over the remaining sticks.
- Reaching the beginning again, he drops the stick and sets off again to hop over the nine remaining sticks, pick up the last one, and return.
- Play continues until all of the sticks have been picked up.
- Remember, a player is disqualified if he puts both feet on the ground at any point during his turn, or if he touches a stick with his foot.
- The winner is the team which has got the furthest along when all players are disqualified! If both teams finish, the winning team is the one which finishes with most players left.
- Play as a race game. If you make a mistake, you start over.
- Play as a relay. The first player hops over ten sticks, returning with the tenth. The second player hops over nine, the third hops over eight, etc. This works very well with mixed age groups, where the younger children play towards the end of the team's go.
- Try changing the foot that you hop on each round!
- Boys pair up and link the first fingers of their right hands. They then start to pull apart. As soon as their fingers break apart, but not before, each boy calls "Honour". Whoever says it last sits down. His partner then finds another boy to play against, and the game continues until there is an overall winner.
The eleventh animal placed in the zodiac cycle was the Dog. Although it should have been the best swimmer and runner, it spent its time playing in the water. Though his explanation for being late was because it needed a good bath after a long spell. For that, it almost did not make it to the finish line.
Dog Pose - Start on your hands and knees like a puppy dog, hands shoulder-width apart. Push your hands into the floor and lift your hips up. Try to straighten your legs. This is really a great pose! Now you are a big dog. This pose strengthens the arms and shoulders, it makes the back more flexible and opens the chest making space for deeper breath and it stretches the muscles of the legs.
Fun in this pose:
- Stick your tongue out and pant like a dog
- Bark like a dog!
- Walk your legs closer to your hands and become a Chihuahua, or further apart to become a Sausage dog
- Jump from dog to frog and from frog to dog.
- Lift one leg/tail up for a 3 legged dog
Dog Hello - Everyone behaves like a dog and breath like a dog... Then bark at someone to ask for their name or Bark at someone if you want them to say your name, then show great dog excitement when they say your name! This is so much fun!
Last Was Pig
Right, when the Emperor was going to close the race, an "oink" sound was heard: it was the Pig. The Pig felt hungry in the middle of the race, so it stopped, ate something and then fell asleep. After it awoke, it finished the race in twelfth place and became the last animal to arrive.
Pig Pose - Lie on your back with your knees folded in towards your chest. Hold your knees with your hands.
Fun in this pose:
- Roll from side to side in the mud. Pigs love doing that!
- Snort like a pig
Relaxation - Connecting to your Zodiac Animal
Imagine that you are somewhere in nature… a forest, a beach, a beautiful valley.
Walk around this magically amazing place. Somewhere here there is an opening… an opening to the center of the earth. Maybe it’s a tree hollow, a cave, an opening between some thick bushes…
When you find this magical opening, go inside and start making your way down to the center of all things. Maybe it’s a spiral staircase, an elevator, a water slide or just a winding path…With each breath you go deeper and deeper into the center.. the center of your heart.
Once you have arrived to the center of the earth, you might be surprised that this is not a dark place…It is full of lush trees and blooming colorful flowers everywhere. Crystals are sparkling and rainbows are shining…
Somewhere here at the center of your being hides your Zodiac Animal…It has been waiting for you here for a very long time. Look around, she is here.
When you find her walk toward her and hug this old special friend of yours. She has always been here for you, through all of your ups and downs. She is your best friend and you can tell her absolutely anything… even things you would not tell anyone else. She is here to support you and help you and give you advice if you need it. Spend a few minutes talking to your Guardian Spirit.
Slowly get ready to climb back up to the surface. You are not going back there on your own… your Zodiac Animal is coming back with you and will always be there to guide you. With every breath, slowly climb up and up back to the surface of the earth - Welcome back!
Happy Spring Festival!
Get new class plans on a regular basis when you become part of the Inner Circle!