“I did it” from the mouths of teens

At the end of June, the day after I got back from Spain, I had the immense pleasure of teaching a group of 19 rising 10th graders yoga 4 times over the course of 2 weeks. Having just come off of an intense week of fitness based yoga where we were encouraged to embrace discomfort (not injury inducing discomfort, just discomfort) and to push ourselves and our yoga students, I decided to not take it very easy on these kids. I felt for them, I mean they were required to be there and while some clearly wanted to be there some also clearly didn’t want to be. I get that.

On the first day, we sat in a circle and I asked them what they knew about yoga. One student said it’s when you sit with your legs crossed, your eyes closed, and your hands on your knees. Someone said it’s relaxing. Most of the comments ran along those lines. I told them I was going to challenge their understanding of yoga, that it could certainly be relaxing and that it can involve sitting with your legs crossed and your eyes closed, but that it could also be challenging and make you sweat and make you strong. I told them a regular yoga practice can help reduce stress and anxiety and build confidence.

From there we went through some balanced breathing (inhale through the nose to the count of 4, exhale through the nose to the count of 4) and I encouraged them to try to maintain this breathing pattern throughout the practice. Yoga is all about breath, but it’s so often the first thing that we let go of when we find ourselves in stressful situations, like doing yoga for the first time or doing a hard posture whether for the first or fiftieth time. I led them through a few sun salutations (only 3 Sun Salute As, not the 3-5 Sun As followed by 3-5 Sun Bs that YogaBody teaches). We went through most of the rest of the standing series which includes things like triangle, reverse triangle, side angle, reverse side angle, and some others. The standing series ends with extended leg balancing pose (see photo below) and tree pose. Then I had them do some forward folds including attempting a marichi bind (see photo of student killing it below), and each day they took a stab at crow pose.

A couple of things about that experience:

  1. Not surprisingly, I LOVED teaching them! I say not surprisingly because I love working with high school students in general and a good chunk of my career has focused on working with teenagers. While teaching teenagers how to be good students can be rewarding, I really enjoyed the experience of teaching movement. Maybe it’s because I like to move so much myself.
  2. I was SO impressed with how many of them were willing to TRY! That’s what life is about – trying new things. I kept telling them that yoga is a practice, it’s not a perfection. So not achieving crow pose is fine, but not trying to achieve it is, while still their choice, less fine.

On the first day, almost every student had a really hard time standing on one leg in extended leg pose and in tree pose. I gave them modifications to work on balance rather than on getting the leg fully extended (holding onto the bent knee rather than the foot, or holding onto the foot but not fully extending), and keeping the toes on the ground with the heel on the ankle in tree pose. By the fourth class they were almost all standing on one leg!!

On the first day, no one got crow pose. By the last day, there were several people who were getting into crow pose and holding it for a few seconds! And more importantly, there were finally people who had pretty much refused to try, trying and smiling about it. I felt like a rockstar when that one young lady who had a grump face on the whole time smiled while working on crow pose and then smiled even more when she tried side crow pose! Just proves Lucas Rockwood’s assertion that people like to be challenged. That they want to walk away from a yoga class feeling good about the poses they could do and feeling excited about the challenge of the poses that they couldn’t do or were significantly harder.

They were proud of themselves. I was proud of them. And as a teacher it was AMAZING to see the progress they made in just 4 classes. I had students tell me that they were going to start doing yoga at home and that they wanted to find classes to go to. The teacher training I’m going through right now with YogaBody’s Yoga Teachers College is an Ashtanga style vinyasa technique. One of the pillars of Ashtanga yoga is that you do the same poses every time, in the same order. I haven’t studied Ashtanga enough to be an expert on it or the logic behind that aspect of the practice, but one of the benefits of that approach is that you really can see your progress week to week. I noticed that as a practitioner and love it but as a teacher, it is especially rewarding to see the differences in such a short period of time.

On the last day of their summer program, I went to see their final presentations. One of the groups talked about the yoga class. The student covering that section of the presentation pulled up a slide that said that yoga helped reduce stress and made you more relaxed. He told us that when he heard they were going to be doing yoga, he wasn’t happy it because “yoga is for girls”. Cue audience laughter. I won’t do his presentation justice here, but he was funny. On the slide he informed us that “yoga is not relaxing while you’re doing it” and had us laughing again as he read that part out loud and made sure we were all very clear that it wasn’t easy. But he was the student who told me that yoga was his favorite part of the summer program (he might have just said that because I was asking, but I’ll take it). He was the student who could the marichi bind from day one, which I was only able to do a few weeks ago. He was one of the students who never stopped trying, no matter what I threw at them! I think he did a good job of explaining that it was uncomfortable and challenging but also conveying that he really enjoyed it.

Anyway – the whole experience has me thinking a lot about the ways I could incorporate yoga into working with youth and I’m really excited by the prospects!

Thanks for tuning in! Please like if you like it and share if you’re moved to do so.

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