Today marked 3/4 of a session of eight yoga classes at this local public Middle School. I go there once a week and for the past four classes, when I get there, the students (ages 12-15) have already pushed the tables back and away from the area where our circle will be. And… *drum roll* they have also vacuumed the floor!
Why is this significant to me? Well, first of all, not every teenager gets up to collaborate with something; at least not without presenting some reasons not to do it. So, I applaud the fact that they free up the space for our yoga class, and I don’t even have to ask. They just do it! The other great point here is that it bothers them if they are on their yoga mats and there are some crumbs or pieces of erasers around them. That means they value a clean space for their bodies to be in (the concept of saucha – cleanliness, purity – shows up) and also they are aware of their surroundings, which is good progress already! The more awareness we can bring, the better. First to where we are, then eventually we move into our own bodies, discovering our muscles, the length of our bones and limbs, then diving into the big ocean of emotions, which can be a study of a lifetime itself, opening us up for self-discovery or self-study (svadhyaya).
As we went through poses today, I invited them to go through sequences first with eyes open, then with their eyes closed. One teen pointed out that it made her other senses wake up to try to help since she couldn’t see poses, yet she could hear my description of the poses and how her body would align to it. Another teen pointed that what made it even harder was that she couldn’t look at her peers to see if she had confused her right’s with left’s. A third student said having their eyes closed made the poses harder. Period. This is all part of discovering – how we operate as a person, how we rely too much on one of our senses, what to do when we need plan B, etc. Sometimes they are eager to go into the next pose (adults do that, too! Including myself…), and as I tell them a story or describe what the pose can do for their bodies, they learn to manage that inner fire (tapas) and maybe even find some contentment (Santosha) by being in that pose for a while (sometimes longer than we really want to).
Of course, we take time to have some fun, too. We play some age appropriate yoga games, do partner poses and also poses as a whole group. Like the one you see here – a bunch of “dogs” in line, or a line of Downward Dogs.
Finally, at the end of class, it is time for relaxation (savasana) and they get to surrender, which is not easy, given that we have been trained to do, do, do and do some more. We are not used to just being! Finding out they have the ability to surrender (related to the fifth niyama – ishvara pranidhana), and that the world will still be turning while they lie on their mats doing nothing can be an eye opener! That’s a way to plant a seed in them about taking time to stop when there is too much (sensation, stimulus, havoc, etc.) going on around them and turn within to calm down and regroup, so we can face whatever life brings from a calmer yet more capable place within ourselves.