Teen Yoga Class – “Work Hard, Play Hard”!

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!

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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).2015_spring_Dogline

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.

Teaching Mindfulness Within a Yoga Class

In my yoga classes I have always tried to incorporate some mindfulness exercises; sometimes in the beginning, sometimes in the end or even both. Savasana is always a good time to bring them back to the present moment as the mind keeps working, essentially doing its job. Nowadays I also do it in the middle of class, when I sense there is some opening for a short lesson on mindfulness or for introducing some mindful technique while performing a yoga pose. Depending on how open the students are at that moment, they will absorb the new skill right there. If they are not, they might remember what was said in a pose later when it comes to mind or they decide to show someone else (parents in case of little kids) that pose.

The way mindfulness gets explained needs to be tailored to different age groups. Of course I would not talk about the prefrontal cortex or amygdala in the middle of a yoga class, even for adults (I try to keep them present and I believe those words could be an invitation for people to zone out!), but examples according to the students’ ages can be presented and made easy to understand or recreate. Like the yoga poses, as a teacher, we need to drop any expectations that all the students will get it on the first, second or hundredth time… Our job is to present the lesson, and the students take what they are ready for.

I taught a yoga class at an Elementary school on the other day and, toward the end of class, while they were lying on their backs for a pose, I asked them to look at the ceiling and notice new things they had not seen before. We sat down and shared what they noticed. When performing the pose on the second side, I asked them to look at the ceiling again, notice what their friends shared and maybe even notice other things no one had mentioned. We then sat and shared some more, giving a chance to those who did not share anything on the first side. Of course, about two of them never shared anything because they were distracted with their hair or looking at their neighbor during that time. For adults, I tend to ask them to focus on feelings and sensations in their bodies while in the poses. For teenagers, I would recommend something in bICS_WP_20150126_002etween the two examples I just mentioned.

I came across an article today and thought it was worth mentioning here. Check out item #4 suggesting to drop the expectations, just like I mentioned in the second paragraph above. This article is geared toward parents, but I believe it can help kids yoga instructors get an idea or two on how to implement mindfulness in their classes. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monisha-vasa/teaching-kids-mindfulness_b_6458950.html

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” – Abraham Maslow