Choosing Breath Instead of Overreacting

One of the teens in today’s yoga class told me about something that happened at school that morning, and how it pissed her off. I was surprised at how the story ended as I saw no big deal on it… But, hey! It all depends on one’s perspective, right? Well… After lots of breathing in class and a long savasana, she came to me and commented, “Now I can see how breathing helped clear my mind to see that I completely overreacted to what happened this morning…”

I wish everyone in the world could learn this. I hold this vision for our future. May we learn to stop before choosing angry reactions that will just make the problem bigger instead of opening up the path to a solution. Imagine how many conflicts would be avoided if we learned this? Yes, it involves mindfulness, paying attention to what is going on inside you and around you, done without judgment. Not easy. But it’d be wonderful to learn to step back while facing some challenging situation, take a deep breath, clear the mind and be capable of making the best decision in the situation you find yourself in. I believe we all can achieve this. And so I encouraged my students in that class to try to take a deep breath before respond to anything another person said to them in a discussion of some sorts.

Another teenager said, “I wish my parents would know this as they yell at me during an argument!” That was a teaching moment since the other students were paying attention when she made this comment out loud. I said, “How about the next time this happens you invite them to stop and take a breath together? Notice I said the word ‘together’, that’s how you get your parents to try your suggestions with you.” She then looked into the distance as if she were imagining the situation in her head. Well, the seed has been planted and I hope she remembers next time some conflict comes up. Just one breath, a deep one taken deliberately; that’s all it takes to remind us to stop and maybe shift our perspective, maybe choose softer words, maybe realize it is no big deal given the bigger picture of our lives. Just one conscious breath to start with.

I have tried this in my own life and it has made a big difference. Let me know if you try it and how that goes for you. I would love to hear your stories too, so feel free to share in the comments section below.

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.