We meet in my classroom during our lunch hour twice each week. It's not quiet. It's not peaceful. It's an elementary classroom with bright colors, tables and chairs, and sometimes young people wandering in and out. We gather together in a circle of colorful yoga mats, with a few borrowed yoga props and playlists on our cellphones.
I teach a midday yoga class to a small group of teenagers at a democratic school in northern New York state. They range from 8th to 12th grade, from flexible to not-at-all-flexible, from easy-going to easily stressed. They are sponges, soaking up any and all information that I share with them about breathing, the spine, relaxation, yoga poses, and coping strategies.
This is the biggest group of teens I've taught in all the years that I have offered yoga at the school. In fact, one year I had one student each class and this year I have almost the entire high school and junior high group. Yoga has caught on at our little school, and the kids are feeling the benefits!
As teens often are, the group started out quiet and unsure of this new practice. They came to my classroom, rolled out their mats, and sat without much talking. And now after about six months of practice, the kids come to yoga laughing and chatting, tell me about their days and how they are feeling, and ask for specific yoga postures. The change in the climate of the room is palpable. They want to be there. They want to do yoga. They want the effects of a yoga practice.
While each student came to yoga for his or her own particular reason(s), they are all noticing benefits of the practice. Some report feeling less anxiety, others an improved attention in afternoon classes. All of them leave the room in a visible state of "yoga bliss." Whatever else they are feeling, they come to class two lunch periods each week without fail. They are each developing a home practice, searching out more information, and listening to their bodies. The love of yoga is contagious.
For me, the lessons of yoga continue. Having thought the class would fail because of the imperfect setting, the lack of props, and the limitations of time, I am humbled at our success. First of all, the teens truly don't care about having the newest mats or the latest props. They aren't interested in designer leggings or labels. The yoga itself is the draw. They are simply happy to be moving their bodies mid-way through the school day. Second, having only an hour to settle in, enjoy a practice, and then rearrange the classroom furniture does not deter these students at all. They will move tables and chairs, sweep the floor, whatever it takes to have that hour. And finally, whether it's the yoga or this particular group of teenagers, I am inspired week after week by their patience despite so many distractions. They are forgiving of my third graders who unintentionally interrupt our class because they forgot something in their cubbies, other teachers who bust in forgetting we have yoga, or this week, for the gas delivery truck that parked outside my window with the back-up alarm sounding. This kind of focus is a true meditation.
I am grateful for these teachers who join me at lunch time for yoga and meditation. They came to me to learn, and I walk away a changed person. It is truly a blessing to teach. Namaste.