Hi Friends! I am sharing a post I found on my old yoga blog,
from my first time teaching with Street Yoga!
I hope you can join me, our staff, our Board, and so many AMAZING volunteers
who have stories to share with YOU.
3/30/2009 – Alice
My First Day Teaching at RAD
The girls were familiar with me, as I had observed the class with the previous teacher for 2 weeks in advance. I felt prepared, but still nervous and excited. I felt lucky that the girls were already familiar with yoga, which helped boost my confidence initially.
One of the girls was new to the facility, her first question to me as we began to settle onto our mats, passing around seat pillows and blankets was “What is yoga?” I began by explaining how I best understood and experienced yoga, that it is essentially the science of relaxation, teaching us to find comfort in each pose and teach our bodies to release tension. As I spoke some of the girls energetically contributed with their ideas which were pretty similar to my explanation. “Yoga helps you relax” and “Yoga stretches your muscles!”
The one of the more experienced girls was ready to begin and requested we start the “check in”. So we explained what that entailed, such as sharing our name, any physical troubles, injuries, sharing our energy level today on a scale of 1-10, and picking a word for our focus during the practice. This part is always particularly interesting to me, for it is the moment of the practice when I feel like I receive the most insight into each girl’s needs and personality.
I began the sequence seated, as I am accustomed to beginning and ending my yoga practice. I found the eyes closed to be one of the first challenges, as giggles led me to open my eyes and observe the girls. I continued with my instructions, observing as I brought our focus onto the breath. I asked them to place their hands on the belly, relaxing the muscles with the inhales and feel the belly and lungs empty with the exhale. I felt the need to incorporate more movement, as the distractions quickly became more frequent, giggles and conversations…. We moved and explored the connection of breath and movement in yoga. I led us into childs pose, then forward again to table-top on hands and knees.
I remembered from a previous class I had attended, that the girls found downward facing dog quite difficult to hold, so I focused on some core and strength building in table-top. We extended one hand forward, then the opposite leg back. I knew this would be hard enough for some, but a couple girls are pretty athletic so I encouraged them to take Tiger’s Post, a backbend variation, reach back with the extended hand and bending the extended leg for a bind. Most of the other girls attempted the variation, some moving too fast, and toppling over, but that is why I like this pose, it is so close to the ground already!
As my teaching and experience with new and different teachers has progressed, I have become more comfortable with taking the time in a class to seriously pause and address alignment issues, such as in chatturanga.
After moving onto the next side, we took child’s pose again, then lifted into downward facing dog. We stepped forward into a forward fold, then up to standing in mountain pose. Trying to regain focus here, I asked the girls if they remembered the name of this pose. Eventually they grew more focused as they grasped for an answer. One girl answered “Standing Pose?” more in a joking manner than serious response. I jumped on it, eagerly affirming her guess, explaining that Mountain Pose, or Standing Pose is a strong spine lengthening and grounding posture. We aligned our toes, heels, engaged our legs, tilted the pelvis back and lifted each vertebrae through the crown of the head. I had read in preparation about some ideas for kid’s yoga and one of the most common idea was a creative yoga sequence, where the students create a yoga pose, explaining its name, and why they like it.
Focus wavered but as each girl took their turn we tried new poses, and shared something about ourselves. One of the girls recreated a creative pose she had done in an earlier week, that had many similarities to a lotus pose, balanced on the knees. I took this pose, demonstrating the student’s creative pose’s similarities to an advanced posture. All the girls then attempted to find lotus with their legs, which I instantly regretted, due to the advanced hip flexibility required! I hopped up to standing and asked them to join me, explaining that the pose required hip flexibility, and we would take some poses to work on that hip opening.
One thing that struck me was the reluctance of the girls to hop up and down, as most yoga students who bring themselves to a gym or studio, pay for a class, and attend of their own desire actually look forward to! After a pose brought us from standing back to the floor, and some distractions or physical limitations made it clear to me that we needed to find a new direction, I hopped to my feet, and asked the class to join me standing. One girl rolled her eyes, and mumbled a protest at my apparent inconsistency in choosing “up or down”. This reminds me of when I first experienced a yoga teacher who began a class with nearly 20 sit/stand repetitions which I felt was too easy/pointless to me until she emphasized the no hands rule… I then discovered the challenge in accessing those muscles and flexibility. I know most of the girls at RAD would find this very difficult, but I would enjoy seeing how this pose would go over.
We then went through some different hip openers, such as pigeon pose, then a twist in ardha matsyendrasana.
At one point I had lost so much control of the class that the student next to me began loudly reminding the other distracted students who were very engaged in a conversation that I was the instructor and required their respect and attention… it took some prodding, but eventually they returned their attention to me. I had been attempting to continue with the sequence, either letting them follow along or not, and I realize I let the “reigns” of control slip with my relaxed instruction. I now recall how the experienced teacher whom I had been observing, had emphasized that respect is a big key word with the girls, and to remind them that you respect them, and require their respect and attention. I probably didn’t warrant their respect with the lack of confidence and leadership I was demonstrating, but demanding obedience is not one of my personality strengths, so I will have to work on this aspect!
We completed the class with bridge pose and savasana, corpse pose. During savasana, I led the girls through a guided meditation, and I chose one that I have enjoyed ever since one of my fellow students at the Street Yoga teacher training led us all with a visual imagery meditation involving a rainbow/chakra spectrum of flowers. It began in a pure white room, and one of the girls immediately asked “Like Isolation?” oops. She also solved my problem by stating she would rather be on a beach! So we began on a white sandy beach, with white clouds above and white foamy waves
I loved how the meditation completely transformed them from their fidgeting and resistance into calm, peaceful, and relaxed!!
This week after the class I went to the Lululemon store to find one of those decks of cards that show yoga poses and actually list all the benefits of the pose, for I think they will be a great source of inspiration and knowledge for the girls!
To all the new and inexperienced teachers, I hope that you can see we all grapple with learning, expanding, and serving youth who are recovering from trauma, addition, neglect, and more. I read this, 3 years later, and cringe at my instruction, but I honor the intention that brought me to this organization, and I can transform negativity into gratitude for the experiences I have shared with so many youth who need love.