Street Yoga in the classroom

Last Saturday, Street Yoga hosted a day of workshops at Bastyr University, just outside of Seattle. We had participants from Portland and the greater Seattle area come to learn from four amazing experts in the field of yoga therapy, to discuss healing through body awareness.

Street Yoga - Day of Workshops 2011Approaching the Bastyr grounds, there is a simplicity and almost moment of silence, featuring fountains and floral decorum that create an oasis for students. The buildings emanate 1970’s architecture and make a presence with tall columns and open courtyards, tying the spaces together.  It was a perfect place for a day of exploring, learning and sharing aspects of yoga.

There was such a rich bouquet of information, that by the end of the day, it was amazing to find how it all seemed to integrate seamlessly between the four sessions.  Each group was intimate and had a range of 8-11 participants, allowing for everyone to be heard and connect with the speaker.

Street Yoga - Day of Workshops 2011

Group of workshop participants with speaker Robin Rothenberg

The day began with Caroline Goodell discussing “Body Signals and Healing,” and with her extensive experience from being Director of the Institute of Body Awareness, she brought many practical ideas to the table. Many of which, were brought up again in later sessions.

Street Yoga - Day of Workshops 2011

Before lunch, Jennifer Parsinen lead “Get Unstuck!” to address integration of body and life through Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy.  With hands-on partner exercises, Jennifer allowed for personal healing-based experiences, where participants quoted feeling safe even with people they have never met. Partners had a giver and receiver, the giver placing a hand on the receivers heart and one on their back. Dialogue and breathing techniques were shared and after, participants stated how good it felt to be truly heard.  Discovering the power of integrating how your feelings can be found in aspects of your body through pain, discomfort, anger, etc., concluded a great second session.

Street Yoga 2011

Warmhearted Robin Rothenberg began “Harnessing the Energy in the Room” after a tasty lunch from the Bastyr cafe. Robin first wanted to explain “energy,” as it is a broad term. “Energy is a funny word in our society – what are we actually talking about? There is a lot of stuff that the word energy covers. There needs to be clarity when talking about energy… when engaging in discussion,” Robin expressed.

Street Yoga Day of Workshops 2011

Together, Robin had the classroom create a list of things that teachers, caregivers or therapists must do before entering a room of students or patients.  She asked, “When you walk in, how do you hold yourself?”  To name a few, many students explained that they need to be grounded, well-rested, able to let go and ultimately, trust in the power of yoga.

Even further, she listed examples of how teachers can harness energy through tools, such as the Koshas, pranayama and yoga.  Robin suggested using the Koshas to ask yourself questions – how is my body, how is my mind, how are my emotions, how is my joy or spirit? To fully prepare for a yoga class, Robin reminded us all how, “It’s an inside job.”

Lastly, she pointed out ways to give students tools to “put on the breaks” by movement or sound and de-escalate those with high-energy. Her “name it and claim it” method spoke to students who are unable to connect with the energy in their body in a way that can translate their emotions.  Even basics such as hand motions or poses can begin an association with feeling and the body.  With pain – ask them to find a spot that DOES NOT hurt. Bring them to a space in their body that brings good sensations or thoughts and from there, they can start to cultivate a connection with those areas that may actually harbor pain or anger, allowing a sense of healing to develop.

Street Yoga 2011

Stephanie Sisson ended our day with “Yoga for Vulnerable populations – A Social Justice Perspective” in an open and animated discussion that was undoubtedly engaging.  Stephanie has an amazing ability to talk about yoga therapy in a way that is accessible to anyone.  To begin her session she incorporated a great interactive name game with sound and movement.

 Stephanie asked participants to list their definition of yoga and here are a few:

A union – a join of consciousness and flesh
Authentic self
Body awareness
Self-study and awareness of the self
Act of being present
Opening or door
Un-learning or un-doing things we have collected
Mental flexibility

Street Yoga 2011

Taking what we think yoga to mean and then realizing our population and what they need yoga to be, is an important thing to consider. Stephanie expressed, “We are not going to be working on our spiritual self or enlightenment when we are trying to survive on the street. We can’t expect them to always absorb the consciousness of yoga in the thirty minutes we have with them. It just isn’t applicable to their lifestyle or their immediate needs…Remember to let go of your expectations as a “yoga” teacher…”  It was a question of how can we give them something, a piece of yoga, that it applicable and useful? The answer to that question is a message that Street Yoga has been delivering since conception. Portable yoga therapy.

Street Yoga 2011

Stephanie gave useful teaching tips for engaging students who may be reluctant to participate. Here’s some dialogue to try:

Say: Sometimes when I move my body around, I feel different. Let’s try it and see if you feel different, too.

Say: What would it be like if… (you could feel your feet, you could feel openness in your spine) – this can help those with no sensation or recognition or awareness of their body to imagine what that would look like to them. The act of trying to imagine is a benefit in itself.

Say: Yoga gives me an experience and I want it to give you an experience.  What do you do in your life to create an experience like yoga?

Street Yoga Workshop 2011

Just like the old social-work saying, “meet people where they are,” Stephanie made sure to remind us that in order to teach a yoga THEY can use, we must figure out where they are and then work with that.  Even more, Stephanie had a great discussion about body awareness and techniques used at the Samarya Center, which will be discussed in a future blog post.

All in all, the day of workshops gave us many new things to think about and techniques to try.  We hope to have other workshops in the future and would love to hear about any topics you would like to learn about, in our comments below.  For more on these teachers and their bios, please view our recent blog post.