“What? There is no way I am doing yoga! That’s weird. When is snack?”
For those of you who have taken the Street Yoga Teacher Training, have volunteered to teach yoga to youth or use yoga therapy as a caregiver, you have probably heard this from your students at one time or another. Well, good news, the gates to engagement have opened and the light has come bearing the cliche sound, “ha..ah..ah,” along with these five ideas:
1. Smell the Yoga
Before each class I like to spray an essential oil in the air to create a memorable space. Every time yoga is about to begin, the students become prepared and often excited once they start to smell the yoga. From my experience, youth and teen mothers have enjoyed the scent of lavender, as it is a very relaxing scent and calms the nerves. Young children love the essence of orange, since it is a familiar scent and the citrus will awaken their senses naturally. If you are teaching youth who are in high-energy mode, it is best to use a grounding or relaxing scent prior. For students who are very tired or bored then a citrus or uplifting oil is best.
hint: Be sure to ask your facility if sprays are allowed beforehand. Consult an essential oil handbook for more on specific oils.
2. Teach with Textiles
If you practice yoga you have probably used a prop to assist before. In the traditional sense, props are useful and can help the body adjust to yoga poses in a safe way. But have you ever used a prop to engage your youth? Props aren’t just blocks and straps – they can be anything you choose. For years toys have helped parents and teachers engage children on many levels and they can do the same for yoga. Try bringing a “mascot” to class with you and ask the students to name the stuffed toy. For young children, stuffed animals that have similar yoga pose names are fun to use or try one that is colorful to brighten their mood. For tweens and teens a koosh ball has worked very well. Kids love textiles and a koosh is a great thing to toss in a yoga circle game. For boys, stuffed footballs or superheros are a favorite.
hint: Be sure to take it with you so it symbolizes yoga time. Try stuffed toys that are fuzzy, bumpy, smooth or squishy to engage their sense of touch, bringing awareness to how outwardly different textiles cause them to feel inwardly.
3. Sound it Out
If you teach in a space that has many distractions and noise pollution, then creating a safe space through sound is welcoming. Although this seems second-nature to adult yogis, we tend to forget about music when teaching youth. Using a simple song from a tape or CD during a warm-up circle will create a “yoga sound” for them to connect with. Finding a song that is age appropriate or resonates with your group is essential and may take a few tries. If you do not have access to a music player, encourage the group to make their own sounds. One way is to circle up and sit cross-legged. Ask them to close their lips tight and make a sound deep from their throat (young children love animal sounds.) You can get them to create many sounds from their own body. In doing so, you also provide them with breathing techniques and at times, a meditative space.
hint: Shy away from words or inappropriate sounds that may take from the exercise. For teens, try G-rated pop-music and they will be sure to love you.
4. Breath with Bubbles
The breath is a powerful aspect of yoga and can truly open the mind and body. Engaging your youth with the breath can be a rewarding effort, to say the least. At the end of the day, if you can get them to take three meaningful breaths, you have moved mountains. How we incorporate the breath into a yoga practice is a daunting challenge even for adults. Some practice yoga for years before they even scrape the surface of Pranayama or breath control. With children, do not feel discouraged and know that they are much smarter than you think. Bubbles are a great way to get their attention and allow them to find their own sense of breath. Have them sit cross-legged or in a comfortable seated position. Share a bubble tray (use cheap dish soap as a great alternative) and let them first have fun with the bubbles. Begin to propose they close their eyes, blow slow bubbles, blow fast bubbles, blow really long bubbles. You get the idea. For older youth, have a paper ball blowing contest. Make a finish line and have them try to blow their crinkled ball of paper across the line without using their hands.
hint: Be sure to ask them how they feel after engaging their breath, belly, lips and throat. Now have them envision the paper or bubble blowing as they practice a pose.
5. Turn the Tables
Lastly, do you have a group that has seen all your games and tricks? If you are at a new stage and want to challenge your yogis, it’s time to turn the tables. On a day when your group seems energized but not too out of hand, ask them to think of their favorite pose. If a few are unsure, ask them to think of an animal movement they like. Each student will have a few moments to think of their pose/movement and practice it on their mat. Once everyone has had a few moments, ask each student to share their pose with the class. They can complete the pose using words or just slowly demonstrating it piece by piece silently. Having them play teacher for a day keeps them engaged to one another and can give you insight on how they imagine the yoga.
hint: If you have a few high-energy students who tend to disrupt, ask them to pick who goes next or to help with the verbal description for those who choose to teach silently. Disruptive students who typically lack engagement regularly tend to love co-teaching or assisting, as it gives them the validation they are seeking.
Importantly, remember to laugh and play in the moment. Youth can remind us daily how to be present. If we refrain from trying to grab their attention and just listen and watch, we will understand their individual needs. When all else fails, ask yourself, “how can I be better engaged?”
Tell us your story – we would love to hear it!
Have you ever felt like your students were not paying attention? Were they ever bored or unimpressed by your class? Have you, yourself, found it hard to engage your youth yoga class? Any tips you want to share?