Yoga Workshop-The Met School

by allthingsace

This past Monday and the Monday before that I taught a “Yoga Workshop,” addressing the topics of, dealing with emotional responses and pathways to relaxation, to a group of students at the Met School. Do you remember being a junior/senior in high school?
The night before the first part of the workshop I thought I had remembered, but then when I began speaking to these kids, one, it became painfully apparent that the confidence in my recollection was false and two, even if my recollection of being 16 years old was accurate, it was surely incomparable to the state of mind of 16 year olds in the year 2010. Instantly, I cleared my mind of any memories of what I felt like in those years and what I thought I could impart upon these kids. My only expectation, after 3 minutes with them was to see them smile and get excited to return the following week. Here is a run-down of the workshop I taught, separated into “Part 1,” which took place on February 1, 2010 and “Part 2,” which took place on February 8, 2010.

But first, here is a picture of me at the age of 16. Not only did I hang out with people who used disposable cameras, causing my eyes to look red, but I also had blond hair because Gwen Stefani was the queen of my universe; and of course the more you look like someone the closer you are to being them…

Things I may have been thinking about in this moment:
“Samantha (my friend standing next to me) is always cold to touch,”
“I hope my mom does not find the Poland Spring bottle full of Gin in my purse,”
“I hope I can make out with my boyfriend long enough to miss the announcements about the homecoming court,”
“Where is my boyfriend?”
“Does he still like me?”

Alright.

Part I:
Since I knew very little about who these people were and what they had been up to I decided to start with an introduction where I asked them to tell me their name and what it is that they usually do to relax. Apparently, this is a harder question to answer than I had anticipated, but we finally got through it. If this were a contest of what most people do to relax, “listening to music” would win.
This conjures up an amazing image for me. Hearing the likes of Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy I can begin imagine how to wash the sadness and disappointment of adolescents away. If I could do that part over again I would have asked them what music they like and then suggested Radiohead as the ultimate cure for teen angst. Then again, perhaps they aren’t as angsty as I am projecting because…
Next I asked them to sit in easy sitting posture, sukhaasana, pointing out that the ideal expression of this posture is to have your hips higher than your knees. I gave them rolled up bath towels to sit on to achieve this.
Then we started breathing. It was really difficult to get them to actually breath, for the first five breaths I was the only one doing it, they just watched me as if this was something they had never done before. When they finally joined in, we did a few more in through the nose and out through the mouth active breaths and then I attempted to show them kaapalaabhti. We did this really slow: closing the right nostril and inhaling through the left and then closing the left nostril and exhaling through the right, and then inhaling through the right nostril and then closing the right nostril and exhaling through the left, etc. Explaining the hand position and the overall process was pretty time consuming, but valuable. After they finally got it with their eyes open, I asked them to continue to do it with their eyes closes. Personally, I think this practice is so important and so helpful when it comes to alleviating stress, so I could have had them do this for the entire hour that we were together…but I didn’t.
As they did this I tried to speak to them softly about clearing their minds and not necessarily getting rid of anything that is happening in their minds, but rather putting it aside for just a while as we do this.
Next I took them through the wave! Squatting bhastrika was their favorite!?
By the time we finished the Wave our hour was up.
The highlight of the class was teaching them the breathing methods. I think we spent the most time on this, but that was okay because it is, like I said above, the most valuable. On the other hand, I decided that next time my introduction has to be more interesting and relevant to what we are doing.

Part II:
Taking what I learned from Part I, I tried to think of something more engaging to start off with for Part II. I thought about starting with breathing and then doing an introduction. Actually, that is what I was thinking the whole time I was planning the introduction, however, because the introduction I came up with seemed so relevant to a breathing practice as well as helpful for breathing practice I decided to do it first thing.
I was a lot more relaxed about being with these kids for the second time. This is probably because during the last workshop I achieved both goals, I got all of them to smile and their positive responses to their advisor combined with my brilliant idea for an introduction made me excited to return.
It took a while to get everyone hushed and sitting. All of the kids had these carnations that were brought into school for Valentine’s Day, so they were really preoccupied with flirting with one another and talking about their flowers. I suggested they put them all in the middle and we offer them up to Krshna. When I said this they all quieted down and looked at me really confused. “Or we could just put them aside for the next hour,” I said in their silence, a group mind fumble.
We got to sitting and the girl next to me asked what I was holding. I had almost forgot what I had brought in order to oversimplify the intentions of my introduction.
The introduction was an exercise that is based on something that Tom had us all do at Teacher Training. In Tom’s exercise we sat across from our yoga buddy and spoke to one another about “what is hard about Yoga Teacher Training.” The method of speaking, where one person says something and the other person repeats it and then asks, “is there anything else,” indicates that the listener is listening.
In my exercise I asked the kids to sit in pairs, one across from another and talk about anger. I gave theme each a notecard with the following questions:
1. It makes me angry when […]
2. When […] my anger looks like…
3. When […] my anger sounds like…
4. When […] my anger feels like…
I asked them to do the same thing to one another, a call and response method. I thought this method would help the person who was describing their anger not only create a visual for it, but also be able to visualize it by hearing someone else say it.
That being said, I had brought in this tiger that I keep in my car.
“For all intents and purposes this tiger is what my anger looks like, sounds like (it has a button you can press to make it roar), and feels like (it is plastic and unmoving).”
When the girl sitting next to me asked me about it this is what I said and this is how I transitioned into the introduction activity.
What happened next I had not planned on doing, but I am glad we did it. Since the group was so riled up; they were both resistant and excited to participate in this activity, I asked them to share the images of their anger with the group. While they may not have enjoyed participating in this activity one on one with one another, I think they all really enjoyed hearing what each other had to say.
While I listened to them speak about the kinds of things that made them angry I tried to point out how anger is an emotional response that indicates our attachment to things as well as the fact that anger reveals those things that limit our lives. Using their causes of anger to illustrate these concepts was a lot more successful than my just creating hypothetical situations and trying to explain it.
Our discussion took up over half the class, however, we were able to go through the breathing practices I had showed them in Part I. I was able to speak to them about identifying their anger and holding on to it, getting to know it and understand it the way Jack Kornfield describes in his book.
Unfortunately, we did not get to do much yoga, but when I asked them in the remaining moments of our hour together if they thought these breathing practices were helpful and if they thought they would use them when they were feeling angry, they all said yes. This was really reassuring, I hope they do.

That was that. Talking to the kids, showing them how to breath and cultivating a persona of myself as a guide whose anger takes on the form of a tiger. I think the Met School is a really special place. The advisor who had asked me to do this for him has asked if he can give my name to other advisors, so I think that is a good sign. And that’s all for now.

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