This year, I teach yoga as an elective at the school where I work. This isn’t the first time, and it is taking me many years to create a program that I feel is both meaningful and appropriate for the age of the students.
Last year, during the Spring semester, I was teaching to only tenth graders, which are around 16 year old. With inspiration from a research program I was invited to participate in called Hippocampus, I tried to create a program for those girls for that semester. It worked quite well. I introduced asana very slowly throughout the weeks. First, with mainly just some joint mobilisations and relaxing poses on the mat, and gradually, I started introducing standing poses.
During one hour, we would only do about 20 minutes of asana, around 15 of reflection on a topic I thought was relevant for them (self-esteem, stress management, emotions, relationships, etc), and the rest of the time they lied down on their mats for a body scan and simple breathing exercises.
I felt that the girls enjoyed it and that they got something out of it, so this year, I decided to ‘repeat the success’. What I didn’t count with is the fact that these electives are open for all students between 11 and 16. I ended up with a group of 11 girls (boys rarely sign up for yoga, unfortunately) between 11 and 12 years old.
Very soon, I understood that the program I had made for yr10 wasn’t going to work. These girls are much more active, they aren’t used to be still, and they are constantly looking for each other’s attention (this is very age appropriate). It is very interesting to see, and it has been a fun journey to teach them since September.
I still feel that it is my duty to introduce them to Yoga beyond asana, so I tried to structure each lesson with a bit of asana, a reflection and some relaxation. The asana I teach is very simple because I want to move away the focus from doing ‘fancy’ poses to get to know their bodies better. Many of them don’t exercise much, and they benefit from moving their bodies and strengthening them through simple asana.
I gave them a notebook too, where they can write or draw during the lesson, and I sometimes ask them to write something in particular.
I am trying to find the balance between giving these girls the space to be who they are and how they are, and trying to guide them towards the idea of relaxing the mind and the body, and towards the habit of getting to know themselves better. It sometimes feels like my lessons are filled with chaos, especially when we do asana. There is not much breathing going on, not much focus going on, they just want to do the pose and then it turns into dancing, jumping, and running around. But when I ask them to lie down for relaxation, I do insist in silence, and I am noticing that they are managing it better and better for each lesson.
I found a book called Stories from India by Anna Milbourne at the public library, with short cute stories that invite for reflection. I am now reading them one story in the beginning of each lesson while they lie down on their mats, and we then discuss what they think is the message. This is working very well, and we like the stories in the book.
One of the girls, a seventh grader (around 11 or 12 years old), has been slightly annoyed with the fact that we don’t do more ‘fancy’ poses. During the past weeks, she keeps asking me what yoga is, but she doesn’t really wait for the answer. She is trying to figure it out herself.
This week, I did a more fun session that I found in a Yoga for kids book called Yoga games for children by Danielle Bersma. I took one of the chapters about poses and modified it slightly and we were mainly rolling up and down on the mats working with the abs. I also read a story and we discussed the message, and they did some relaxation.
At the end of the lesson, when I was tidying up my things, the same seventh grader came to me and said, “Yoga is not physical activity, is it?” Before I even tried to answer, she said “Yoga is mental training, isn’t it?” and she left. I guess it is a good definition, isn’t it?
I am grateful for this class. It teaches me so much. I am thankful for these girls and all the kids at our school that sign up. I realise that being a Yoga teacher is not different from being a school teacher. We cannot have a fixed program that fits every class. We have an idea of where we want to lead our students, but we have to adapt the how to who and where they are in life/development, and we sometimes even have to adapt our idea of what they need.