One of my teachers organized a “Yoga Youth Day” two Saturdays ago and I haven’t had a chance to blog about it. In its original concept, the day was to involve several bikram studios in the tri-state area and invite low income kids from the community to take a class with the hope that these kids could somehow continue practicing through some kind of financial assistance program.
Unfortunately, 3 of the 4 studios originally intending to participate had to back out. But my studio remained. Weeks ago, my teacher invited me to join the event and asked if I could be one of the adults standing in the front row to be an example for the kids to mimic. I was honored at the invitation and I was excited to participate!
Although the intention was to have boys and girls participate, the school assigned to our studio happened to be The Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem (cool little tidbit: this all-girl’s public school has been so successful in preparing low-income girls of color for college that the school has been and is being replicated throughout NYC and the country). We had 20 sweet girls between the ages of 14-17 practice today with 6 adults in the front, two of them teachers at my studio. We had a blast! My teacher managed to get new mats and t-shirts with the “Yoga Youth Day” logo donated for the girls and Vita Coco and electrolyte water donated for the class.
It really is amazing to practice with youth — the energy in the room was powerful and positive. Here’s what the young women taught me that day:
When some of my teachers notice a lot of us adults getting frustrated, they’ll say, “Smile! It’s only yoga.” During warm up, in the first set of backbend, the girls after trying a few seconds just busted out laughing and then the whole room was giggling even the adults. My sense is that none of them had ever done a backbend before. Unlike the adults who huff and puff and muscle their way through a backbend, the girls just laughed. Laughed. When was the last time you smiled in the mirror after a you fall out of a tough pose?
As my teacher delivered the dialogue for toe stand, those girls were down and in the pose faster than you can say “bikram”. No hesitation. No fear. I was in serious awe. A lot of newbies in my studio can’t go into toe stand. The physical act is so foreign to them that my teachers always keep encouraging newbies to try it step by step. And even regulars like me hesitate with toe stand. I can go into toe stand just fine on the left side. But the right side, with my “bad” right knee? Not so much. And I will admit that sometimes it is physical pain that holds me back but most of the time, it is mental. I anticipate that I will feel pain and because I don’t want to feel pain, I am afraid to try. It’s something I work on every day. Those girls were an inspiration.
Every single one of those girls was in camel. I know because I stayed in camel and I was in the front row and could see and feel stillness in the room. Nobody came out early. Nobody turned around and went into savasana. Those girls tilted their head back, pushed their hips forward, and reached for their heels, trusting they were there. They breathed and they stayed. Beautiful.
Lead by Example
In my studio, those in the front row serve as the leaders and role models for the class. During class, when the teacher thinks the front row isn’t working hard enough or is sloppy, (s)he will say, “Front row: be the role models!” and everyone straightens up. Practicing in front of those girls, I was focused and solid yet still lighthearted. I worked harder for them so they could see, learn, and perhaps be inspired. In turn, they taught me so much.
I never had so much fun doing bikram until today! And those 90 minutes just flew by. Wouldn’t it be cool if our regular practice could fly by in the same way?