Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What I learned teaching teenage boys yoga

A few months ago, I was asked to teach yoga to the Grande Prairie Northern Extreme Freestyle Ski Team. I was thrilled to take on the experience, but I didn’t know what to expect – and thank goodness for that, because my sessions with these athletes were nothing that I could have ever imagined.

To begin with, they were a little younger than I had first realized. When I signed on with the team, I thought the athletes were about 19 years old, but then later found out they were between the ages of 13 – 16, and mostly male. When I learned about this my insecurities heightened. I found myself thinking:

“Can I really teach yoga to teenage boys?”

I prepared as best as I could. I did some research, planned some sequences, and built some playlists just for them.

The classes were held in the house of one of the athletes’ parents. It was a beautiful, secluded home, just five minutes out of town. The space was large and welcoming and I knew instantly that it was going to work.

Then the athletes showed up.

I asked them, “Who here has ever done yoga before?”

Encouragingly, a couple of them raised their hands. Perfect, I thought.

We started our first class, which included Sun Salutations and foundational poses, such as a Warrior Sequence and deep lunge stretches. Savasana was no longer than 2 minutes, which seemed to be the perfect duration because within that time people’s toes were tapping and eyes were rolling.

Week after week, we got together and practiced yoga. We challenged each other. I could see their confidence and patience growing. I became familiar with their senses of humor, their strengths and weaknesses and their relationships with one another. The coach was fantastic, showing up to nearly every class to participate and encourage the athletes. Even some parents came to a couple of classes.

By the end of our 6-week session, Savasana easily lasted for five minutes.

Reflecting back on this experience, I know that I was not the only one learning. I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with these people and want to share what they taught me:

Be fearless

On the first day of class, it was apparent that trying something new – such as yoga – seemed like no big deal to them. Their confidence and light-hearted attitudes were a relief, especially compared to my own fears and insecurities of trying something new for the first time. And as new poses were introduced throughout the session they couldn’t wait to try them out. Sometimes they would jump into them before I could finish explaining them – which isn’t good for safety precautions, but their courage and confidence was apparent and I admired that.

Weren’t we all a little more brave when we were younger? I know I was. When did I get so scared to break something or embarrass myself? Lack of trust in your self can be one of the biggest barriers in your life. Take note from these teenagers and just dive in.

Be focused

Even though classes were relaxed, the athletes dedicated the time they were in class to their practice. No cell phones were allowed. They showed up, week after week, and practiced yoga. I could tell they were listing intently to what I was saying. They could easily remember sequences and poses without a lot of cuing. The way they picked up on things and remembered poses made me realize that they were focused and really living in the present moment. This isn’t something that I had to teach or remind them to do – it just came naturally to them.

Try to let go of what you already know and be open to learning new things, giving your undivided attention to wherever you are at that exact time. As we get older, the mind can get jumbled with thoughts and clouded with past experiences or expectations. Let go of that and be willing to learn with a clear mind.

Have fun

In almost every class, laughs were exchanged. It was a very light-hearted environment and the athletes never took themselves too seriously. Everyone just did their own thing. When a new pose was introduced, they had no problem jumping – or falling - into it, and then getting up and trying it again. A lot of them had existing injuries due to their active lifestyles, so if someone couldn’t get into a certain pose, then that was just fine - they didn’t seem to mind and it appeared that their peers didn’t even notice. They were just being themselves.

As an adult, I sometimes forget that life is supposed to fun and that yoga classes can be really fun! Smile. Laugh at yourself. Be kind to yourself and others. Relax.

Fill up your schedule but learn how to de-stress

Not only adults have full schedules. Wow these kids are busy! When they couldn’t make it to a class, it was only because they had other commitments. Volleyball practice. Choir practice. Out-of-town tournaments. And then of course there’s school, homework, and their social lives that are packed through the constant connection of cell phones and computers.

These teenagers are motivated individuals, committed to so many things. I couldn’t help but be impressed. But it’s important to remember that stress in children and youth is real. I was happy to teach them a little bit of self-reflection, breath work, and how to quiet the mind but this is something that as adults, we should be setting a good example of.
Practice yoga. Read a book. Go for a walk. Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for yourself to unwind in a healthy way.
Some members of the Grande Prairie Northern Extreme Freestyle Ski Team