how do you teach yoga to teens? you start by teaching Truth. speak to the highest in them. they will get it when you tell them that they are a spiritual being in a physical body and that they are immeasurably powerful. when they root their feet into their mat, into the earth in Mountain pose they will feel steady and strong; a steadiness they themselves create becomes a thing they can rely upon. when their feet are rooted into the earth, they will become rooted in their integrity. when they are faced with difficult situations they can breathe into steadiness, root into their integrity and make grounded choices.
when you have been teaching high school students yoga every week for many weeks, they are going to get it that the feelings that come up on the mat-- say while holding a difficult pose like plank-- mirror for them the ways they react to difficult situations in their life. they are naturally making connections between the way they feel in their yoga practice and the choices they make in their lives. they have been trusting this journey inward with you for some time now.
one day Something Horrible happens in their community. everyone is talking about It. swirling and weblike and suffocating are all of these: confusion and fear and anger and outrage and compassion and love and disdain and judgment and sadness and fear. your students have been eating and breathing and sleeping and wearing all of these for several days when you meet them on the mat. how will you teach your students the week that Something Horrible happens?
you know that you will not teach glorious poses. you sit in silence on your mat while your students file in to class. they naturally follow your lead. they sit still and quiet on their mats. for some it is still hard to sit still. you ask them to close their eyes. for some it is still so hard to close their eyes. you tell them that today's class is about Truth. and you remind them by holding your hand over your gut where feelings come from and remind them that their feelings don't lie. because they've come to expect you to talk about Real things they are really really present. you will teach your students today about allowing difficult feelings to reside within them without rushing to get over them. you will give them the most basic poses to hold, with good alignment, even when it feels hard. you will remind them that feeling the feelings is harder and higher than telling themselves a story that makes them feel better.
you tell them that, in any community, what happens to one, happens to all. just like with our heros. when the star football player makes a great play, and the team wins, we all win. we love the star player. we are the star player. i am he and you are me and we are we and we are all together. it's the same when Something Horrible happens. we are all together in this. the highs school students align their bones, root their feet, and tether to their breathing through several rounds of sun salutations with long held planks and without any glory.
you arranged their yoga mats in concentric circles. you allowed the Something Horrible-that-happened-to-one-of-their-classmates to reside in the center of the room and you asked them to be present; to feel real feelings; to breathe into their hearts. they did all these things. they were steady and true. they blew your mind because you know lots of grown people who were have trouble being present with the feelings that came in the wake of the Something Horrible. and when your mind is blown your heart melts in gratitude… that the students are the teacher.