What I am learning from teaching high school girls

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I have recently picked up another teaching gig at a public high school in San Francisco. Though I am only paid a small stipend for teaching once a week for the entire semester, I jumped at this opportunity when it was presented to me. Why? Not that I don’t have (outrageous) bills to pay for living in a highly-desired city, but because I believe in changing people’s life through yoga. And at their vulnerable age, they need the tools yoga can provide even more.

The class is 50 minutes long, and for now kept only for girls. (Imagine the snickers and sneers from the boys when we all come into downward facing dog). Yoga itself can already be a little scary for most teenagers because they are feeling sensations in their bodies they’ve never felt before in these already confusing times, so we try to keep the class a safe space for the girls to feel like themselves. At first, I thought they would click more with faster-flowing classes to keep them from the distractions in their heads. But after the first couple of classes, I realized that they actually need the opposite.

I taught a variety of postures in my first class with them. My second class I led a mellower class with longer holds and focused on breathing. By their votes, the mellower class won. A couple girls even requested to throw in a few minutes of meditation at the end. Who would have thought!

So while they might look like ADD kids flicking back and forth between their smartphones and their peers, but in reality, they crave quiet. It’s their only time and space to give themselves the permission to sit still, to be quiet, without any judgement.

I have also found that they really enjoy backbends and anything that involve the hamstrings. While men tend to struggle, women tend to be more flexible in the spine, so backbends help these girls release the tension they keep in their hearts and on their minds. Their hamstrings are also generally more open than that of guys, so of course they pick poses that suit their stronger feats. They like asanas that makes them feel empowered.

I have never gone through any sort of training on how to work with teens, but I am learning something new every time I teach this class. It helps that I myself was a teen less than a decade ago and that I started yoga at approximately their age. Yoga has helped me tremendously on my self-esteem and self-confidence. Especially during college, when everyday I was surrounded by potential Nobel prize winners which made me feel stupid in Biology, even though that was my major. I was pretty good in biology, but yoga, it was something I kind of rocked, and eventually it became something I was more passionate about than biology.

John O’Connell High School is also one of the only two schools in San Francisco that leads meditation classes. Now, won’t you agree all high schools should implement this kind of program into their curriculum?

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