A few years ago I was approached by a mom of a former yoga student who inquired if I might consider teaching yoga to her son’s soccer team. I was intrigued but had lots of questions: would the kids come to the yoga studio where I taught? were they wanting to join an existing class? what were her goals in my doing such a class? When we talked by phone she said her main goal was for the kids to have less injuries while playing soccer. She mentioned that the kids loved the game and gave it their best…but in her opinion were sustaining injuries due to their lack of flexibility. She had observed many of the classes her son was in with me and knew that yoga would be just what they needed….on many levels!! ! The mom felt the kids would resist coming to a yoga studio….and inquired if I would consider coming to them.
This lady turned out to be a very determined, focused and resourceful person! She had approached the owner of a large local family sports center about having the yoga classes there. She managed to strike a promising deal in which we could get a large, comfortable space rent free and she offered me a gracious salary for taking this on. We were ready to roll in just a few weeks!! ! I was so excited….but very nervous to start! I felt comfortable with my yoga teaching abilities but a little worried about my relative lack of knowledge about soccer. I reached out to my son-in-law who had played soccer for the University of Pittsburgh and had coached many youth soccer teams since. He was able to tell me what skills the kids needed to develop and I extrapolated what we might do in yoga to strengthen those skills. My husband (who frequently helped me teach yoga classes) has a strong knowledge base of sports and is very skilled in working with youth so he was an invaluable resource as well. ! ! The mom who had set this up explained that she envisioned the first class being offered for free. Afterwards any players wanting to join the class would be paying weekly. It was obvious that much was resting on “hooking” those athletes in a big way during that first class.
My husband and I were determined to entice those youth to embrace the many benefits of yoga in a single hour! This is what we did:! ! 1. developed a great play list of songs that would resonate with this age group (10-12 yr olds) & that were appropriate for a yoga class! 2. put together pictures of famous athletes (including soccer players) who do yoga! 3. put together pictures from our local newspaper of action shots of youth playing soccer (some from their own schools)! 4. prepared a handout: ”Benefits of Yoga for Athletes”! 5. developed a lesson plan that we HOPED would be interesting, fun, challenging (but do-able for newbies!) and truly reflective of the expansive benefits of yoga.! ! On the day of the class we arrived early to set up what turned out to be an awesome space: clean, spacious, well lit & warm (it was a typical winter day in Syracuse, NY). We put out our yoga mats “just right” and waited to greet our athletes. We were surprised (& thankful) when several parents chose to join the class. They were curious about what would happen in yoga….and wanted to be a resource should there be any behavioral concerns (spoiler alert: there were none!!). We ended up having about 20 youth….mostly boys, but some girls. They initially appeared to be excited, curious….and a little nervous. ! ! The class began with talking a little about yoga, inquiring about their knowledge & past experience (very limited). They were pretty impressed to hear about famous athletes who make yoga a part of their training. When we showed them photos from the local paper we asked: “what do you think you need to be able to do this?” (i.e.: 2 players attempting to head the ball; a goalie stretching to make a save; a player kicking the ball in an attempt to make a goal, etc).
The response varied from you need
to be really you n strong” to “you would need to be able to focus well” to “you would have to be really flexible”. Our response to each of their comments was “interestingly, yoga can help you be____” (i.e.: strong) and we would then teach them several yoga poses that involved strength, flexibility, concentration, etc. (i.e.: Down Dog, Pride Plank, Warrior 1 Up, etc). The kids loved all that we did! They enjoyed being challenged, showing their strength, partnering with teammates and finally relaxing!
We led them into Savasana with a version of I Am What I Am: our affirmations included: I am strong; I am smart; I am a good team mate; I always do my best. They especially loved their relaxation which included the gentle placing of eye pillows, relaxing music and a brief neck massage with essential oils. Following our closing words almost all the kids came to inquire about when the next class would be and to ask for info for their parents. Afterwards we were exhausted and ecstatic… as was the mom who had organized this! The parents who were in attendance made a point to tell me how impressed they were with the class & how much the kids needed this yoga ….whether they knew it or not!! ! The class continued successfully for several months until many of the kids were unavailable due to the start of their spring outdoor soccer season. Looking back I see this experience as a turning point for me as a yoga teacher. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone & in doing so helped me believe in my ability to teach a wide variety of kids in what may be an unfamiliar setting… with authenticity, grace and self assurance.!
My training with the grounded program started over a year ago and has truly been a journey (that I am still on) of literally and figuratively finding my voice. First, I want it to be clear exactly what I mean by that. I hear a lot of teachers say when they start teaching that they struggle with imitating their teachers. And I want to make it clear that that is not what I mean when I talk about ‘finding my voice’. I don’t mean ‘my teaching voice’ as compared to imitating someone else. First and foremost I mean- literally, I needed to find my actual vocal ability- I need to be physically able to speak in front of a crowd. Secondly, and it turns out, more difficultly but just as importantly, – I needed to find the strand of myself that I could cling to when I was feeling overwhelmed, overexposed, and lost and point to and say- This! THIS! This is my voice- I need to listen to this! This is what’s important!
Let me start at the beginning. I went into the first Kids Grounded Training Module with no real teaching goals. I signed up for Module 1 because I wanted to do yoga with my kids in what I felt was the right and complete way. I wanted to always be safe, and I truly believe in the power of the whole practice. I think the Grounded methodology is real; I’d seen the classes and their effect on my daughters. I believed that if I was going to do yoga with my kids I should know exactly I was doing. I didn’t have any grand dreams to be a yoga teacher one day, not for kids or adults or anything. I just wanted to learn safe ways to teach poses and flows and class design. I simply believed in yoga and wanted to facilitate my kids practicing it.
Very early into Module 1 we had to practice-teach to each other. Simple? No. Immediate panic. I know lots of people say they get nervous when public speaking. Butterflies, they say. That’s such an understatement it doesn’t even qualify as an understatement anymore. I was sick with the anxiety. I was overwhelmed with the anxiety and I could barely think straight- “They’ll all be looking at me! I’m not a yoga teacher! What am I doing here!? They are all looking at me. Oh my god. They are all looking at me.” I looked around and the room looked the same, but I was lightheaded. I was dizzy. I literally COULD NOT SPEAK. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t make words come out of my mouth.
I know people say they understand, and they get nervous too- but no one else in that room burst into tears just walking up to the front of the classroom. No one else started to hyperventilate. No one else needed to be replaced by another teacher and literally physically calmed down. That was my first teaching experience. Even just typing this, and every time I reread it, I can feel my heart rate rise and my eyes tear up. And I know what this is. This is not news for me. This is my disorder. This is what kept me out of a gym for years. This is what stops me going to dinners with friends and going to parties and meeting up in groups. This is Social Phobia (Also sometimes called Social Anxiety Disorder, although technically it’s not quite the same thing). This is what it feels like to be literally paralyzed by fear of what others think of you. And it’s not because “I care too much what other people think” because I’m so vain or self-centered. Believe me when I say it’s almost the opposite. This condition at its worst has me chained to my house and stuck on my floor in tears. At its best I have to remind myself daily that my paranoia is unfounded. That people aren’t thinking those terrible things about me. That it can’t possibly be that bad. That everyone isn’t looking at me. Even typing this it sounds ridiculous, I know. But this is the condition, every day. Some good days. Some harder days.
Eventually I found my voice that first teaching day in that room- I had good people there with me and they encouraged me and believed in me (even when I didn’t) and I got up and I made myself do it. And since then that experience has served as a stepping stone for the experiences that have followed- walking to the edge- feeling the fear- facing the anxiety and the panic. And ultimately what that day taught me is this: Sometimes, sometimes, when you are feeling completely lost, you can look deep inside, and you can listen for the voice- and you close your eyes and make a decision. What is MOST IMPORTANT? And you move from that voice. Stepping right into the fear and the anxiety and the panic. You decide what is more important- the love, or the fear?
Since taking Module 1, I went back and forth and fought myself and struggled and finally- nearly sick with the decision- I decided to pursue a YTT 200 hour program. The first night of the program’s immersion week we introduced ourselves and had to say what we were hoping to get out of it. I didn’t want to become a great teacher or learn fancy poses or teach 8 classes a week. I said “I want to find my confidence”. I just wanted to find my voice.
When I started teaching I once again felt so super exposed. I felt like I was walking around with my insides on the outside of my body. It was a constant state of feeling like I couldn’t breathe deep enough, like I couldn’t quite concentrate with all the thoughts that were running through my head. Panic. Anxiety. Paranoia. I had to somehow find my way back to my private self. My first desire was- of course- to quit. I don’t know how many weeks it was of every night in a row I said I want to quit- I’m too out there- I’m too exposed- I can’t take this. I felt like I was suffocating.
It’s not a coincidence that the feelings here are all tied to the 5th chakra. I felt like I couldn’t breathe or speak through the exposure, until I realized that if I was going to find “me”- I actually had to LISTEN. It’s all Vishuddha- 5th Chakra. I had to listen. I started to make lists of what was important to me. What I needed most in my life. My family- yes! My husband and kids. My personal meditation, asana and pranayama practice. I realized I had to turn inside and listen to that voice deep deep down. What did I believe to be TRUE? What did I value? Why was I doing what I was doing? What was important to me? And the voice was loud and clear- teaching advanced asana- yes, teaching meditation and pranayama- yes, teaching kids- yes- all these things- I BELIEVE in them. I believe in the power of them. That’s why I was doing this. That was where my voice was. This is my yoga. This is the yoga that I believe in. This is where the truth was. I could hold on to that.
And so here I am. On the journey. I’m not saying it was an instant fix. It’s still hard, and anxiety is still a constant, but it’s grip is a little less tight. I completed my 200RYT, and am so excited to be about to complete 100RCYT. I teach arm balances and inversions at my favorite yoga studio once a week. I teach private lessons every week. I have a weekly kids’ class. I use my voice- my beliefs and my values- to do what I believe in. I am my own true authentic self, and I teach. And it is hard, every time. Because it is real and honest and true. Moving from love, not from fear. Listening to the wisdom of the true inner voice