Yoga Through Community Practice

Everyone has a class in college that changes their life; the yoga class I took on a whim this past semester is mine. We spent the first six weeks of the semester learning basic yoga postures, philosophies, and breathing techniques. Every Wednesday, I’d lug my yoga mat to campus, down all three flights of stairs in the physical education building to the yoga room to be transported to a different universe. The yoga room was an escape from reality. For the next two hours, I knew I could just focus on myself, my practice, and my breath. All too soon, it was time for our formal classes to end and for us to begin the second part of the class: teaching.

I was assigned to teach first graders at a nearby school, Weemes Elementary. Thankfully, I was not alone: I was paired in a group with classmates-turned-friends Sophie, Kayla, and Phong. Each of them taught me something about teaching: Sophie’s flexibility and grace in demonstrating poses, Kayla’s dedication to connecting with each of the students, and Phong’s ability to command the classroom with a single word (I told him he gave off camp counselor vibes, turns out he had been one for years). At first, I had no idea what to expect. I had neither teaching nor younger sibling experience. I dove in headfirst: ready to teach, and more importantly, ready to learn. 

The experience turned out to be life-changing. Teaching quickly became the highlight of my week. I looked forward to finding new ways to keep the content interesting and relatable to little kids. The first grade students were amazing: they were extremely receptive to yoga and seemed genuinely interested in learning more. My favorite memory is from when we were doing balasana, also known as child’s pose, towards the end of class one week. Not surprisingly, many of the kids were very wiggly and restless when asked to move into stillness. To combat this, I told them that we all had to become the quietest chicken nuggets we could be. The kids loved it, excitedly getting into child’s pose and shushing each other. “Chicken nuggets can’t speak,” I whispered as I walked around the classroom. When we came back the next week, several of the students asked if we could do the “chicken nugget pose.” When it came time to do child’s pose during the cool-down, I heard the students tell each other that “chicken nuggets can’t talk.” It was a small victory and I was proud. Clearly the students were retaining information about their practice!

As we came to the end of the semester, our group was sad to leave. We decided to throw a goodbye party. We brought brownie bites and had everyone show off their favorite pose. It was bittersweet; I think my teaching taught me more than I taught anyone else.

The final exam was to craft our own lesson plan. I chose to create one based on the book, Llama Llama Red Pajama, a book from my own childhood. Little Llama gets angry at his Mama when she can’t be there to soothe him. The story is about how to self-regulate our emotions and how we can learn how to be calm even when things do not go our way. This theme is important to me because this is something that everyone at all ages can learn and is one that helps me through college. There are times when we all get anxious, worried, and frustrated so it is important to remember that we can choose to react with kindness and love. We are in charge of our own emotions. This connects to the philosophy of yoga, samtosha, which teaches an attitude to help develop a peaceful disposition and acceptance of life’s situations. I never knew how much I loved teaching and am now seriously considering doing it in the future. I am so grateful for this experience. Namaste

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