|I did a lot of forward folds. Kinda my default.|
A Road Home worker leads me through this warehouse-turned-shelter. The concrete floor is lined wall-to-wall with cots, on which entire families congregate to sleep, look through their phones, even share a meal off the Dollar Menu. There is, I notice, a communal TV (it's playing a cartoon), as well as some tables for dining, but those areas seem relegated to packs of children making a pitstop as they run laps around the warehouse floor.
"Yoga tonight!?" Asks a smiling woman laying on her cot with two children.
"Yes, please join us!" I tell her, excited about her interested.
"We'll see," she says as she glances at her children. "Bring 'em with!" I offer, and continue walking.
Several other residents ask about yoga as they notice my mat. I invite them all, and am excited that this free class, provided by Yoga For People, seems to be a popular break in routine.
I get to the playroom, which features two bookshelves carrying a motley crew of used books. Other than that, it's the most open space in the building at about 14x20 feet. But even that space is encroached upon by cots. A man in a wheelchair is sharing McDonalds with two young children near his cot just feet away.
No sooner have I laid out my mat on the dusty concrete floor, than one of aforementioned packs of children have surrounded me. This one is little girls, mostly, who chime in about yoga, sit on my mat, touch my arm with affection.
"It's 13 and up," says the Road Home worker to the kids, "Sorry, guys."
They look at me in disappointment. "If you guys can sit quietly on the sidelines and do the breathing like I say, you can stay," I offer. They excitedly scoot to the side, and mimic my cross-legged, open-handed stance.
Another group enters - this one, teenagers who sport bleached hair with dark roots, and piles of neon bracelets. 2 or 3 of them snag Road Home yoga mats and lay them right in front of mine. These girls are collectively tending to a 7-month old baby, who's sitting with one girl on her mat.
"Who's baby is that?" I ask. One of the non-yoga gals, a serious- but pretty-faced 14-year-old, says, "He's mine."
"Are you a little yoga baby?" I coo to the boy. He flashes one of the sweetest grins I have ever seen. Precious.
"We did yoga all the time at the downtown Road Home," another teen announces, her gruff voice overpowering the chatter of the little kids, who continue to pile into the room. "We're pretty good at it now."
One of the girls does a backbend, then the splits. Must have been a dancer. Yep, I was right. And she misses it.
Next to join the room, a couple of 13-year-old boys, who grab their mats and put them right front and center. They are easily engaged, and curious about different yoga positions.
A pretty Latina woman files into the back; what appears to be her young son taking a spot on her mat.
She makes a little cha-cha movement with her arms and hips, "Zumba next time?" she jokes in broken English.
It seems a good time to start class, so I do my best to keep the kids off my mat and everyone else's, and inspire the teens to settle into the practice.
I begin the 45-minute session.
"We're going to start with breathing, in through your nose, out through your nose. And I'm going to tell a story."
I tell them about a bad day I had, where I found myself craving outside validation. After a particularly rough moment that day, I decided to do some yoga, and while doing so, I caught my own eyes in the mirror. I found some love in those eyes, and decided to give myself some support. I tell myself: "You can achieve whatever you set your mind to. I'm here for you. I am cheering you on! I love you." I realized I could be my own best friend.
Eyes closed, one of the teen girls nodded. One of the 13-year-old boys did, too. So true, he whispered under his breath.
I was impressed that all stayed with their breath. Kids kept coming in and out, doing yoga poses everywhere - even on the clients' mats - and chattering excitedly amongst themselves. Other teens filtered in to watch, and they were chatting, at first quietly, then without regard. But all were interested in being there around the practice. At times, the teens doing the practice would blurt out comments like, "What's the point of downward dog?" or "This is hard!" or "I'm so good at this one." I just reminded them that this was a time to focus on themselves; give themselves some love; take that stress away from their mind.
As we sweated and stretched through the session, words flowed out of my mouth with the breath. The point I often found myself making:
-If you can clear your mind here, on your mat, amidst this chaos, you can do it anywhere. Use this skill of breathing to keep your calm in real life. Escape inside yourself!
"OK, last few poses, and then it's savasana," I announce. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. I can't believe I tuckered them out!
I guide them into meditation - whoa, that sounds weird, saying that out loud! Only in my dreams, would I have imagined me doing that. In fact, I'm still a little shocked I'm up here teaching at all. After about three years of practicing yoga of all kinds, I'm just thrilled to now have the chance to perpetuate it myself.
I suggest the clients let their faces relax. Their shoulders. Their fingers. I see them physically do this. What a beautiful feeling. They're RELAXING! I walk around, and touch each of their foreheads and rub their temples to inspire the extra tension to leave, and their faces are just pure peace. I cannot even describe the joy that brought me, to see these folks in a safe space inside themselves, even amidst the chaos surrounding them.
They awoke, and I thanked them for sharing their practice with me. Their faces looked different than when we first started. More serene, for sure. I was grateful when the Latina woman shook my hand and said "Thank You" before she left.
I walked out of there the same way I went in. Holding my yoga mat, smiling at the folks as I walked by - many of the smiles, returned. A few more positive yoga comments, a few more mini-conversations.
But I did leave with some lessons. In fact, I learned MORE than I taught. I learned that it pays to go in there without expectations or judgement, which blocked events from eliciting any negative emotion. For example, it was loud, but why shouldn't it be loud? It was age 13 and up, but why shouldn't little kids get to be present? Those teenagers blurted out some random things, but why shouldn't they?
I loved that acceptance of what was around. The yoga clients mastered it, and I got to practice it, too. Being in the moment, being able to catch bits of love floating around in the air...that's what it's all about.
Now, when can I teach again? :) I'll keep you posted.