Teens are sitting around tables talking with one another, listening to music, joking around. I hear one asking if there is a bed available tonight for her to sleep in the overnight shelter. I follow the staff member on duty to the meeting room we use for yoga – she and I quickly move chairs and a table aside to create space for movement. I pace the room deciding which way to set up mats, running through my plan for what I am going to teach, and wishing I had brought some music to play. Moments later, the staff member returns followed by four teens, who smile and introduce themselves to me and take their places at their mats.
I start a seated breathing exercise - we all close our eyes. I feel the room transform. The kids in the room with me have had experiences I cannot relate to. They have seen things and have had experiences that I neither cannot imagine nor have ever had to imagine. My worry is that I will not know what to offer them.
But breath, I realize immediately, as the room quiets and we begin to center and set an intention, is universal. It is obvious – we all breath in, we all breath out. We all experience the same physical response and calm when we deepen our breath and take a moment to pause. We just need to remember to do so.
We move through some cat and cows, and there is giggling amongst the kids as we sync up with breath. Despite the giggles, they are focused. They are committed to what I am cuing, and are willing to try. Aside from their circumstances, I realize, they are still just a bunch of kids.
These teens amaze me. The level of their daily experience in the world varies in intensity, and many of them don’t know if they will have a warm place to sleep at night. Putting all of that aside, they are here embracing the benefits of yoga and mindfulness.
Class is different every time I teach there. Sometimes we practice for 20 minutes, sometimes for 40. Sometimes I’ll plan out a flow, and the kids won’t want to do what I had planned, so we will breathe, or meditate, or take a long savasana instead. What is the same every time, is that they say “Namaste” with me at the end of class and I leave feeling grateful for the opportunity to connect. These teens are smart and resilient, and I always leave the center amazed at how -- underneath circumstance and level of hardship -- we are all just people, trying to remember to breathe deeply.
I love the challenge of a physical practice but it has always been the mindful part of yoga that I cherish the most. Breathing. Setting intention. Finding something each day I am grateful for. And it is this piece of mindfulness that I hope to share with the teens at the Preble Street Teen Shelter.
I am so enthusiastic about the work Preble Street is doing because it has the power to make a difference in the lives of these kids. If, in a moment of stress, one of those teens remembers to breathe, or can fall asleep in an uncomfortable place because of a meditation than I will be forever grateful!
Sarah fell in love with Yoga while living in New York City in 2009 and found she needed something to keep her calm and grounded in a place where everything moved so quickly. Yoga became a way to let go of rushing traffic and flashing lights, and to find center. Sarah brings her love and joy for connection with others to each class, sharing her infectious upbeat and light-hearted energy. A serious injury several years ago caused her to take a pause from the physical practice of yoga, and focus on the more mindful, meditative practice, and this is something she has continued to carry onto her mat and share with others long after her recovery.