by Lauren Tepper
In the isolated safety bubble of a pristine yoga studio, odes to Ganesha humming from the ipod dock…has it ever popped into your head to examine how you came to be here, and what life is like on the ‘wrong side of the mat?’ I’m guessing that it has, and that, like me, you yearn to share this transformative practice with others whose life situations make them unlikely to stumble upon it.
Thanks to the generosity of Street Yoga, YogaDork and a few other angels, I had the opportunity to develop my ability to do this at Street Yoga Teacher Training the first weekend in August at Bija Yoga. The 14-hour training (approved for CEU’s through Yoga Alliance and the National Association for Social Workers) promised tools and techniques for working with at-risk youth, including those who are homeless, in foster care, detention, shelters, and recovery programs. It delivered this, and so much more.
“Stand strong,” said Street Yoga’s Lead Trainer and Founder Mark Lilly as he opened our weekend together with a centering and grounding yoga sequence. Mark intertwined two themes throughout the workshop: the importance of caring for ourselves with as much love and healing intention as we want to bring to others; and practical strategies for working with at-risk populations. “Our loving presence is the gift,” he offered. “What’s most important is that you show up, holding a space for courage and honesty.”
It’s invigorating to be around someone who really walks their talk. Mark’s leadership was compassionate, informative, and down-to-earth. Our classroom immediately became a sangha where I felt profoundly supported as I went through the emotional ups and downs of looking at my own coping mechanisms while investigating how to serve those who live with daily chronic or extreme trauma.
Mark referenced Marshall Rosenberg’s method of Nonviolent Communication to set the stage for assessing the needs of our group. Are they completely checked out; utterly exhausted; unable to focus; bouncing off the walls with energy? He shared strategies to make breathing, movement, and meditation techniques accessible to the wide range of people we are likely to encounter.
We brainstormed ways to meet the challenges of working with vulnerable and traumatized youth, and role played teaching yoga in various situations, i.e. a drop-in program for homeless youth or pregnant teenagers in transitional housing. We talked about arrival and preparation for teaching, modifications for poses in special situations, suggestions for starting or teaming up with programs to bring yoga and meditation to underserved populations, and much more. To top it off, we took home an extensive manual with a wealth of additional resources, including sample curricula, yoga games, and interviews with Street Yoga teachers.
Mark gave us tips for finding the right teaching situation, and encouraged us to wait until we felt ready. He also advised us to build a support system, rather than trying to ‘go it alone.’
It struck me throughout the weekend how applicable all this was to teaching yoga in any environment, and even to just plain living. It dawned on me that most people face trauma in their lives on some level, whether it’s acute like a physical abuse or the chronic strain of living in a violent culture. On my way to Sunday’s session, I found myself looking at people on the train and in the park with a deeper sensitivity, and more compassion.
This workshop revealed a lot to me about my own patterns of coping (or not!) with the stresses of daily life. I gained insights to help me “stand strong” in my personal journey, and left feeling better prepared to help others do the same without depleting my own inner resources.
Lauren Tepper is a yoga and dance instructor, peace activist, personal trainer, environmental educator, and freelance writer. She is also a trained facilitator of spiritual circle gatherings through the Institute for Circlework, and she leadsworkshops uniting ritual, movement, meditation, and celebration of life’s natural cycles and seasons. Her blog offers insights and techniques for bringing more mindfulness, joy, and relaxation into daily life. www.breathtakingspace.com