Are you calmer than a 5th grader?
Yesterday I taught a class to a group of 5th grade students at Academy Prep in South St. Petersburg. Academy Prep is a donation-supported charter school that enrolls all of its students based on need and gives them full scholarships to attend. The school is located in a tough area where the neighboring public schools boast about a 35% high school graduation rate. When the owner of one of the studios where I teach texted me asking if I’d like to lead class for a group of 5th graders that Thursday, I jumped on it. I had no idea what I was signing up for.
My class was to be the weekly installment of a “fit for life” program run by a veritable saint who I know only as Lynn. She volunteers her afternoon, once a week, to bring fitness and nutrition to these kids. When I spoke to her on the phone about teaching a class, she told me that she would provide everything for the kids but added “you bring your patience.” Okay.
When I got there, Lynn told me that we can’t call it yoga. She had prepped the kids the week before, telling them we were to have a yoga class, and one of the mothers called the school and complained that the spirituality of yoga was not in synch with her kid’s faith. Unfortunately, that’s something that keeps a lot of people off the mat [like this bloatface -ed]. I think I’m one of the most spiritually irreverent and un-religious teachers you could have, so this mom’s worries seemed unfounded. But, alright, we’ll call it core strengthening.
I thought I’d start with a calming breathing exercise called nadi shodana (alternate nostril breathing). This quickly proved impossible as everyone was snorting and choking through it. Nevermind. I tried some short warm-uppy stuff of the sort adults appreciate, but that was soon rejected with a “Can we do something else now?” Shit. So I got them moving but they could not stop talking to each other. There were two other adults in the room whose full-time job during my class was to walk around trying to hush everybody up. It was NOT easy for them. I just kept on rolling with it, trying all different kinds of moves, and checking my watch like every two minutes. They did a pretty good job in tree. Tree is a feel good pose that everybody can agree about. Phew. Then I did a bunch of sun salutation-y things to try and wear them out. I added major sound effects to get them participating. This worked. “BOOM!” “He-eeey!” They responded much better when I gave them a way to be vocal that wasn’t disruptive.
Most people can agree about Tree.
One girl requested that we do “burger.” I had no idea what the hell she was talking about but she kept asking for it, and so, grateful that she was paying attention to me at all, I finally invited her to demonstrate it. I’ll be damned if this little lady didn’t roll right back into Halasana — plow pose. I was so psyched! Yes, darling, we will definitely do burger! (This is the only place that I could find a connection between burger and Halasana: Kitteh Style.)
When it was time for Savasana, corpse pose, I told them all to lay down and be quiet — that we were going to pretend we were dead. The other two teachers were walking around reminding the kids that dead people do not talk. One girl responded loudly that dead people DO fart, though. (And she is correct: this or this). The rest of Savasana passed with with various farting noises emanating from different corners of the room, lots of laughing, one girl singing, and me walking around the room repeating “Shhhhhhhhhh” as calmly as I could.
Maybe I’m projecting my own love of yoga and my own knowledge of its benefits, but it did seem to me that the students were behaving better at the end of class and listening more to Lynn. But that could also be because she had the snacks. I’ll never know. But I do know if they ask me to come back and teach not-yoga again, I’m gonna say hell-to-the-yeah!
In Savasana, J demonstrates how putting a towel over a kid makes him quieter, just like a bird.