We asked Sonia Perez, qualified Teen Yoga and PE teacher at Calthorpe Park School in Fleet, Hampshire, about her experience of teaching yoga to teenagers. This interview is part of a series aimed at sharing teaching tips and offering practical examples for how yoga and mindfulness can be brought into secondary schools.
How would you describe your teen yoga classes?
My yoga classes enable students to develop the confidence to value their own personal practice and work at their own pace. However, I also try to empower students to attempt something new that offers an appropriate challenge and sense of accomplishment. Moreover, I hope students leave the class feeling calm and relaxed and understand how breathing and movement can benefit them on and off the mat.
Can you give us some alignment tips and examples why it is important for young people?
Regarding postural alignment, a standing pose (eg. Mountain pose) helps students to understand how good posture feels. It is important to align (stack) the joints of the lower body – ankles, knees and hips. A pelvis tilting movement forwards and backwards can help students to find the central point where there is a natural curve in the lower back. Imagining the pelvis as a bucket of water that does not spill, but remains neutral helps students achieve this posture.
Also, imagining drawing the belly button to the spine helps to engage the abdominal muscles to support posture. To achieve correct postural alignment of the shoulders, it is useful to roll the shoulders upwards, backwards and downwards to open the chest, feeling a slight activation of the shoulder blade area.
Furthermore, students should aim to lengthen the back of the neck whilst looking forwards. Again, imaginary can help by picturing a string from the crown of the head lifting upwards, whilst continuing to look forwards.
From a pedagogical point of view, what should be considered when teaching alignment?
Once postural alignment has been experienced and understood, specific phrases should be repeated throughout the class to ensure that students practise safely.
For example, stacking joints where appropriate for the pose; neutral spine (experiencing a natural curve in the lower back with belly button to spine); shoulders back and down; and long neck (both as previously explained).
It is important to explain these phrases clearly and regularly, whilst observing students to make sure that everyone understands how to practise safely. It is important to recognise poor alignment and correct misconceptions using verbal and visual demonstrations.
How do you approach teaching yoga in a multi-cultural and multi-faith environment?
In my context a secular practice that focuses on physical movement, breathing and relaxation is most appropriate. I replace ‘Namaste’ at the end of the class with a sincere ‘thank you’. Also, instead of instructing prayer position, the phrase ‘hands to heart’ is more appropriate. I don’t use Sanskrit words in classes and instruct using simple language that is easily understood. During relaxation at the end of the class, I share mindfulness techniques with the students.
What do you hope to achieve by teaching yoga to young people?
It is incredibly rewarding to share my yoga practice with young people and introduce them to an alternative form of activity that offers both physical and psychological benefits that I hope they will continue to explore into adulthood.