Guest post: Julie Goldman
I met Julie Goldman in 2007 when we were both teaching in the English department at C.K. McClatchy (CKM) High School. After the students went home, we’d go down to the tennis court to chat as we whacked balls imprecisely across the net. A few years later, Julie transitioned to teaching yoga in the PE Department, five classes a day, totaling two hundred-twenty students.
Curious about how yoga happens in a high school setting, I asked Julie to share her thoughts. She’s also provided a full class sequence. Julie’s an extraordinary teacher–creative, caring, sincere and funny. Please enjoy her offerings.
Reflections of a high school yoga teacher
A few years back, I got an anonymous note from a student saying, “Since starting yoga, I have been having fewer mental breakdowns.” I taught high school English for six years before switching departments to PE, so personal notes mean a lot to me. Learning to “unplug” and be alone with thoughts, enjoying the silence of a room, simply focusing on breathing are all skills I try to teach the students.
Kids come for a variety of reasons. Some don’t like the competition of team sports, some are already athletes and know that yoga will complement their sport, others are self-proclaimed lazy bones and sign up for yoga because they think it will be easy. (They’re quickly surprised when they realize that this class can be a butt-kicker.)
While this is PE and our main focus is on the physical aspects of yoga, I think that the students are getting more out of the class than just a good workout. Yoga is a chance for students to quiet their minds, slow down and breathe. It is an opportunity to set aside the constant competition and judgment that comes with high school and to focus inward. It is a chance for them to notice the small things, pay attention more and practice mindfulness.
No other yoga teaching job affords this unique situation to have the same group of students five days a week for an entire school year. I get to be a part of their yoga journey, seeing the students develop and grow their practice. While it is exciting to see a student who has been working on crow pose finally master it, it is even more exciting when a student tells me that they meditated at home after studying for a big test.
Yoga sequence for high school kids
Once a week the students write in journals for the first five minutes of class. This is the time I introduce them to one or two Sanskrit words. I want them to know these so when they take a yoga class in the community, they aren’t confused and have heard the words before.
Opening and Warm-Up
- Begin in child’s pose.
- Count 10 slow breaths as a way of checking in and slowing down, preparing for practice.
- Cat/cow with spinal balance – extend opposite leg and arm.
- Remind them to think about how to stay in balance when life is pulling them in opposite directions, stay grounded.
- Sun salutation
- A reminder to acknowledge each day as a new opportunity to be present.
- Down dog – lift one leg, open hips and “flip their dog.”
- Reminder that we can be playful in our practice as well as in our life.
- Hover in forearm plank while lifting one leg at a time and bringing knee to elbow.
- This one is a killer for the abs and teaches them to perservere through difficult situations and not to give up, even when the going gets tough.
I offer an alternative for anyone who may be uncomfortable being too close or touching another person. There are a few who “opt out” but as the year goes on and they see that these poses aren’t as scary or intimidating as they may have thought; they give it a try.
- Partner boat with feet together, holding hands either inside or outside of legs.
- Seated straddle, back to back. One partner leans back while the other leans forward to their comfort level.
- This gives them the opportunity to communicate with one another.
- Sit cross-legged, facing one another with knees almost touching. Extend left leg out. Reach right arm behind back, towards left hip. Reach left arm across chest towards partners right arm (behind their back).
- This one is fun to do with a larger group. Not only does it encourage cooperation and communication, it is a great stretch.
- Warrior 2 back-to-back
- Encourages the shoulders to open.
- Reverse warrior, lunging away from one another holding top hands together, leaning away from one another to deepen the stretch.
- For those who are up for adventure – double dog. One student comes into downward-facing dog, the other does down dog with feet on the partner’s low back, both partners are oriented in the same direction.
Savasana, the most important pose of the day. For some, this pose is a favorite, for others this pose is the biggest challenge because they have to find stillness. Many of my students tell me that never in their day are they still and quiet, just “doing nothing.” They are always “doing” something, even if that something is watching TV, checking their phone, etc. After the first few weeks of school, I see a change in them when it comes to final relaxation. They seem to be embracing it more, seem to finally “get it” a bit more.