Recently I began teaching yoga to inner-city middle school kids four days a week with Higher Achievment (HA), a DC-based enrichment program that prepares middle school kids from underserved backgrounds to pursue college education. When I took on this assignment, I must say I was anxious.
I’d been apprentice teaching children’s yoga for some time now, but usually in more priveledged elementary school classrooms. Teaching kids was difficult at first. Any sign of fear or weakness, the kids sniffed it out and ate me alive.
Now here I was not only going back into middle school – the time in our lives most of us want to forget – but working in one of the nation’s most notorious school districts with kids who may, as my mentor Edie cautioned me, perceive me as “a skinny white girl from a well-to-do background” and resent me. I recalled scenes from the HBO series The Wire that ventured into Baltimore schools where teachers struggled to prevent violent outbreaks in the classroom, let alone get through a lesson plan.
I went into the program prepared for battle, conjuring up my best no-nonsense gym teacher persona, ready to establish my authority. I was pleasantly surprised however to see how eager my kids were to show off what they already knew about yoga and learn more. They also took well to responsibility- never had to tell them more than once to roll up their mats and place them away neatly after class.
Following the pillars of the HA curriculum, I pushed my kids to find their power and their voice as leaders in their community. It started first with asking them to demonstrate postures and lead their classmates in how to get there. Then I started teaching them sun salutations and prompted them to lead their classmates through the sequences. “Stand tall and proud,” I instructed, “and speak from your belly.”
It was during these exercises that I realized how shy my kids truly were. Typically, the kids would have no problem finding their voice as they snickered or rabble-roused in the background while I or another student was speaking. But these same kids who were wise-asses and whiners on the sidelines, when given the floor and asked to lead activities, would shrink into themselves, whispering instructions under their breath, and second-guessing their authority.
It was baffling to me, but ultimately, I knew the pattern all too well. When I was at my corporate job, it was easy for me to bitch about office policies that made no sense, or the lack of upward mobility, or any other common workplace grievance. Now I am self-employed and I find myself failing to step up to the challenges of establishing my own business- shy to get myself out there as an authority on issues of health and wellness and frustrated with new media marketing. Now that I have the floor with the mike on, I find myself throwing blocks in my own way, second-guessing and shrinking away when I feel challenged and overwhelmed.
In that way I find myself honoring my kids, knowing that we’re on this path to self-realization together. While I empower them to be leaders in their communities, I am inspired to step up to challenges in my own life.
That said, I am finally pursuing my website makeover by contracting it out, teaching more visibly at my home studio Flow Yoga Center, and slowly befriending new media. Stay tuned for these updates and more. Until then,
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