Featured here is a journal entry written by Jesus Barajas, one of my teen yoga students. I asked for his permission to  publish this entry on his vision of peace because my heart was struck by the clarity and compassion put forth in his writing. Jesus is an exceptional yoga student. He dedicates himself to transferring his learning into daily life. I am happy to celebrate Jesus and share his vision with you!

Vision

By Jesus Barajas, 15 yrs old

I think my personal vision for peace would be for the youth. I want to change the ways kids grow up in less fortunate communities. I want to transform their neighborhood into a safe and fun environment. Our youth are the future. I was looking at the yogaforyouth.org page and I saw a video that expresses how I feel. I want to take peace and offer it to kids who don’t have the best education, community, etc. I don’t want kids to grow up with the impression that they don’t matter in society. Because that’s what happens. A kid grows up without the love and attention they need and end up joining a gang. Another thing I would change is gang violence. I hate, or rather dislike, how people will kill other people for not wearing the right color or what not. But, if we prevent those kids from feeling alone then we can stop gang violence. Because the kids are the ones growing up and if they grow up with the teachings of yoga, then they don’t grow up joining gangs. They grow up making peace between one another. This is my personal vision for peace in  my life.

In this new feature on our blog, we will feature the voices of youth who’ve either participated in a Shanti Generation program or have sent us feedback on their experience with our teen yoga DVD, Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers. If you work with youth interested in voicing their experience with yoga practice, contact us and utilize this platform.

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Several years ago, I had the pleasure of leading a Yoga Ed training for teachers involved in  The Wellness Initiative in Colorado. I asked one of the teachers, Allyson Levine, to guest write a blog to let our readers know about this wonderful organization making a positive impact on the lives of youth. I really recommend watching the video. It is so refreshing to hear the voices of healthy, empowered youth! Shanti Generation will donate copies of our teen yoga DVD, Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers, for their upcoming fundraiser. Here’s Allyson:

For the past five years I have been teaching yoga with The Wellness Initiative, a Colorado nonprofit, to students in low-income schools. Each year I take great pleasure in seeing how the yoga practice supports and inspires the students. It is particularly rewarding to see how the practice seeps out of the classroom as the students, teachers, and administrators take their yoga practice off the mat and into their lives. The mission of The Wellness Initiative is to improve the physical health, social and emotional development, and academic performance of low-income youth through yoga-based wellness programs. This year alone we will reach more than 2,000 students in 25 schools.

At Colfax elementary, each K–5 grade student has yoga once a week all school year. Toward the end of one semester I learned that some of the classroom teachers were having disciplinary issues. Before having a formal discussion to address these issues, several teachers and the principal gathered the students to collectively practice a few minutes of yoga visualizations and breathing. It was incredible to watch Principal Martinez use yoga to address behavior issues. The impact of these exercises can be accurately summarized by one first-grade student, who commented that yoga was his favorite class “because you really get the chance to be quiet with your thoughts and connect to the inner parts of yourself.”

Last year I also taught a biweekly yoga elective at Welby New Technology High School. In addition to the physical exercise of yoga, the 24 students (14 to 18 years) also researched elements of the practice and presented their findings to the class; they created food logs to develop a greater awareness of their relationship with food; and they discussed yogic philosophy and the way it related to their lives. Below are some of the things these students shared about the relevance of their yoga practice in their lives:

“During this class, I learned how to manage my stress much better. I also learned how to get in tune with my body and see where I need to pay more attention. I practice it at home with my brothers.” —Chloe, 10th grade

“I think that when you study yourself in yoga, you start to understand yourself. You find out what makes you happy, what scares you, what excites you, what makes you feel amazing. One day I realized that when I ate very little, I got cranky. By paying attention, I realized I was hurting me, and I did everything I could to change the way I was.” —Claudia, 12th grade

“Yoga has really taught me how to relax. If your day isn’t going right, yoga can always help make you feel a little better. It has also taught me it takes quite a bit of strength to get into the poses…. I was really proud when I learned to do a handstand, and I feel like doing them has made me much stronger…. I also liked how everyone was so close and pushed one another to do poses.” —Sam, 12th grade

To hear firsthand more ways that yoga helps our students, please watch a short video at wellnessinitiative.org/video.html

In order to keep this program running, we rely on donations and support from people who understand the value of our work. This year we are planning our second annual Yogathon to help with our fundraising efforts. The event will be in Boulder, Colorado, on May 14. Please go to http://www.wellnessinitiative.org for more information on the event or to make a donation. There are many ways to get involved and help our cause. Contact us at 303.865.3976 or info@wellnessinitiative.org to learn more.

NAMASTE

Allyson Levine

Instructor & Coach, The Wellness Initiative

Allyson Levine found yoga in 2000, when she entered her first Anusara class. Throughout her journeys abroad, as an experiential educator in Central America and the South Pacific, she found a natural inclination to teach others about the practice. She has completed a 200hr Vinyasa teacher training, prenatal certification, holds the Anusara-Inspired teacher status, and continues to work toward an Anusara certification.   Allyson is committed to introducing yoga to children. She is a certified Yoga Ed instructor, who teaches for The Wellness Initiative in low-income schools throughout Colorado. .

Please visit her website, www.yogadulce.com for more information

Breath and Relax

Consider Your Self and Your Life

Where would you like to feel more Balance?

Teen Yoga RitualHow will your life feel when you create that Balance?

Name an attribute that will aid you in achieving Balance.

Under the Full Moon, on the Eve before the Equinox,

And in the Sunshine of the Day,

Be the Balance.

As the Spring Equinox grows near, the moon is waxing into fullness and the light of day shines in brilliance as a reminder that now is the time to plant our seeds. Now is the time to focus on what we want to create in our lives. For some teens, this can be a challenging concept. The adolescent mind can become mired in what the individual wants to destroy or escape from, including peer,familial and global stressors. The coming full moon and equinox provide an opening to shed light on what is desired; an opportunity to turn the mind from what isn’t working to what is.

Yoga practice offers multitudes of ways to shift from deficit thinking to thoughts of abundance. Allowing the ebb and flow of the natural world to guide the practice is in alignment with the initial creation of the yogic systems. There are times for letting go as in the waning of the moon and the coming of winter. And NOW is the time of building, becoming and bringing into being!

To help teens discover what it is they want to create in their lives, give them some time and space to contemplate their inner being. Bring them into a comfortable pose either laying down or seated. Ask them to breath and relax, quieting the mind. Then, guide them to consider parts of their lives where they’d like to create more balance. Explain that the coming Vernal Equinox is a time when the Earth’s axis is balanced right in between it’s usual tilts toward or away from the Sun. Once they identify the aspect of their lives where change is desired, ask them to reflect on how it will look and feel different when balance is achieved. Give them time to name an attribute that will contribute to that balance. In other words, what ways of being will be allies on the path.

Give examples along the way to help foster understanding. For instance, if a student wants to create balance in peer relationships, they may choose an attribute such as patience, loyalty or courage. Or, if a student wants to balance out their academic life, they might choose discipline, clarity or wisdom. Many teen girls seek balance physically which may be about confidence, health or acceptance.

Once an attribute has been chosen, provide a piece of cardstock the size of a business card. Let the teens write their word on the card and ask them to “plant” this seed in a special place where they will be reminded of their commitment to balance in their lives. Some teens might tape the card to a mirror or place it in a drawer. Others might paste  it inside of a folder or tuck it away in an iPod case.

If desired by the group, allow students to share their attribute aloud. Let the group suggest yoga poses and practices that embody each attribute. Create a yoga sequence integrating their ideas. At the end of the sequence, during rest time, ask students to choose one pose or practice from the sequence that really speaks to them and reminds them of their attribute. Suggest that they take a moment under the Full Moon during the Spring Equinox to do that practice with their attributes in the hearts and minds knowing that at that moment, they have become the change they have wished to see!

As an added bonus gift, nature has given a special moon this Equinox: a SuperMoon! The Moon is as close to Earth as it’s been in 18 years. So, for teens, the Moon will be  as close as it’s ever been n their lives! What better time to step outside and make communion with the Earth’s celestial partner? The Moon, Sun and Earth all support us in different ways. We can really feel that support in our yoga practice as we naturally connect to the ground using the forces of gravity and step into gratitude for the light that warms us.

Extra Credit Exercise: Working in small groups or with a partner, students create a physical metaphor for the Equinox using yoga poses.

SuperMoon: March 19, 2011

Vernal Equinox: March 20, 2011

For fascinating information on the celestial events abound, visit Cosmic Navigator.