When unfathomable events occur, like the horrific tragedies in Norway, many of us look for ways to cope with our feelings of anger, sadness and helplessness. We need to find a way of thinking that helps to make sense of the senseless. Teens and children naturally feel especially vulnerable when terror strikes in their domain.

Here are a few guiding thoughts to support those of us who work with youth.

~Offer Grounding Practices: When the world seems to turn upside down, it is helpful to focus on poses and practices that bring stability. Supported seated poses like Hero Pose (Virasana) with blocks or Easy Pose (Sukhasana) using the wall as a support can help bring a sense of place. Simple breathing techniques that foster full body awareness are helpful.

Sitting upright, hearts open, breathing in: feel the feet. Breathing out: release tailbone into Earth.

Breathing in: fill the belly. Breathing out: sitting bones press into floor.

Breathing in: fill the middle back. Breathing out: release front ribcage.

Breathing in: fill the chest. Breathing out: soften shoulders.

Breathing in: lengthen through crown. Breathing out: relax facial muscles.

~Look at the Big Picture, Rather than the Details: Mass media news sources will report on every detail possible about the events and participants. Rather than getting into the life situation of the perpetrator, focus on the big issues of racism, fear and confusion. I once asked a master meditation teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, how to cope with feelings of anger toward people who commit horrific acts. His advice was so wise. “Don’t focus on the individual,” he said. “Focus on the overall confusion.” Rinpoche said it’s the cloud of confusion hanging over us all that leads people to act violently. The overall confusion of racism is something we can each actually have an impact on. As we each become more clear, the cloud diminishes a little bit.

Finding compassion for a mass murderer may be an extremely difficult concept for youth. Yet, the generational confusion of fear and racism is something we all have direct experience with, whether we are cognizant of it or not. So we can “meditate on the confusion” in a sense.

See all of the fear and hatred that mankind has as a cloud of confusion.

See that beyond the cloud, there is a possibility for clarity; clear blue skies on the horizon.

Sitting peacefully, let your mind be clear. Let the confusion dissolve. Being clear, the world becomes more clear.

~Provide Opportunities for Expression: As teachers, we do not need to know the answers to the impossible question, “why?” Just giving students a chance to write, journal or dialogue about their feelings can be healing. Engaging in grounding exercises before and after expression can help to soften anger and prevent feeling out of control.

How do you feel when you think about the tragic events?

What would you want to say or share with the families of the victims, or even the victims themselves?

What do people need in order to feel safe enough that we do not need to threaten others?

Can I commit  to creating more peace in myself and my family?

How do these tragedies remind me of the preciousness of human life?

My heart weeps continually for the youth whose lives were taken. In their name, my commitment to youth health is strengthened. All blessings of peace to each and every one.

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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.

December marked the 12th month of Shanti Generation’s pilot Youth Peacemakers Training. Over the past year, a small group of dedicated teens and teachers have met monthly at Yogaglo to explore the topic and practice of peace. Our main objective has been to develop the meaning of peace and discover how to cultivate a peaceful culture in our lives. Each month, we were guided by masterful guest teachers. In January, Dr. Chris Chapple, professor of Indian Studies at Loyola Marymount University, shared the historical narrative of the peace movement, tracing some of the non-violent practices used in the civil rights movement all the way back to the Jains of India. Each subsequent month, our teens participated in powerful workshops to develop their peacemaking skills.

This month, I asked the group to reflect on the year and think about what motivated them to stay committed to the training. I asked them to simply sit and listen to the answer that would come from their heart. Listening to their answers as they expressed them aloud to the group turned out to be one of those shining moments a teacher never forgets. Each teen shared the same motivation in different ways. The monthly workshops provided a time and place to relax and just be themselves. Perhaps peacemaking is really that simple. Relax…be yourself.

The dialogue reminded me how important it is for teens to enjoy a place in their lives where nothing particular is expected of them. A place wherein they are not being judged, rated, graded or ranked. This peaceful place allows teens to connect to their inner world and learn to regulate emotions, finding balance. Activities like journaling, meditative walks and yoga provide non-competitive peaceful spaces in the chaos that can sometimes occur in teens lives.

Love and Gratitude to all of the parents and teachers who helped to manifest our monthly place of peace this year!

People often ask me for a list of the potential benefits of yoga practice for children and teens. Here I’ve provided a starting place for creating a comprehensive list. Please fill in with any additional benefits. I will compile them all into one list and repost for communal use. Please invite friends to participate!

Physical

  • Overall muscular strength and tone are increased
  • Increased muscular strength contributes to joint health
  • Aids in digestion and elimination
  • Boosts metabolism and weight loss
  • Improves flexibility
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Builds balance and coordination
  • Improves overall body awareness

Mental

  • Develops concentration and focus
  • Teaches students how to work with their minds
  • Releases tension
  • Improves quality of attention
  • Develops mind/body connection

Emotional

  • Promotes emotional awareness and ability to manage emotions
  • Encourages calmness
  • Teaches students to respond, rather than react
  • Promotes self control

Social

  • Boosts confidence
  • Teaches self respect and respect of others
  • Encourages altruism
  • Develops empathy

Spiritual

  • Encourages connection to inner self and innate wisdom
  • Enhances understanding and experience of interconnectedness

Academic

  • Enhances learning readiness
  • Encourages self-discipline

Teach kids about the health benefits of practicing yoga. Kids are more likely to be dedicated to their practice when they understand the immediate and lasting positive effects of yoga.

Meeting Amma

June 15, 2010

In 1998, while studying and traveling in India, I had one of those chance meetings that changed the way I saw the world. After an intensive course study in Yoga and Vedanta in Kerala, one of my dorm mates invited me to join her on a journey to Cochin to visit a woman she knew and loved there. My time was not otherwise booked, so I decided to tag along. I’ll never forget the wild  ride through the lush, jungly streets and hearing the Indian version of “Macarena” on taxi’s radio.

I knew nothing about the woman we were going to meet. The taxi dropped us near a river where we took a wooden 10 person ferry across. There was a certain buzz all around as dozens of others were crossing the river in small ferry boats. I remember the light and a sense of clarity in the air. As we sailed cross the river, an interesting building came into view- all pink with colorful embellishments- and huge. My intrigue grew deep as I wondered where this boat was taking us.

Getting off the boat, we stepped into a small city of its’ own with a clear culture unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There were people everywhere, thousands of people. Some were milling around carrying plates of food, others were waiting in lines, very long lines. Yet, despite their waiting, no one appeared impatient or irritated. In fact, they all seemed quite at peace to be waiting.

We checked into a room in one of the buildings, approximately 10 stories high. The accommodations were humble, simple and clean. Previously, I thought we’d be staying in a room at someone’s home! This whole journey would prove to be one big exercise in shifting perspectives quickly and going with the flow.

I recall wanting to inquire with my travel mate about what was happening all around us,  but I did not feel like talking. The serenity of this new place had started to seep into my cells and I knew I could trust the situation. Within a couple of hours, we found ourselves waiting in one of the long lines. I assumed we were waiting for food, but this assumption was also put to rest as people began bringing plates of food to everyone standing in our line. As the servers offered food to my friend and I, they asked where we were from and we replied,  “the US.” They immediately took back our food and began to usher us with great kinetic energy and purpose through the crowded lines, through the front doors of the beautiful pink building I had seen from the river.

As soon as we entered the doors, time stopped and a completely new kind of space was revealed. We were in a great hall filled with song and packed with many people. The attention of all of these people was directed toward the other end of the hall before us. As I gazed in that direction, my eyes took a few long moments to focus in on a flurry of activity surrounded by brilliant light. A few moments later, the woman we had come to meet slowly came into focus. There was Amma.

Only one other time in my life had I ever seen anything similar to the vision of Amma. The first time I laid eyes on my husband, I could hardly make out his physical form due to the luminosity all around him. I always thought this was an effect of the love hormone! When I first saw Amma, she was truly a ray of light.

After this brief moment of revelation, our ushers continued to navigate us through the sea of people, all waiting to meet Amma. As we approached the stage, our attendants whispered to us that Amma liked for American visitors to be brought quickly to the front of the line so that we did not become to annoyed with all of the waiting! What compassion.

The next thing I knew, I was on my knees in Amma’s arms. Not your typical first time meeting kind of hug, but a hug that lasts a lifetime. Amma wrapped her generous arms around my body and patted my head  while she rocked forward and back, whispering in my ear,”Om, Om, Om, Darling, Darling, Darling.” (Atleast that is what I think she said! Perhaps the “darling” part was actually some Sanskrit word that I had yet to learn.)

After what felt like several minutes of embrace, she firmly held my shoulders and looked directly into my eyes. Her smile penetrated my heart. Amma placed her forehead to mine and recited a mantra, then she gave me a Hershey’s kiss and let me go. The attendants were right there to guide me to the next post, a cushion on the floor about 3 feet from where Amma sat. I was told to stay there as long as I would like.

I do not know how long I sat and watched Amma embrace people. Time was very different in this place. They say time slows down near dense objects, like pyramids. There was some sort of time warping effect happening near Amma. She never tired of singing and hugging and sharing her massive love. I had never seen anything like this before.

Later that night, I joined a group of travelers on the rooftop of the ashram. The rooftop was a kind of outdoor temple in the stars. I sat in the cool night air, feeling very fortunate, and reflecting on my experience. I remember an overwhelming feeling that if I could embody even a tiny portion of the unconditional love and compassion I had felt from Amma, my life would truly transform. I thought about how, as a teacher, I sometimes get frustrated with student’s behavior. What if I could meet frustration with just a drop of this powerful kind of love?

Amma did not ask for anything in return for this gift. She did not request that I do anything, believe anything, commit to anything at all. Yet, through this experience, I came to see the power of love in a whole new light.

Love, without strings attached. Love with no judgement. Love everyone. Love the people we don’t understand. Love the people who frighten us. Love and love and love. This was the lesson I learned during my few days at Amma’s house.

Amma is in Los Angeles this week and my heart goes aflutter each time I read someone’s Facebook status update that they are going to see her for the first time or the 15th time. I have seen her here in Los Angeles once since that first meeting in India. Personally, I do not feel called to see Amma each time she visits. I feel very full from my experience with her. The lessons of love she taught me will continue to challenge and guide me throughout my life, as they have done for the past 12 years.

We all have the potential to love on the level of Amma and fortunately there are countless people and experiences to mirror this possibility to us. I believe that through great mutual trust we can be mirrors of love to each other.

*To learn more about Amma and her incredible humanitarian work, visit http://www.amma.org/amma/index.html Amma has raised millions of dollars to help people in need, including those who suffered the earthquake in Haiti and the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast regions.

Ahimsa Mandala by asiantees.blogspot.com

This past weekend marked the second workshop in our year long Youth Peacemakers Training at Yogaglo. February’s workshop focused on developing the meaning of peace and non-violence. To help us accomplish this task, I invited Dr. Christopher Key Chapple, Navin and Pratima Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University, to guide our teens in a workshop on the foundations of non-violence, ahimsa (Sanskrit).

Ahimsa, one of the Yamas (restraints) in the eight-fold system of yoga,  is sometimes referred to as the first step on the path of yoga. Dr. Chapple brought this essential aspect of yoga philosophy alive for our youth participants by providing an historical account of non-violent movements in America including those led by the Quakers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since all of the students were familiar with the abolishment of slavery and the civil rights movement, the information was immediately relevant. Then, Dr. Chapple traced back to the work of Ghandi in India before revealing the roots of ahimsa as developed by ancient Jain traditions.

Dr. Chapple, a celebrated and revered professor, modeled an effective system for teaching yoga philosophy to youth.

1. Create context. Before teaching the traditional meanings of particular aspects of yoga philosophy, present current or historical narratives that are relevant to the  knowledge base youth already possess.

2. Build a bridge. How do the ancient yogic practices relate to life today? Help students develop their own understanding of yogic philosophy by guiding them to make connections to their daily lives.

3. Reveal the Roots. Sharing the origins of yogic philosophy can be intriguing for youth once there is context and basic understanding. Many youth are inspired to learn that they are participating in an ancient practice.

To learn more about yogic philosophy, check out Loyola Marymount University’s Yoga Philosophy Program. You can also catch Dr. Chapple’s 1st Sunday talks on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras FREE on the Yogaglo site.

Great News: In the near future, Dr. Chapple’s presentation on ahimsa to youth will be available on Yogaglo as well! Stay tuned for details.

Check out Shanti Generation’s Yoga Skills for Youth Peacemakers DVD for examples of how to weave yoga philosophy into yoga practice in youth-friendly ways.