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This week Land Yoga hosted a group of teenage girls as part of their Girl Talk program created by Aurora Rose of the Future Leaders Institute. Ten young women funneled into our lobby carrying sweet after school snacks, chatting and giggling as they squeezed onto our sari covered window bench. Some stood. I know I did. Behind my desk. Ready. For anything.

Being barefoot, taking deep breaths, and putting bodies into new shapes for the first time is often tramatic for adults (I’ve had more than one break down in tears after being asked to sit still and breath for five minutes), with teen girls, anything could happen. And this group of teens, I knew, were selected specially because of difficult backgrounds. Breath.
I watched carefully their teacher’s tone and energy and used that as a reference for how to best engage the students. We spoke for quite some time in the lobby about what it means to own your own business. I wanted them to understand both the feeling of absolute freedom to make every small to large choice regarding the business and the deep responsibility that entails. And then we were off to the special yoga room.
The sacred yoga space is one of no judgement. Only vibrations of love and support and respect could enter this space. They got it. After setting expectations I asked the girls what they new about yoga and what they thought yoga could do for them. I often begin new groups this way, choosing poses and breathing styles that serve as examples to their suggestions. For balance we looked at tree and a natural conversation about focus bubbled to the surface. For strength, we practiced dolphin and then I gave them a rare demo of karandavasa as an example of what daily committed practice could lead to, and of course we applied this to any passion.
But how did we end up on patterns and habits? Oh yes. It started with some questions on India and on Ashtanga Yoga. I told them that Ashtanga means eight limbs and went through the limbs quite quickly until I landed on Pratyahara, withdrawing of the senses. Suddenly we were in the deep end.
I broke it down simply. You’re walking down the avenue and you pass Levain bakery and your sense of smell grabs onto something. Then their is recognition, a word that goes with that smell: Cookie. Then their is a feeling or impulse reaction to that word. I want a cookie. I need a cookie. I shouldn’t have cookies. Etc. Most people, I told them, don’t even realize that these three things are happening. They just feel them all as one and connect with the final desire or aversion to the object (in this case a cookie) and are already in action or more accurately, reaction, before the moment has even passed.
Real power, I explained, comes when you can step outside these mental patterns, recognize what is occurring and then make a choice that is independent of instinct. Was this making sense? They said it was. Aurora jumped in with a more relevant example of the feelings they get when a teacher at their school is bothering them. Suddenly we were talking habits in a pretty serious way. I demonstrated how there’s a trigger and instantly the adrenaline is rushing through the body causing the heart and breath to race. In our yoga practice we activate the same feelings of stress on the body by putting ourselves in challenging positions, like balancing, and then we teach the body how to relax in a difficult situation and how to stay in it with out reacting. Over time, this practice is translated into a similar slowing down in the “real world”. Slowing down means having more time and space and freedom to choose.
Were they really getting this? It seemed they were. I saw understanding and real joy in their eyes at receiving the gift of choice and I was touched and suddenly fully getting myself what it is I do and how many young people I might help in the future. The power of yoga.
The Power of Yoga is the title of the talk I will be giving this Saturday, March 10th at 2PM. It will include my experiences all over the world teaching yoga to people who have been through major trauma. This talk is By Donation Only with all the profits going to the non-profit Odanadi to Stop Human Trafficking. Before that, at 12:30pm there will be a yoga practice of 108 Sun Salutations also to raise money for this important cause. Just $20 to participate. Register at Again, all proceeds going to End Human Trafficking. This is part of a GLOBAL event happening in 30 countries this year. I hope you will join us for one or both parts of this special event.