We were going around the yoga circle, with a “one word check-in,” sharing how we are feeling. It’s how we begin some of our yoga classes at the day program for teens and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. From most of the students in the circle, I get answers like, “happy,” “excited,” or a big smile or thumbs up from students who do not speak as a primary way of communication.
But then it was Damon’s* turn. He said he was sad. In my kindest voice, I asked, “why are you sad?” He was sad because he had finished watching the movie “The Flash” and it had made him sad.
Damon is infatuated with the superhero “the Flash.” I haven’t seen that movie, but I understand that connection is one of the most important things that a yoga teacher can establish with her students.
At first, I tried to just cheer him up with the yoga. I asked him if he could do our breath activity, if he could do our poses. Damon sat on his mat. Every now and then, I would see a tear fall.
I had a plan to teach a specific lesson that day. But Damon wasn’t interested. His peers became worried about him. Was Damon ok today?
And so I made a choice. “What do you think the Flash would look like as a yoga pose?” I asked Damon, in one last-ditch effort to have him join the yoga activities.
He stood up, into a Warrior I (ish) footing, bent both elbows and took one arm forward and the other arm back.
“Like this?” I asked him and mirrored his movements. He nodded. And then I asked what else. He showed me the Flash moves his elbows back and forth when he runs. So everyone else did too. And then I said we had to switch our legs to do the Flash yoga on the other side. Everyone switched.
Then I asked my other friends about their favorite superheroes. We made yoga poses for Spider-Man and Captain Marvel and Superman and Wonder Woman and Black Panther and Aqua Man and a few others.
It’s hard work being a superhero, so eventually we came back to our mats for some yoga relaxation. We rested our superhero bodies, then became ourselves once again. We ended the class the way we began, going around the circle with a one word check-in. This time, Damon said he was happy and I was happy, too.
*name changed for privacy
One of the things I have learned most about teaching inclusive and adaptive yoga is that it is important to be open to possibility. To the possibility that your students can do more than you think, or maybe less. That they might love your lesson, or that they might not. That they could be having a good day, or like Damon, a not so good day. Approaching the time with a plan, but also a willingness to let your plan go and “punt” is essential to teaching these kinds of classes and individuals with disabilities and differences. But most of all, be open to the possibility that with enough caring and creativity, you can, sometimes over time, find ways to connect with your students and share the gifts of yoga and mindfulness with them.
Find out more about Next Generation Yoga’s newest training: Yoga and Mindfulness for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults with Disabilities and Differences, led by Sarah Henderson, here. The first training session will be held at our home studio, Bexley Yoga, February 21-23, 2020.
Date: February 21st-23rd, 2020
Host: Bexley Yoga (Columbus, OH)
Schedule: Fri-Sat 9:00-5:30, Sun 9:00-5:00
♥ Discounts for educators, school employees, students, and military
♥ Payment plan available