Where do you teach?: New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School and 1239 Congress on Wednesday nights at 6pm.
What type of classes do you teach?: Vinyasa Flow, but I like to take lots of inspiration from all kinds of styles. I have to keep things spicy when I’m teaching 55 minutes classes to the same students 4 days a week.
A graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, Lauren studied illustration and completed a graphic novella which was recently published. As a complement to her budding art career she entered a yoga teacher training program in 2009. Part of her training included volunteering at a Cincinnati non-profit called Project Yoga, where she taught 1 hour classes once a week at high need schools around the city. That’s where the magic happened. As Lauren puts it, “I fell in love with teaching yoga to kids! When I followed my husband to New Orleans that summer, I knew I had to make that a reality.”
Lauren lucked out and was hired for her dream job in the fall of 2010 as a full-time yoga teacher at SciHigh. Through the 2010-11 school year she taught yoga and health to 9-12 graders and knew she had found her calling. Determined to stay in the profession, Lauren joined teachNOLA and is now getting her certification in Special Education.
What brought you to yoga as a student? I took my first yoga class with my high school friend at the country club where we worked. The class was called “Power Yoga” but the style was like nothing I’ve seen since. At times we’d be squatting and pulsing on our toes for a full 3 minutes while the instructor yelled, “pulse! pulse! pulse!” It was certainly not zen, but I was in love with the way I felt. I think I initially loved yoga because unlike sports, it was something I felt instantly good at, coming from a background of gymnastics and dance. I continued practicing at the country club when I would come home from college, by then there was a new teacher. Her name is Gloria, she is a student of Rod Stryker and she lit my yoga fire. Every time I come home, I still make sure to patronize her class at the country club.
What inspired you to teach yoga? I touched on this a bit, but yoga is a practice that anyone can feel successful at and I love that. But, honestly yoga makes me feel closer to God, and I’d like to have the opportunity to make others feel the same way.
You teach yoga to high school students as their physical education requirement. This is a fairly progressive approach for the public school system. What are some of the benefits you’ve seen your students experience as they go through your courses? My students crave restorative yoga. I’ve had to add restorative yoga, yin, and yoga nidra to my bag of tricks because they ask for it all the time. I teach them breathing techniques they can use outside of our class and introduce them to simple meditations. At the end of every practice we all participate in a gratitude circle where each student says what they’re thankful for. I’ve noticed how important this part of their day is and I have to think the rest of their day is better off because of it.
Aside from some of the obvious differences between teaching yoga to teenagers versus adults, what has surprised you about teaching yoga to teens? I don’t even know where to begin! When I teach adults I can turn my back and trust they will hold the pose, with teenagers as soon as I look away their warriors become slouching mountains. The bonus though is how unafraid most teenagers are to celebrate their successes. When they master a pose they’ve been struggling with, there is no hesitation in their excitement. Practicing with teenagers feels more like a community. Adults are often more shy and less sure of their bodies; it’s shocking but true.
Do you find that your Freshmen students are intrigued by yoga or do they know much about it when they begin? They’re definitely intrigued. I’ve never had complaints that run deeper than not wanting to move. There are usually one or two students who have heard of yoga on the outside before taking my class. SciHigh has been offering yoga since we opened in 2005, so all the students have some understanding of what it is even if it’s from an older sibling.
How do you make yoga relevant to your students’ daily lives? As I mentioned before, the gratitude circle is big for this. Also, I love talking to them while they’re in savasana. I get to bestow little wisdoms that I hope they find relevant. I had a teacher say to me once, “you are working to your maximum capacity with the tools you have been given, and so is everyone else”. I say this to them everyday. Final relaxation, or savasana, is a big thing for my students. Their lives are stressful, they’re buried in school work and responsibilities at home and having the opportunity to just have some peace for a few minutes…that can be life changing.
What do you hope students leave your classes with? I hope they leave class with tools to relax and the knowledge that they deserve peace in their lives. And I hope they graduate SciHigh with a lifelong thirst for yoga.
How do you feel living a healthy lifestyle in New Orleans is different from other urban areas of the country?I grew up in a family that celebrates with food, so it’s not a big leap for me. That being said, I think when you talk about health you have to look at all sides: physical health, emotional health, spiritual health. I think there are unique opportunities for all three, but also big obstacles. With one of the highest murder rates in the country, finding emotional health in the midst of all the violence is something I struggle with daily. I have students who are going through one crisis or another far too often and it’s hard not to carry that around with me. I think the key to dealing with this is to utilize all the opportunities for spiritual growth and community this city has to offer.
What are some of the suggestions you give your students about how to bring more balance into their lives? Listen more, talk less: it heals all.