With our prevalent use of Facebook and Instagram, we have moved towards a culture of total commoditization. The health food industry has never been as glamorous as it is now; all the cool kids eat brussel sprouts. Didn’t you know? Yoga is not immune to this. With studios popping up left and right, we have a growing market of coupon-based classes that allow people to skim the surface of this ancient practice of mindfulness. This is moving the goal of yoga towards an achievement of a pose, rather than experiencing the yoga within the posture (the blending of intention, breath and movement). Yoga is quickly becoming the modern jazzercise.
Our children, like always, are taking the brunt of this false advertisement. We all desire to look and feel beautiful, but at what cost? What lies are we willing to tell ourselves in order to achieve a seemingly good photo or profile? What kind of over generalized standards have beholden ourselves? High school is a time in which we begin exploring the framework of our identity. High school age students, ranging from 13 – 19 years of age, have a strong understanding of the world around them, but it is not often that they are given the tools or the time to explore activities that encourage emotional maturity.
One of the most important exercises that I have practiced with my students at Druid Hills High School is mapping the states of our bodies. The United States of You curriculum encourages students to see our thoughts and feelings as the temporary acts that they are. This exercise allows students to explore their emotional maturity in a new and innovative way. Within each of us, we have a multitude of emotional states; this is what allows us to be dynamic individuals, and this is also what allows us to share in the human experience.
As continually growing beings, permanence doesn’t exist. Hair becomes long and shabby, so we trim it. In due time, we will have to trim it yet again. Our hair never remains cut to one length. Permanence doesn’t even exist in the natural world. The sun rises and set each day; it is never only day or only ever night. We experience a continual motion of atmospheric change with the seasons. The fluid nature of growth is similar to the fluidity of our thoughts and feelings. We can feel permanently lonely if we attach our identity to the feeling of loneliness, but what happens when one is ready to feel connected? Oops, you’re out of luck? You once felt lonely, now you must always feel lonely? Cognitive Behavioral Science suggests that the more we think something, the more we’ll begin to feel that way, and the more we begin to feel this way, the more we begin to act this way – thinking, feeling, doing. We unknowingly create mantras that lead us towards self-inflicted suffering.
Through weeks of careful, guided meditation the high school students are given the space to explore all of their different thoughts, how these thoughts affect their bodies, and how the combination of these thoughts and physical sensations lead them towards a state of emotion. These states are then personified – What shape is it? Does it have a color? Does it have a texture? Does it have a temperature? Does it say anything? Personification allows the students to identify more quickly when they are living in a particular state for an extended period of time, giving them the power to choose if they like the way this state feels and whether or not they would like to navigate their thoughts and feelings towards a different state of being.
A few days ago, my first period class of 17 girls spent their Friday morning guided through a Body Scan – a meditation aimed at drawing one’s focus to each limb, digit, and joint of the body. From there, I gave them a blank body form and asked them to indicate the various states of being within their body that they have come into contact. The only thing I suggested is that they use color (pending the state has a color) and words to help with the clarification of states and to leave any locations on their bodies that felt vague blank. This form of expression and visual representation of their individual experience is quite moving.
It is also eye opening when we start to consider how a certain chronic pain is the in the same location as a state of darkness. The body map is a road map, and with this map, the students begin solidifying the vocabulary needed as they delve deeper into coursework.
Living presently within one’s body gives us independence. This independence empowers our interaction with the world around us. We get decide if someone’s actions will make us so angry it ruins the rest of our day or if we want to use the anger to ignite a passion for change.
Mindfulness begins with connection. One could argue that we are practicing connection on a greater scale than ever with modern technology, but I would suggest that we have moved towards overly attaching ourselves to the movement around us instead of within us. Yoga aids in the connection to oneself by using the breath to bridge the mind and body. One of goals of the United States of You curriculum is to offer students the space to tune-in their authentic selves; the person they want live as each day. At Druid Hills High School, we practice Life work.