June 2, 2011

Never Say “Genitals” while Teaching Yoga to Tweens.

Photo: Walt Stoneburner

Tweens can enjoy yoga, so long as you Keep it Real.

I took my first yoga class when still wet behind the ears as a 12-year-old—and I screamed awkward.

I don’t know which was worse: my sally jessie raphael glasses, my souped-up head gear that promised to fix my buck teeth, or my catholic school gym uniform. Nothing about me was smooth or cool or coordinated, but going with my way cooler older sister made me feel like I was the hippest kid on the mat—for about the first five minutes of class.

And then I farted.

There was no turning back. I was doomed to a life of spinsterhood and cats. Life as I knew it was over. The fat lady had sung. The eagle had landed. I would have to hang my head in shame as I walked through the halls of my catholic elementary school, convinced that everyone and their mother had heard my buttus erruptus.

I looked around the class, expecting to see everyone pointing and laughing at me. But no one batted an eyelash! Didn’t they hear? Hello!!!??? I farted! What I assumed were their mocking whispers, turned out to be the sound of their breath! It was a Christmas Miracle! I was saved from eternal humiliation! I loved yoga!

And then I got kicked out of class. It wasn’t the fart that got me in trouble. It was the teachers’ mantra: “feel the honey golden light in your genitals.”


I tried to play it cool the first time she said it. It was the least I could do after they all kindly ignored my flatulence. But the second time she urged us to feel that honey golden light in our nether-regions, I lost it.

Really, though, what did she expect? She said “genitals”! Why wasn’t anyone else laughing? Were these folks deaf? What started off as quiet, controlled laughter quickly turned into full on hyena sounding hysterics. That’s when she asked me to leave.

Photo: Carl Lender

Who would have thought that all these years later, that “honey golden” moment would be the one that influences my teaching the most? Or, at the very least, it serves as a reminder to never say anything as hippy-dippy and dorky as that, and to always, always keep it real—especially when teaching tweens.

Tweens are a unique brand of yogis and they deserve a yoga class that is designed specifically for them.

More often than not, teens are quick to dismiss that which they cannot do or anything that makes them feel self-conscious. They would much rather spend their time with friends, doing something fun. So it is incredibly important to take out any of those potential awkward moments (can you say genitals?) from the class and make it more relatable for tweens. This means you have to Keep things Real.

Keeping Yoga Real means:

— Cutting out the new-age mumbo jumbo. There is no chanting and there is no Sanskrit. Plain and simple.

— Being a yoga teacher who has both feet firmly planted on the ground and not in the clouds. No kid wants a yoga teacher who is trying to relive their youth, become their BFF, or espouse spirituality.

— Having a sense of humor and encouraging laughter. Yoga should be fun.

—Reminding students that you can’t mess up in yoga. This will be a huge relief for kids who feel the pressure of perfection.

— Establishing a relationship with your students that is based on genuine interest, acceptance and support. Tweens will get more from their yoga classes if they believe their teacher accepts them for who they are and believes in their capacity to meet challenges.

—Listening to your students and being flexible. Classes should be designed around how the kids are feeling when they walk in the door and not based on the teacher’s own agenda.

—Realizing that the benefits of yoga often sneak up on tweens—so be patient!

—Tapping into their senses: Play music they like; use essential oils and give massages during relaxation, teach them poses that they can do off the mat to help them deal with everyday stress.

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Deven Jun 7, 2011 1:20am

I have taught tweens and kids classes since 2006– in the beginning kept it super light and stayed away from the mumbo jumbo. And slowly got up the courage to teach them Sanskrit– no more than one word a week, and pranayama and the Yoga Sutras. I believe if you keep it clear, concise and authentically honest they will respond in an enormous way.

They do have a b*llsh#t meter that goes wild from a mile away, and will run you out of town, if that goes off. So I think it really is whatever resonates with you as the teacher.

I love the story at the beginning!

Donna Freeman Jun 5, 2011 6:06pm

My teen & tween classes love to shout chataranga in unison during every Sun Salutation. However I do understand the be real thing. I often have to reword my guided visualizations to be appropriate for tween/teen audiences. It always amazes me how quickly they get the giggles. I've learned to laugh at myself and roll with the punches/gaffaws. Something you think is completely innocent can send a class of young men/women into fits of laughter).

JR in SF Jun 4, 2011 1:42pm

Couldn't agree more about cutting out the mumbo jumbo for any audience, and especially for this one, and I'm all for making yoga accessible and meeting students where they are BUT…

To suggest that sanskrit gets in the way of "keeping yoga real"? Seriously? Making practice accessible is one thing. Denigrating the tradition and it's source, which is to say, one's own teachers and ultimately the source of one's own practice is quite another. I hope that I've misread this.

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Laurie Jordan

Laurie Jordan is the author of YAWNING YOGA: A GOODNIGHT BOOK FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP based on her successful bedtime yoga series, Yawning Yoga and the creator of Little Sprouts Yoga for kids. She has a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University School of Social Work and is a certified yoga instructor for children and adults. Find her yoga practice here.

Laurie took her first yoga class when she was 15 but the experience left a nasty taste in her mouth. She was kicked out for laughing at the instructors mantra, “feel the honey golden light in your…unmentionables” Eeww.

Who would have thought that all these years later, that “honey golden” moment would be the one that influences her teaching the most? (Or at the very least, that it serves as a reminder to never say anything as hippy- dippy and dorky as that–and to always, always keep it real.)