May 26, 2012

Talking Pratyahara with Teenagers. ~ Kayla Quinlan Frawley

I am one of those yoga instructors who has had the privilege to work with prisoners, women’s shelters, elementary school kids, individuals with severe physical conditions such as, spina bifida and fibromyalgia, and men’s college sports teams.

Some of the most influential students I have had the opportunity to work with are high schoolers.

Yep, that’s right, teenagers.

First of all, I remember being a teenager; it wasn’t that long ago. I was bad. I don’t think there was anyone who could tell me to breathe, or get me to meditate, let alone get me to feel comfortable in my own skin.

I could have used some type of yoga—one that built self-esteem in a humorous environment, or one that could have shown me to follow my heart without listening to all those darn distractions the world throws at you.

I could’ve used some pratyahara:

“…This is detachment from the ever-present fluctuations of life. Through this practice, we can transcend all the trials and sufferings that life often seems to throw our way and begin to see such challenges in a positive healing light.”

As it turned out, I started sharing yoga with teenagers a few years into teaching and it was obvious to me that I had entered a different realm; none of this had been covered in my teacher training. These guys were “like kind of a big deal.”

In other words, teenagers are not easy.

After a few classes, I began to notice a pattern: at least one student in any given class would either sit down and watch the other students lift their right leg high, and literally ask, “Why in the hell are we doing this?” This would also often be accompanied with defensiveness, farting, laughing or falling down.

Courtesy of author

I have learned a lot from teaching teenagers.

For example, throughout my teaching, I have typically used concepts or themes to emphasize the importance of taking our yoga practice off the mat and into daily life.

Teaching teenagers has illustrated the utter importance of intellectualizing these concepts so that the students not only relate them to their lives, but can easily grasp the long term effects of yoga and meditation.

I also feel like teenagers think more critically and have a much more natural tendency toward opposing authority, which is why it’s important for them to be able to apply what they’re learning to the “real world.”

Working with them forces me to adopt a more basic, logical and relative understanding of yoga philosophy. If yoga and its principles don’t relate to their lives, how else will they find this information useful?

With all due respect to instructors and yogis alike, just as the practice of yoga is open to interpretation, so too are its concepts and themes. In other words, it’s up to the individual to make their own sense of them.

We can all speak in typical “yoga language,” but to intellectualize these concepts in our own words is to really learn them and eventually be able to teach them (and sometimes this order is reversed). When I teach cultivating compassion to a class of teenagers, for example, I have no choice but to make it as real and direct as possible.

It was a high school class that forced me to better explain myself and personally understand my own teaching intention.

Upon entering the class, I felt that they desired or needed more explanation of this whole “yoga thing.”

I felt that all of a sudden I was on trial as a teacher, that my students demanded real relative information. I felt they were sponges that craved explicit and precise information.

They were curious, and if anything, they deserved to understand that what we are exposed to through the media is actually only one small part of yoga.

Unlike other classes of mine, I began our lesson by explaining yoga’s role in the integrative health field—a field that has swept throughout the western world, and if it hasn’t already, will have a direct effect on not only our health as a nation, but our entire health care field.

I also taught them about history and tradition and then I brought up, pratyahara, the fifth limb of the eight-limbed (ashtanga) yoga system, and most importantly, what I think would have helped me as a teenager.

I figured pratyahara, if anything, could easily be applied to teenagers who are very mindful and creative creatures. Although sometimes they are misconstrued as spontaneous and careless, discovering that “right direction,” sense of identity—or even the slightest inspiration—can ignite their authentically fresh perspective to form amazing art, motivation, dedication and profound peer influence.

Pratyahara can be explained a few ways:

“…Withdrawing the senses away from the external surroundings and distractions…[or]… it can also be thought of as the point of transition from the bahiranga, or ‘external’ aspects of yoga, to the antaranga, or ‘internal’ yoga.”


“…Mental preparation to increase the power of the mind.”

I felt that because of their age and fresh new intelligent perspective, that amazing pubescent stage of breaking or creating self-esteem, they were already naturally experiencing a part of pratyahara rather then consciously practicing it.

Teenagers seem to naturally want to escape their environment, but do so in unconscious ways. However, to do it consciously would add a sense of self-control that we all craved when we were teenagers.

Throughout the practice of pratyahara, you are expected to bring your senses under control. This control, or skill of observing your senses, can direct you to self-examine and create inner happiness, which unlike external factors of happiness such as television and food, stays within you and moves with you like a shadow that exists with the son and moon.

Like most of us in the modern world, teenagers are overstimulated from the moment they wake up to right before they go to bed. Stepping away from the self, from the noise and from the idea you may have about what you should be doing can illuminate who you (we) really are.

This is a lesson for me every day as I haven’t yet learned how to forget that the outside world completely influences my actions, words and thoughts and sometimes are the ignited of my actions.

So, I sincerely praise the teenagers of Alme D’Arte for not only participating in the classes and workshops taught at their schools and attending my Yoga For Trade in the park on Saturday mornings in the summer heat of New Mexico, but for actually really enjoying themselves throughout it all.

Hands down to Alme D’Arte students, especially Ms. Sherrill’s class!



Esa chica es una sister, daughter, teacher, student, dancer, capoeirista, yogini always in support of the expression of others through art, language, education, and culture. Watching her people from the internal and external point of view. Encouraging and supporting her brothers and sisters from Minneapolis to Philly to Berkley and Oakland, Las Cruces, El Paso, from the streets and ghettos of the US to Ciudad Juarez to the campesinos of Central America and the Peteneras in Guatemala to the Artists and Writers from the deep south to the Zapatistas everywhere. Check out where she is teaching, or if you crave the gift of sharing: www.facebook.com/ms.kaylafrawley.

Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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