Let’s just say I purposefully waited to graduate from HYS so I could explore the world a bit and keep coming back to see my tribe. My seva project took place on the beautiful Baja California coast in the small, artist town of Todos Santos. As a CSU employee, I have free course credits to take courses during the year. So naturally, when a study abroad program popped up within the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) department to build relationships with the community in Todos Santos I signed right up! What an opportunity to explore a new place and take my yoga teaching experience and knowledge with me. Even though I do not have a background in human development, my yoga experience and public health degree turned out to be exactly what the group needed.
As a brand new program, we were blazing the trail for future groups to continue sustaining the relationships we built in Todos Santos and also had to work through some hiccups here and there. There were two groups that each of us were divided into based on our Spanish proficiency. Specifically, the Spanish learners group were tasked with designing workshops focused on nutrition and mindfulness for bilingual students in a local school and organizations. I eagerly volunteered to lead the mindfulness classes because there were dozens of ideas racing through my head. Everything from teaching a fun vinyasa yoga sequence to practicing meditation using stress balls.
When preparing our classes, we quickly realized that we had to adjust our activities for much younger youth (10 – 15 years old). Our first few classes were a bit rough and it was difficult to connect with the youth. Patience was the first mantra I chose through this process. The second was positivity. When the group became frustrated with these first classes, I reassured them that they had to be patient with themselves and the students. First of all, this was the first time any of us had met the students. Of course they were shy and unsure of us. Second, the group was told to prepare for a much older group of kids so they had to reconfigure the activities on the spot. This experience reminded me of the first time I ever took a yoga class years ago. I wanted to master all the poses and reach a meditative state right away. Little did I know that I had to slow down mentally and physically to allow myself to flow into a practice. You just can’t rush yoga. You have to let it take you on a journey and allow yourself to reflect and grow in the process. After hearing the groups’ laments about the classes, I shared my previous experiences working with youth and assured them that they did a great job and that they should think about the small successes they had like using their learned Spanish to communicate with the kids. We made an impression on the kids and only needed to see them again to feel it.
During our second workshop, the kids were super excited to see us. Their reactions were so encouraging to the group that we had an incredible session talking about stress and mindfulness. We asked the kids when they felt most stressed and what mechanisms they used to relieve their stresses. These responses helped us know what advice to give and which personal experiences to share. Next we made stress balls with rice and balloons. The final activity was a breathing exercise that I put together using the stress balls. I asked the kids to synchronize their inhale with a squeeze of the ball and exhale with release of the ball. I was even able to take one of the classes through a meditation to help calm their heart rates and release tension during an intense school day. It was incredible to feel the calm in the room during and after the exercises. The students and my group members all were so grateful for the experience. I learned just how impactful a short breathing exercise was for youth, my colleagues, and the HDFS professors.
Overall, I had an incredible experience in Todos Santos. From sunrise yoga sessions on the roof to breathing exercises with youth. My heart was so happy through it all. Every morning when I woke up, I told myself, ‘Most certainly I’m where I’m supposed to be.’