TRINITY — "Take off your shoes and go find a place to sit."
Those aren't the typical instructions Beth Seletos gives her English honors students when they enter her classroom at J.W. Mitchell High School, which are more along the lines of handing in this or that assignment.
But last week Seletos treated her sophomore students to an activity she hoped would resonate with the Asian studies they had been sopping up in her class and Advanced Placement World History.
"I was looking for something that was active learning — hands on," Seletos said. "I thought, 'What if I had someone teach them about yoga?' "
Besides, her students were due a peaceful respite after finishing a rather rigorous unit on Asian literature; one that included a dense trek through Hermann Hesse's weighty novel Siddhartha and touched on the poetry of T'ao Ch'ien and the various cultural mores of the eastern world such as Buddhism, Confucianism, acupuncture and meditation.
Seletos sent a note home to parents explaining Yoga Day, noting the option to opt out. Then she recruited a local yoga instructor.
Christina Lowden has been teaching the practice for 12 years, most recently as the co-owner of Trinity Yoga Studio. While her clients typically range in age from mid 20s to mid 50s, Lowden was more than happy to teach a basic class for teenagers.
"I like showing people what yoga is. I try to demystify it a bit," Lowden said. "People either think that you're twisting yourself into these contortionist moves that only Cirque du Solei performers can do, or that you're just standing or sitting in these poses not doing a thing."
"It's not about religion," Lowden said, adding that she has worked with athletes for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Pirates with her instructor Dana Santos. "We're not trying to impart any beliefs here. Yoga is about finding a way to treat your body well and trying to learn how to relax."
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"The key is breathing and mastering the mind," Lowden told students as they settled in, sitting cross-legged on a hodgepodge of colorful mats laid across the floor.
"Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose," she said, encouraging them to create the sound of a rolling ocean or Darth Vader's slow and steady rasp. "Unless you're not comfortable with that. Then just breathe out through the mouth."
For close to an hour Lowden invited students to quiet their minds and listen to their bodies while tapping into their strength, balance and flexibility. She took them through a variety of poses that had been inspired, Lowden said, by the world their creators lived in — butterfly pose, tree pose, warrior pose, star pose and resting child's pose. They learned that steadying themselves has as much to do with being able to focus their eyes on a stationary object as sheer strength, and that even the young can use a little stretching out.
"You can really feel it," said Dalton Herring, 15, a football and soccer player. "I didn't realize I was so tight — but it, like, relaxes you."
"I guess it was pretty hard for people. All the guys were struggling," Christian Pereyra, 16, said after finishing the class. "I feel loose."
The class also struck a chord with some students in the way that Seletos hoped it would.
"I've been looking forward to this ever since she (Seletos) told us about it," said Tharessa Kehl, 16, an avid dancer who discovered that yoga poses were much like the warm-up she has learned from dance instructors over the years. "We really just get into the culture of what we're studying. That's what I love about this class. Whatever book, whatever novel we're reading — we learn how to apply it."
Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]