It’s highly unlikely anybody has ever said, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t learned how to do yoga, or breathe a little deeper or learn how to quiet my brain.”
Even before enduring 18 months of stress induced by the pandemic, learning all of the above might have ensured a better existence. Peaceful Warriors, a Colorado Springs nonprofit, has been helping children and adults attain such knowledge for the last few years by teaching yoga in schools, day cares, senior centers and community centers, and offering free classes to the community.
The organization began in 2017 as an off-shoot of Omtastic Yoga, a company that provides yoga classes for kids in after-school programs.
“It was very successful, but it felt like we weren’t reaching enough kids, because yoga has that question mark behind it,” said Lenora Degen, co-founder and chairperson of Peaceful Warriors. “Like I don’t know what they’re going to teach my kid. What will they do? Is it all exercise? Is it a religion?”
So Degen decided to branch out and form a nonprofit aimed at bringing the tools of yoga, such as mindfulness, breathwork and understanding the brain, to diverse communities, versus its typical niche crowd — young, thin, white women. By giving people the information at an early age, it helps set them up for a better way of approaching life. They learn to breathe mindfully throughout the day, notice when they’re getting overwhelmed and understand how to express those emotions appropriately.
“Kids are the perfect yogis,” Degen said. “They’re open and ready to learn new stuff. It becomes a lifelong skill, a tool set we didn’t get as kids. Every yoga teacher has had adult students who said I wish I’d learned this earlier, and known about breathwork, and known I was hunched over and could stretch the front of my body as well as the back.”
Peaceful Warriors will offer two community classes at 6 p.m. Tuesday in field No. 3 at Bear Creek Regional Park. One class is for adults and the other is for families and/or kids. Both are free. Mats will be available if you don’t have one. Registration is encouraged. Another free community class will be Aug. 10 at Fountain Creek Regional Park. Go online to facebook.com/PeacefulWarriorsYogainSchools or peaceful-warriors.org.
Teaching kids yoga is a different animal than teaching adults. It’s about having a plan for the day, but also having the ability to scrap the plan depending on who shows up to class and what their energy is like. Unlike adult classes, where it’s about constantly learning and doing different things, yoga for kids needs to be consistent and repetitive, so they can develop different parts of their brain.
“When we do yoga poses, they’re all about animals and how animals move and what noises they make. We meow. It’s very interactive — lots of music and songs,” Degen said. “They don’t know it, but we’re working on crossover motions, where you cross over the midline of your body, so you’re helping the left and right brain coordinate and also working on general coordination. We work on balance with little challenges.”
What Degen has found most surprising about teaching kids and teens is their enjoyment of the final relaxation time at the end of class. It’s not something one would expect of such a physically and mentally active population.
“When they get the opportunity and are directed to lie down and close their eyes, maybe do a visualization, some are out like a light,” she said. “They so need that rest. Others, like adults, are more challenging to calm down and relax. So sometimes we do a walking meditation.”
Khia Hudson started yoga six years ago as a way to help calm herself down and manage stress. She fell in love with it the first day. Now 19, she chooses yoga classes as electives at Pikes Peak Community College and takes classes from Degen and others.
“I get lot of peace and calming,” Hudson said. “I have anger issues. Yoga helps calm down my body and soul and makes me in tune with my body so I know what’s going on in my mind. It also helps with stretching and being able to feel more confidence in my body.”
Older adults, on the other end of the spectrum, also require a different set of teaching skills. It’s about maintaining the flexibility and range of motion in their joints that they have, rather than trying to increase it. Props are often used, such as chairs, and they’re taught how to use props in their apartments, such as counters, to do balancing exercises.
“We’re going to take each of our bodies individually and learn what’s right for us — where our edge and our range of motion is and appreciate it and use it to its fullest,” Degen said. “A lot of them are recovering from strokes and injuries. I like to bring in research on aging and how to do exercises for that. We do real-life yoga, a lot of movement that is hopefully helpful in the moment and to be continued at home.”
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