Yoga helping Chilliwack youth to slow down and breathe

Chilliwack's youth are being invited to take some time out of their hectic lives and just breathe.

Steve Kendzierski

Steve Kendzierski

Moonlight Sonata softly drifts through the Chilliwack middle school’s drama room, muffling the sounds of rowdy young teens next door.

The lights are down ever so slightly, and Laurea Palmantier stands at the front with her arms and legs outstretched. A group of students and adults mimic her, finding their footing on the yoga mats below them.

They move through poses both elegantly and awkwardly. They’re kids, after all, and they’re just learning.

But it’s okay, Palmantier tells them. Yoga isn’t a competition.

She’s here as part of a partnership with her business, Inner Vision Yoga, CMS, Chilliwack Community Services Recreation Programs, and the Pacific Community Resources Society. Yoga for Youth has been going for five years, but is new to Chilliwack middle school. They wanted to offer access to the program to students on the northside of Chilliwack, says Steve Kendzierski of CCS.

He took part in the session last Monday, the first at CMS. So did Kristy Jones, a familiar face for students as her work at PCRS has her connecting with them regularly.

Three students showed up eager to participate, too. It was a good start but there is room for plenty more, Palmantier says. There is no registration required, no cost, and students are invited to come to as many of the sessions as they like.

It doesn’t matter if students have ever been to a gym, much less a yoga studio. And as they reach to pull into the various positions — called asanas in Sanskrit — Palmantier encourages them not to stress over getting it just right.

“Don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes,” she says, gently. “There is no competition here.”

She models the poses while leading the group to keep breathing, reminding them where to focus their gaze, and urging them to focus just on themselves.

“Get your grounding in your feet, strong and steady with your legs,” she tells them as they try the warrior pose. “Keep your eyes on something, it helps you keep your balance.”

And as the class winds down, and they lay on their mats exhausted, she soothes them into a moment of reflection.

“Exhale. Inhale. Pause. Take a deep breath,” she says.

The noises next door have died down, as the school has long ago emptied out.

The drama room is quiet, except for the soft music. The lights are completely down, and the students concentrate on their breathing, closing their eyes.

“Breathe in what you need, whether it’s love or patience, and breathe out the things you don’t need,” she says. “Any anger or worry or frustrations.”

Just as many adults find yoga perfect for grounding themselves, while getting a full body workout, teens are finding the same. Yoga for Youth is just one of many programs around Chilliwack that invites teens to explore this age-old meditative exercise. Palmentier also works with students at CHANCE school, while Studio B Yoga has partnered with Chilliwack Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy for a referral-only program.

That program, called Be Chill, has also been a huge success, says Restorative Justice Executive Director Leanna Kemp. The nine-week program mixes up yoga practice with community sessions. One week the kids are in the studio, the next they are out in the community meeting with business owners and community leaders like chef Bonnie Friesen from Faspa and Co., who taught a lesson on nutritional balance.

And for kids who just aren’t into yoga, there are plenty of programs going on that are free and available to all, through after school sessions, during school breaks, and even summer programs.

“The yoga program is appropriate for all levels/ages,” Kendzierski says. “It offers youth the chance to connect with themselves, staff and volunteer role-models, and their peers.”

It gives them a chance to “learn positive, healthy ways to cope with life’s ups and downs,” he adds. “It is also fun, and doesn’t always have to be quiet and still.”

To learn more, http://www.comserv.bc.ca/youth-services or call 604-792-6632.