Eagle County teens tap into yoga | VailDaily.com

Eagle County teens tap into yoga

HL Snowboard Yoga Class 3 DT 10-3-08

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Ask any 30-something why they do yoga and they’ll gush about its benefits: leaner muscles, improved mental clarity, strength, weight loss, even increased happiness. Yoga may be an ancient tradition, but to those who practice, it’s a modern-day fountain of youth.

Now ask your average teenager about yoga. Their reaction might go something like this: blank stare followed by “Yoga is an old person’s work out.”

Although yoga is proven to help with problems teenagers commonly experience ” like stress, lack of confidence and obesity ” it’s yet to really penetrate the adolescent scene, at least not here in Vail.

Taking an unofficial scan of yoga classes around the valley, the average yogi is a 37-year-old female. Attribute it to lack of exposure or the pull of other after-school activities, local teens just aren’t that interested in yoga.

Not yet, anyway. But leave it to snowboarders to start the trend.

Twice a week, a group of student athletes from Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail tap into yoga’s benefits during an hour long class at Dogma Athletica in Edwards. Taught by Dogma’s yoga director Amy Baker, the class is specifically designed for teens wanting to improve their performance on the slopes.

“Start by sitting still ” your favorite thing to do,” Baker jokes. “Now start to breathe. When you inhale, say to yourself inhale. When you exhale, say to yourself exhale. Bring your focus into this room. Bring your focus to your breath. What happened before class doesn’t matter. What’s happening after class doesn’t matter. It’s about being right here in this room, right now in this moment. Because when you’re in competition ” you need this focus. And the best reminder of being in the moment is your breath.”

After completing pranayama, or breathing exercise, the iPod goes on.

No Indian wind flutes in this class. Students make their own playlist, much to the coaches chagrin, but it’s all part of getting the kids connected, Baker says.

Now the class intensifies ” minute-long holds in ski and snowboard positions, push-ups, core strengthening and deep lunges. Movement is constant and sweating inevitable.

“Resist the urge to look at yourself in the mirror ” because I guarantee you look good,” Baker says with a smile, bringing their focus back to the mat.

“I think you’ve got to push teens with some compassion, humor and understanding,” she says later.

Balancing ” laterally in a side plank and upright on one foot and in handstands ” are also part of the class. All the while, Baker reminds the class to breath.

“Yoga is not what I thought it would be,” says Olivia Boomhower, 15, who snowboards with Club Vail. “It’s not a bunch of ladies standing around in their leotards. It’s a good work out. It strengthens and helps with your snowboard stances.”

Boomhower admits she never would have tried yoga if it weren’t for this training. But after experiencing it at Dogma, she says she’ll definitely continue to practice.

“Yoga gives you a chance to focus on what your goal is that day or week,” says Coco Cook, 16, who attends the Ski Academy. “Sometimes I focus on staying focused. Sometimes I focus on staying positive.”

Seventeen-year-old Alfredo Velasco has practiced yoga for a couple years now as part of his ongoing snowboard training with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail. He practices on his own, too, at home with a DVD or online at http://www.yogatoday.com, where he downloads free streaming classes.

“It really helps a lot with focus, quieting the mind, relaxation and meditation,” Velasco says. “It’s a huge part of snowboarding. You won’t break bones, dislocate shoulders or hurt your knees because you’re limber.”

When asked why he thinks yoga isn’t more popular among high schoolers, Velasco says it’s because kids are skeptical. He has some friends that do yoga after school at Battle Mountain High School, but most kids don’t really know what yoga is all about, he says.

“They think it’s too quiet, too boring, they think, oh, I’ll just go running,” Velasco says. “But Amy’s class is great. It’s super specific to snowboarding. It gets your core strong and your legs strong. And Amy knows how to modify your poses to make it feel better.”

Mary Kaye Chryssicas, author of “Breathe: Yoga for Teens,” has a waiting list for her teen class in Boston. She says the biggest mistake most studios make is they try to teach teens yoga in the same way they teach adults.

“Teens cannot hold the asanas as long as adult classes, so we move out of poses sooner. Teens also get bored easily, which yoga can actually help fix, but I still like to change every class. Variety is best while teaching teens so that nothing is too predictable,” Chryssicas says.

Christy Brock, co-author of “Yoga 4 Teens, an Instructor’s Guide to Teaching Teenagers Yoga,” says it’s natural for adults to embrace yoga more than teens because adults need it most for their stiffer bodies and aches and pains.

“Teens will likely do yoga only when it is within their sphere of living, i.e. somebody brings them to a class or it is presented in school or through some other activity,” Brock says.

But once teens do make the yoga connection, they’ll discover their body in a whole new light and the benefits are unlimited, Brock says.

“To observe oneself free of judgement and free of competition is a huge relief for teens,” Brock says. “They get to enjoy their body and learn how it works, maybe for the first time where it’s not related to sports or working out. They learn the skill of noticing their breath, which is critical for managing emotions. And they learn that relaxation can be deep, profound and exhilarating.”

Ben Boyd, snowboard program director for Club Vail, has seen first hand what yoga can do for young athletes in just the short month his team has practiced at Dogma.

“My team has a lot better balance and a lot more flexibility. Yoga is centering and teaches these guys to visualize,” he says, who does yoga each week with the team. “And it’s the best my back has felt in years.”

Baker’s success with Ski and Snowboard Club Vail is due in part to her personal background as a young athlete, competing in gymnastics as a child internationally and advancing to the national level in high school. Baker also has degrees in psychology, exercise physiology and is closing in on 500 hours of yoga training.

“I understand the stresses on young athletes and what incredible focus it takes to attain your goals and dreams,” Baker says.

But Baker also understands the positive effects yoga can have on all teenagers, so in an effort to spread the good yoga word, she’s expanding the snow-specific yoga class to all teens valley wide.

“Teenagers tend to live in their head, in all the stories and the drama,” Baker says. “Taking time to connect to something outside of that ” like the power you feel in your legs from holding chair pose for one minute or the strength and accomplishment you feel when kicking up into handstand for the first time ” will stop that negative internal dialogue. And that’s when we can create great positive change.”

Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based out of Vail. Send questions or comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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