Warrior Yoga for Alternative Education Students
Warrior Yoga was first developed as a training tool, to be used in conjunction with martial arts training. The system was founded by a young, bright, enthusiastic, UCSC student named Sensei Jeremy Corbell. Upon starting his curriculum and classes at the UC Santa Cruz campus, in coordination with his Quantum Jujitsu classes, he also began teaching at the local juvenile hall in Santa Cruz county as a means of offering a valuable service and unique teachings to residents there; students who might arguably need a different perspective on life.
Many years and many students later, the programs at the UC campus and at juvenile hall have been tremendously successful. Long time students have become teachers themselves, and Warrior Yoga has gone international. So when the Santa Cruz County Office of Education started their Physical Education for Body, Mind and Spirit program and caught wind of the Warrior Yoga program at juvenile hall, it seemed like a natural fit for both.
At the heart of the philosophy of Warrior Yoga is an ethic of overcoming conflict in a search for greater freedom. A whole series of stories, oral traditions, and personal practices in the yoga system are founded on the importance of turning obstacles into opportunities, problems into solutions, challenge into growth, and conflict into harmony. In practicing Warrior Yoga, such conflict-centric patterns become clear as sweat pours off the body and students dig deep to keep their focus and find the will to make it through even the first half-hour of warming up through the flow series.
From an outsiders perspective, it doesn’t look too hard. The motions are basic: just breathing and moving. But the experience on the inside is that a whole different world is being created. Alternative Education Program (AEP) students sometimes complain about being too hot, how long a pose is held, how many push ups they are asked to do, how crazy their teacher is, how uncomfortable it is. But, by the time these kids cool down, stretch out and lay down for the ending meditation, the room has gone silent, the bodies become still, the breathing slows and relaxes, and the mind becomes calm as it listens to a famous story from the martial tradition.
As one student said, “This ain’t no sissy yoga!” The classes can be tailored to any level of practice to be more or less difficult. The physical movements of yoga do not create as much struggle as what is happening inside our psyches, our bodies, our confused and distracted minds, and in our search for something greater than ourselves (which we might call spirit). So it comes as no surprise that people who experience a lot of conflict in their lives tend to respond with great recognition and appreciation to the practice and philosophy of Warrior Yoga. AEP students, for example, often steeped in conflict, are more prone to find a way above it or past it. Warrior Yoga offers a tool to welcome conflict. People comfortable with their lives don’t tend to search for a way to change. If people are continuously uncomfortable and in conflict, they may often be open to change. The inspirational philosophy behind Warrior Yoga and the emphasis on opportunity, growth, transition, and change add to the ambience of allowing people to focus on possibility in their life. This yoga style often seems better received by those we call “at risk youth”, than by students at the University who live a more comfortable lifestyle.
While the emphasis in the practice is not on creating change in people, there are subtle details of the practice which can really reinforce patterns of change. The emphasis on death and rebirth in the ending meditation, for example, can bring to the surface anxieties around mortality. The focus on detoxification can highlight issues of purity, clarity, and substance abuse. Meditative practices in motion can help focus and aid in concentration. And challenges of the will in both body and mind in difficult poses can help students come to understand themselves and their own greater potentiality as they transcend ideas about what they thought was possible.
So while the heart of the practice is in a movement meditation, purifying and clarifying the body and mind, the ethic and philosophy behind the system embodies the peaceful warrior. It almost seems counterintuitive to write or talk about yoga. Yoga is something to be experienced and understood internally. We can start to see the success of something like Warrior Yoga in this unique application in the Alternative Education system. And the results of the program are quite amazing: from the student whose chronic asthma was alleviated, to the student who couldn’t believe how much the yoga helped his skateboarding, to the teacher whose golf swing improved and did yoga on his own all summer, and to the student who, when faced with a difficult choice in his life asked his friends and himself what his yoga teacher would do in the same situation.
The teacher is an influential component, and also the methodology of teaching and depth of practice. But the true active element of change resides in the internal dimensions of the practitioner. Yoga is a journey into the depth of one's self. What is more important for students of any level is not the teacher's goal for the students, but meeting students where they are and assisting them in applying the yogic practice to who they want to be and what they need in their lives. If students show up and try something totally new, then that is true success.
Warrior Yoga web site.
Return to main article.