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By Caren Jeskey
After spending hours writing and erasing and writing and erasing, at 10:00 pm last night I realized I have a full-fledged case of writer’s block. So, I took a note from my fearless editor Neil and decided to offer a piece I wrote in 2001 for Yoga Chicago Magazine, a simple and sweet story on this last Saturday of 2022.
This past summer, I had the pleasure of teaching yoga to sixth to eighth grade Chicago public schools students. They were enrolled in the DePaul Preparatory Academy, a summer enrichment program. We met weekday mornings in a classroom at DePaul downtown. I’d surreptitiously (and very carefully) burn a stick of my favorite incense, Nag Champa, before the children arrived. “Why does it smell like marshmallows?” they’d ask.
They’d request to “please start class with that lying-down pose.” They’d take their shoes and socks off, and lay down on their backs on yoga mats. I’d talk them into a deep state of relaxation, savasana. A form of meditation. Sometimes snoring would ensue. After allowing the tired kids to decompress for a while, I’d gently talk them back into the room; they’d wake up rejuvenated and ready to try some yoga poses.
I encouraged the children to ask questions during the times we sat around discussing whatever was on their minds. “How do planets float in space? If teachers know things, how come they look in books to teach us? Is there life beyond our world? What is love and hate? How do you forgive someone you care about even though they were wrong? Why are there locks on 24-hour Walgreens stores?” Fun conversations would commence.
It was a good-vibe class. The youngest student told me “besides lunch, my favorite class is yoga.” He shared that yoga helps him get over feelings of anger. I once taught the children how to use techniques to keep an ornery teacher calmer. The teacher came to me afterwards and said “I don’t know what you told the kids, but they were terrific today. Thank you.” Once must have let it slip that something unusual was going on. I simply asked them to sit next to someone new that day, rather than the friend they normally sat next to (and probably chatted with a lot, frustrating the teacher). I suggested that they think “may you be happy, Mr. O” when he seemed angry.
When we practice peace towards others, we might see it in return if we are lucky. And at least we are not adding fuel to the fire.
On the last day of class, a perky, muscular girl of 12 with a calm demeanor sensed my frazzling nerves. We were completing displays for families to visit during the closing ceremony later that day. (I found that it was much easier to teach yoga than it was to get the children to complete a more academic assignment). She took my hand, gazed into my eyes, and said: “Ms. Jeskey. It’s OK to have a bad day. Even if you do yoga.” She rejoined her poster-making group, lay down on her stomach and got back to coloring. I was a little embarrassed, then realized she was only giving back to me what I had been offering her all summer. Kindness.
So now back to the present day. December 31, 2022. I’d love to know where my former students are today. They'd be in their 30s by now. I hope they've all landed on their feet. I've often wondered about the 12 year old who brought gin in a 7-Up can to class. At that time I took him to lunch and let him know that people cared about him.
Reflecting back to memories of connection with other humans is reassuring, especially in these disconnected times. Wishing you a safe and cozy New Year’s Eve. See you in 2023.
"A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands; how could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he."