SAN FRANCISCO – Hands together at heart center. Inhale raise your arms to the sky, exhale, bend forward and touch your toes. Inhale, half lift. Exhale fold. Plant your hands, step back, downward facing dog.
Teachers around the world have been giving those instructions for years, when leading students through Sun Salutations, a set series of warm up postures found in your typical yoga class. But on March 19 it went differently, when six of San Francisco’s top yoga teachers came together at Mission High School, to lead 108 Sun Salutations to a gym full of participants at the 3rd annual RISE Yogathon.
The event is the love child of yoga teacher Lila Singh, founder and executive director of RISE Yoga for Youth, an organization that aims to help adolescents become agents of change in the world, through yoga practice, wellness education and community building.
Right now RISE has brought some bliss to 12 city schools and four on the peninsula. This year, with a fundraising goal of 50,000 dollars, Singh hopes to bring more than 600 yoga classes to San Francisco’s schools by next year.
“What a beautiful model for what the world could be like,” Singh said when addressing the crowd. “It gives me hope for the future of our world. I don’t always have faith in our adults but I do have faith in our youth.”
Singh, now expecting her first child, said she discovered yoga when she was a teen and it transformed her life. At 22, she became a certified yoga teacher guiding mostly adults but then shifted to teens, launching RISE’s pilot program at Mission High back in 2012.
“It was a pretty big transition,” Singh said. “It’s a whole new ball game when you’re teaching teens.”
The cornerstone of what RISE teaches through yoga is community building. Singh said in today’s technology driven society what teens seek most is human connection. RISE’s curriculum includes group poses, partner poses, as well as health and wellness education. To achieve Singh’s vision, RISE requires teachers in the community who share that same passion, it also requires funds.
To pull off the yogathon, RISE relied on 14 volunteer ambassadors to help spread the word and get the needle moving in the right direction. Each volunteer had a fundraising goal of $1000 as well as a personal passion for the program. Kid’s yoga teacher and RISE Ambassador, Erica Lawler said she connected with Singh and wished RISE was around when she was a teen.
“For me in High School, I would smoke, do drugs or drink,” Lawler said. “I wish I had yoga then.”
High school freshman and yogathon volunteer, Sandra Garduno, benefits from Lawler’s wish.
“Usually, when I’m stressed over a test yoga helps,” Garduno said. “My favorites are warrior pose and child’s pose. I teach my little brother.”
Teaching yoga to the hundred plus students who came to support RISE that Saturday, were some of San Francisco’s best teachers, including Marina Guastucci, Leila Swenson, Astrud Castillo, Denaya Dailey, Brenna Geehan and world renowned teacher, Darren Main.
Main, whom Singh saved for last, also had a personal passion for the cause.
“I found yoga when I was 17, trying to stay clean and sober,” Main said. “The thing that allowed the 12 Steps to work for me was yoga.”
Since studying social work and counseling, Main has gone on to be a successful teacher and author of six books. Before drugs, Main said he feared public speaking more than death. After recovery and yoga, he’s now comfortable teaching in front of crowds, from his Tuesday night class he teaches on the labyrinth of San Francisco’s famed Grace Cathedral, to the gymnasium at Mission High. Whatever the venue, Main said the lessons remain the same.
“I think that yoga teaches us to delay gratification. You put yourself in downdog, it’s uncomfortable, but then the discomfort transforms into something different,” Main said. “We learn how to sit with that discomfort.”
For teens dealing with discomfort in their own lives, Main said RISE offers them a refuge.
“What RISE is doing is giving them the tools to at least get another choice,” Main said. “When you look at people who’ve had a difficult past or trauma, who go on past that, the one common denominator is that they had a place to go to weather the storm.”
As of now RISE has raised $40,299 towards it original goal. To learn more about RISE or contribute to their cause visit www.riseyogaforyouth.org