Eleven serene bodies, legs crossed and eyes closed, breathe deeply in unison at the Willow Street Yoga Center (WSYC) in Takoma Park, escaping the stresses of life and the tension of yet another day.
Eleven pairs of hands are clasped together at the chest, and eleven voices exhale the sacred sound of "oommm."
Yoga, which originated in India more than 6,000 years ago, is a discipline that promotes physical, mental and spiritual growth. This practice of self-improvement is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., with over 20 million participants today, more than triple the amount in 1994, according to Diabetic-Lifestyle Magazine.
In the past, yoga had been relegated to the outer edges of the athletic world. But it is now becoming a popular new trend.
This revival in popularity is visible among teens who are looking for effective ways to relieve stress, gain flexibility and increase concentration.
In an informal Silver Chips poll of 100 students conducted on Oct 16, 32 percent said they engage in some act of meditation, whether it is yoga or just calm breathing.
Karin Wiedemann, a teacher at WSYC, encourages her yoga students to release their pressures and to focus on tranquility. "Take the next few moments and really work on being present and letting go," she tells her class on Oct 17. "Observe what it feels like to invite stillness to your mind and your body."
Another form of meditation and general stress relief is modern interpretive dance. The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park provides teenagers with a calm and enjoyable environment where they can free themselves of the social and school-related pressures in life. "When you're dancing, you can escape; you can just breathe," says sophomore Lillian Rosen.
Junior Cori Cohen, a student at WSYC, began practicing yoga because she had scoliosis and wanted to strengthen her back. Cohen explains that yoga has been a positive influence not only on her spine but also on her ability to concentrate. "When I'm doing yoga, I'm in control of my body," she says. "It helps me to focus on more important aspects of life."
Senior Allie Porter says she has also benefitted from taking the WSYC teen yoga class. She explains that yoga has improved her interactions with others and has relieved tension. "Yoga has definitely helped me with stress, and it's helped me with relationships too," Porter explains. "If I get mad in usual situations I can actually calm down a lot better than I used to be able to."
Social studies teacher Joanne Malone has practiced several types of meditation, including yoga. Currently, she is a member of the Washington Mindfulness Community, an organization inspired by the teachings of Zen Buddhism.
Meditation does not always come easily, says Malone, a Buddhist herself. "Your mind tends to jump all over the place," she says. When meditating, Malone advises, those seeking to achieve tranquility should breathe and get in tune with their bodies, minds, and souls.
In order for people to be successful in meditation, Cohen says the mind must be able to remain in focus and take in sights and sounds objectively. "One of the most important things is to absorb everything around you. When you hear a sound, you would naturally form an opinion," she says. "When you're meditating, you have to just hear it."
A path to self-discovery
Yoga, the Sanskrit word for "union," aims to unify the mind, body and spirit, and to improve the self as a whole, Cohen says. "You can connect with yourself," she explains, "and think about what you've done and how you can change yourself to be a better person."
According to WSYC yoga teacher Joseph Miller, the fundamental philosophy of Anusara yoga, the type of yoga practiced at the WSYC, is a celebration of oneself and one's uniqueness.
Malone understands a teenager's need to express his or her individuality, especially at a crowded school like Blair. "Blair is a stressful place to be for all of us," she says.
As much as people strive to discover their individuality through meditation, however, everyone is joined together somehow in life, believes Malone. "We are all interconnected with each other, with all of nature.
"We are all like waves on the ocean. Each wave just keeps coming up, and then another one comes," Malone explains, rolling her hands slowly to simulate the movement of the sea. "We get so worried in our lives, but in the big picture, we are just little waves."
Lauren DalBello. Not be confused with Eva Cassidy, Lauren DalBello likes having fun. She can most often be seen smiling. She is excited about Switzerland next year, but she will also miss everything from her little hometown better known as Takoma Park. More »