The other day my student was absent from school. I teach in a big city. Absence is not, on its own, unusual. Students balance school, jobs, family responsibilities (including caring for younger siblings and translating at appointments with lawyers and medical professionals), and myriad other things. This student is an immigrant. This student lives alone and pays rent. This student works 45-50 hours a week outside school. This student was absent.
I learned when this student came back that they had been in the hospital. The doctor said they did not need medicine, but that their body was reacting to the incredible stress they were under. Stress was literally making them sick. And that makes me sick.
In the US, we talk about failing schools and the crisis of children crossing the border. We do not talk enough about the mental health toll of that crossing, that life, that existence. We do not talk about how to best educate young people who are responsible for their own health and welfare without any adult supervision. We do not talk about the right things.
I had nothing concrete to offer.
The student can’t quit the job because then they can’t buy food or pay rent. The student can’t stop coming to school because a high school diploma is an important indicator of future success in the US.
So, I offered yoga. I downloaded the “Calm” app onto the student’s phone. Will yoga change this student’s life? You know what? Probably not. But it might help this student feel a bit better. It might help this student escape from the incredible pressures of survival. Because, my friends, we are not talking about the life we want and hope for young people in the United States. In the case of this student, and many other young people, we are talking about primitive survival, how to avoid sleeping on the street, how to keep yourself safe and alive.
We have to figure out how to offer yoga.
Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. If you are a teacher, offer quiet time in each class. If you are a professional and employ young people in a full or part-time job, check in as a human. How are they? If you are a restaurant owner and your business success depends on the flexibility of an immigrant workforce, remember this is a human being in front of you, not just a worker. If you are a yoga studio owner, offer free, yes free, classes to high school students. If you are a random stranger on the street and you see a young person who looks stressed, smile. Do not underestimate the power of a human connection, especially to someone who is thousands of miles away from everyone and everything they have known.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to this student, but I do know we all need to band together and do something to protect, stabilize, enrich, and calm our young people.
Has yoga impacted your life as a young person? How are you sharing the benefits of yoga with the people who need it most? Share with us below!