SAMOHI — Santa Monica is known for its love of yoga.
Women in tight pants and men in equally loose shorts can be seen with rubber and foam mats slung under their arms or over their backs as a matter of course. Even the high school football team incorporates the eastern practice into their regular workout regimen.
Soon, the students will become the masters, at least if Jason Battung has anything to do with it.
Battung is working to establish a new yoga class at Santa Monica High School, one that not only teaches poses, but actually gives students the tools they need to become fully-accredited yoga instructors through the national organization Yoga Alliance.
The class, approved by the Board of Education last week, will build upon the existing five classes of Yoga 1, an introductory course that gets students familiar with the concept and practice of yoga.
Yoga 2 takes that a step further, teaching new poses, how to adjust or correct others in their practice and even how to market a new yoga practice.
The class still needs official approval of the Yoga Alliance, but builds upon a 200-hour course created by the organization.
“Some kids are going to take it because they want to be a registered yoga teacher. I think there will be other kids who want to deepen their knowledge of the practice so they can get into the tools that yoga provides and get into their own heads, hearts and bodies,” Battung said.
Yoga is a physical discipline of stretches and poses that increases flexibility and strength in the practitioner. It is also a mental practice, encouraging patience and self-reflection.
Battung has been teaching yoga for almost eight years, although the former college football player originally became involved in the practice at 22 when he graduated as a way to replace the physical conditioning he had practiced through his sport.
It morphed into something more.
“Yoga also became not just a physical thing, it satiated my academic thirst as well,” Battung said.
He became a registered yoga instructor in 2005, and specifically aimed to teach young people the benefits of the practice. He began at Samohi two years ago, taking over the reins from Jenna Gasparino, an English teacher who built the program.
“I wanted to teach high school kids because I always wished someone had shared this with me when I was younger, both as an athlete for physical performance and for emotional intelligence,” Battung said.
Bryan Kest, a prominent yoga instructor in Santa Monica and creator of the Power Yoga style, agreed.
He began practicing yoga at 14, and considers it a good health practice, like eating vegetables.
“I always say ‘the earlier the better,’ as with any healthy habits,” Kest said. “Yoga is nothing more than healthy habits of the body and mind. The earlier we can establish healthy habits, the better they will serve us later in life. I definitely benefited from starting early.”
The availability of classes and experts like Kest is one of the reasons that Battung expects his Yoga 2 class to succeed. Becoming a yoga instructor through the Yoga Alliance requires 200 hours of “contact” time, and Yoga 2 will provide only 180.
Students will need to do some outside work as well as observe other instructors, Battung said, and the city by the sea is widely considered a hot spot of yoga activity.
“Santa Monica is an ideal place to do it,” he said.
Yoga is a growing trend across the country.
According to a 2012 study released by Yoga Journal, 20.4 million Americans practice yoga compared to 15.8 million in 2008.
That amounts to $10.3 billion a year spent on yoga equipment, products, classes and more.
Battung realizes that not every 17-year-old that makes it through his course will be ready to make a living as a yoga instructor, but it’s a big step.
“A big part of what we’re doing is about accessibility to the yoga practice,” Battung said. “With Yoga 2, we’ll be training students to be able to safely communicate the tools of yoga, which will help increase that accessibility.”
Battung expects to launch one section of Yoga 2 next school year.