Taking a short break from their leaps and tumbles, the Newport Harbor High School pep squad’s 61 girls laid out mats in a campus gym for some yoga Wednesday afternoon.
Skyler Dearen, 16, was ready to lead the girls through their down dogs and tree poses. But that’s not all — she also had some words of wisdom, motivation and self-love.
Doing yoga, she said, allows one to “consciously let go of the things that no longer serve you.”
Skyler became a certified instructor through the credentialing organization Yoga Alliance at age 13 and taught her first class at 14.
Having received a teaching certification before a driver’s license, she has taught about 20,000 students so far. She currently teaches about 10 classes a week at her mother Darlene’s business, Radiant Hot Yoga in Newport Beach and Irvine.
Skyler attended Corona del Mar High School before switching to online school the past two years to accommodate her yoga teaching schedule.
As her session at Newport Harbor began Wednesday, Skyler had the cheerleaders, song girls and baton team members ease into a pose in which they lay flat on their backs while she set up music and had the lights dimmed.
Her 15-year-old sister, Savanna, who also is certified, helped demonstrate various poses for the students.
“There’s a lot of moving pieces,” said Julie Woodall, an instructor for Radiant Hot Yoga. A session’s tone, music selection, ventilation and lighting are all in the instructor’s hands.
Earlier this week, Newport Harbor pep squad advisor and coach Kris Higman, a longtime friend of Woodall’s, asked if Skyler could lead a class during her students’ summer training camp.
“It’s a chance for them to stretch their bodies, work on core muscles, strength in their arms and legs and balance, but also for them to be positive about their bodies,” Higman said. “Skyler is their same age; she’s going through the same things socially as they are. If she can give them this message of loving yourself, that’s huge.”
Skyler and Savanna received that message when they needed it most.
When Skyler was 6 and Savanna was 5, their mother encouraged them to “heal themselves” through yoga.
The girls’ parents had separated, and later divorced. Skyler and Savanna moved with their mother from Arizona to California about five years ago, Skyler said.
“[Yoga] taught me to accept the moment, that you have a choice of how you want to live your life, whether it’s being unhappy or loving life,” she said. “I can take down those walls. … It’s my choice.”
As the Newport Harbor girls moved through workouts such as push-ups and bridge poses, their young instructor kept her voice upbeat. During relaxed stretches, she spoke softly and slowly.
Toward the end of the class, the squad moved into a sleeping half pigeon pose, in which they lay face down with one leg bent and another stretched out behind them.
“It takes strength to let go,” Skyler said as they sunk deeper into the pose. “It takes bravery and courage.”
For squad member Cassidy Peterson, the session with Skyler was her first yoga class.
“It shows us how to let all the pain and anxiety go,” Cassidy said. “We can take away what’s good and positive and let go of what’s negative.”
As the class neared its end, the girls lay flat on their backs as they did at the beginning. They closed their eyes, and Skyler sealed the practice with some final words.
“We experience struggles, but we experience amazing things as well,” she told them. “That’s part of the journey.”