by Helene McGlauflin
As a school counselor, I know firsthand that teaching in a public elementary school is incredibly demanding on the physical, intellectual, and emotional levels. Teachers are exposed to and frequently catch colds, flus, and other illnesses. They’re expected to serve, perform, and multitask at high levels. They need to be loving, kind, organized, and available every day to each student, parent, and colleague they encounter.
Because so much is asked of them, teachers are prone to burnout. The work offers many rewards, but the demands can have a high cost. As yoga teachers, we know the close connection between deep fatigue and discouragement, particularly when a person is striving to be well but feels unsupported.
I completed Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training in 2008 and, fueled by my yearning to serve and my need for experience, I began offering a free class for teachers at the public elementary school in Maine where I’ve spent 10 years as a counselor. We used a kindergarten classroom, had no supplies, and practiced as often as we could.
The gratitude I have received is boundless. Though yoga offers many tools to protect against burnout and nurture wellness, teachers often have barriers to starting and maintaining a yoga practice—lack of money, lack of experience in self-care, and shyness about trying something new and foreign. Practicing yoga with a trusted colleague as their teacher was the perfect antidote.
Serving my teachers as a yoga instructor opened my eyes in a new way to their needs. Although they all want to create health and well-being in their lives, our setting does not easily support wellness. It’s a daily struggle for teachers to find time for the most basic self-care: a relaxed lunch, a break, even getting to the bathroom. As my tenderness and concern for my teachers grew, so did my desire to find a nourishing space where they could practice off school grounds.
When I began the class, the Teaching for Diversity (TFD) grant program immediately came to mind, but I was at first reticent about applying. I knew my school qualified as a Title One school, due to the number of children who received free or reduced lunch. In 2010, I was awarded a Rachel Greene scholarship from Kripalu to attend YogaEdTM training in order to serve our students through yoga. But our building is relatively new and in good repair. We have the basic supplies we need. Our neighborhood is safe, and our community has resources to help our families. My teachers do not make much money but are not homeless, incarcerated, hungry, addicted, or destitute. Were they one of the disadvantaged populations TFD is designed to support?
As I grew to know them and their challenges better, I came to see that serving them would also serve our students, our school, and our community at large. Ask, and you shall receive! The TFD grant I was awarded enabled me to rent a lovely studio space near our school that we are able to use for a nominal fee. The grant also provided payment for me, allowing me to maintain my original vision of keeping the class free for my teachers. The gratitude I feel is boundless.
Being away from our school and in a nourishing space has made all the difference for me as a teacher and for my teachers as students. There is a sense of excitement, happiness, and thankfulness at every class. We can all relax, knowing we won’t hear the roar of a vacuum cleaner, be interrupted, or need to be “on” with parents and students after class. We can more easily shed our roles and more freely enjoy being a yoga community. Looking out at my dear teachers resting silently in Savasana, I have the satisfaction of knowing that they are now not only well served—they are advantaged.
Helene McGlauflin, MEd, LCPC, is a Kripalu Yoga teacher, counselor, and writer.