On Monday, December 16, 2012—exactly two days after the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary—I stood outside the doors of Pittsfield High School (PHS) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As I waited for the receptionist to buzz me in, I wondered what to expect in my high school yoga class that morning. I was still reeling. My niece [...]
Iona Smith, guest blogger
Like most of us, I would not want to relive my teenage years—unless I could do so knowing what I know now. Even so, I’ve been drawn to working with teenagers in my adult life. As a high school biology teacher back in my twenties and in my current role as a yoga educator in high schools, I’ve been able to pursue my passion for providing teenagers with tools for coping—tools I wish I’d had at their age.
Four years ago, I helped the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL) launch a pilot research study on how yoga affects teenagers. To date, we’ve found that our Yoga in the Schools program does indeed have beneficial effects on students’ resilience and ability to manage anger. As I head into my fifth year teaching yoga in a high school setting, I’m confident that I’m providing students with the wisdom and tools to help them navigate their teenage years in healthier, more skillful ways.
In this series, we hear from recipients of KYTA’s Teaching for Diversity and Rachel Greene Memorial Fund grants, as they change the world one posture at a time.
Melinda Atkins, Guest Blogger
Introducing yoga to a group of middle-school students is an enlightening experience, especially after teaching yoga full-time to high-school students. Middle-school minds are more impressionable, and their bodies more malleable, than those of their older counterparts. Eager to learn discipline, most are still children who want to be grown, and the success the practice rewards them with along the way encourages their self-confidence.
Today’s student typically suffers from poor posture, poor eating habits, and poor self-esteem. For middle schoolers, with an overt awareness of their changing bodies, classroom performance is hindered. With surges and shifts in hormones, along with excessive technological stimuli, students are hard-pressed when it comes to focus. This ultimately causes stress and, for many—especially those struggling to assimilate—failure.
Years of teaching high-school English has instilled in me an empathetic view of the physical, mental, and emotional demands involved in adolescent development. Armed with a master’s degree in Education and an understanding of the impact a pedagogic approach to yoga would have on adolescents, I created a semester-long yoga course and taught it as part of a high-school curriculum.
Ashley Winseck, Guest Blogger
Kripalu Yoga teacher Debbie Cohen has two passions: yoga and teaching children. So when a Boston public school came to her wanting a yoga program for its inner-city students, Debbie was crushed to have to tell them she couldn’t do it.
“I couldn’t afford to go out there and teach yoga, and I felt so bummed about that,” she recalls.
Because she wasn’t in a position at that point in her career to volunteer her time, the idea of a yoga program in the inner-city schools went onto Debbie’s back burner, for another time.
Debbie has been teaching yoga for 15 years, but it was just three years ago that she was able to combine her passion for yoga and her passion for teaching children when she joined forces with Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL). Working closely with IEL faculty, she helped develop and implement their Yoga in the Schools (YIS) curriculum, testing it at Waltham High School. But she still felt something lacking.
“I always wanted to be in the inner-city schools,” Debbie says, particularly in the Boston public school system, which so desperately wanted—and needed—a yoga program. To make this dream a reality, Debbie created the Susan E. Tift Yoga in Schools Program Fund in honor of the passing of one of her longtime yoga students.
I’m waiting in the yoga classroom of a western Massachusetts high school—the site of one of the Yoga in the Schools projects being developed and scientifically evaluated by Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living. The room is decorated in vibrant student-painted murals and yoga posters, transforming the windowless space, which was once the detention room, into a bright area for mindful movement and self-inquiry. The bell rings and instead of desks and chairs, students filter into a circular arrangement of yoga mats. With upbeat melodies humming in the background, bags and shoes are left at the door. One student, who three weeks earlier came to class with snacks and a cell phone in hand, greets me today with a smile and goes sit on his mat, looking receptive. I assist the instructor by inviting the rest of the group to find a comfortable seat. We’re ready to begin.
It’s no revelation that adolescents today are stressed. Naturally, in a time of physical and psychosocial transformation, teens face the tasks of identity development and belonging—while managing a cascade of hormonal changes. For many, the teenage years can feel like a minefield, finding the precarious balance between standing out and fitting in, trying on values and dealing with the accompanying emotions. The demands of academic and extracurricular achievement, along with decisions about whether and how to get to college, weigh as well. It’s a heavy toll! And that’s assuming there’s stability at home. Knowing that lifelong patterns take root in adolescence, yogic wisdom offers support. Tools to manage life’s challenges and practice self-compassion are at the heart of what’s available.