NHE YES – Yoga Education in Schools

Update from the Quiet Time Yoga Club in New Haven Connecticut
By Linda Baker

 

For the past four years I have continued to provide a Quiet Time Yoga class for students in the inner city magnet school where I work as the guidance counsellor for 700 children, kindergarten through eighth grade. I have been teaching this curriculum in an after school program to children in my school in two age categories. One class is for third and fourth grades and the other class is for fifth through eighth grades. I have seen the class evolve over the years and this year I have changed the format and the name to After School Relaxation. The class emphasis is on relaxation and artistic aesthetic expression. Here is the curriculum for the third and fourth grades that I used this past year. 
Transition Activities
When the children arrived to the after school class they were very much wired from the day. The buses were also being called on the loud speaker for about twenty minutes. I started the class with transition activities that mostly included reading a story that brought us to a more relaxed state. Books such as All I See are Part of Me and What If were great transition books. Sometimes I read longer books (i.e. Sky Castle) and part of the book every week. As the weeks progressed, I would introduce stories with neohumanistic messages such as Miss Rumphus after which we would discuss the book’s message for a few minutes.
Yoga
Once the school quieted down, each child would sit on their map in half lotus. I would play music; I found a particular favourite was Heart of the Mystic. It was important for the music to be very calming, soft and in the background. The children would close their eyes and then breathe in through their nose and out through their mouths.We would then stand and do Mountain pose.
It was important in the first part to have the children first sit than stand very still and practice down their breath. I found that they needed to be talked through every step while also demonstrating. It was important for me to be completely calm and in a meditative state as the children were very affected by my own state of mind. I used the same routine every week and then would add a few more difficult asanas at the end. I would make sure that the students did not hold any asanas for very long. It was mostly stretching and breathing to help their bodies to calm down. The sequence then was:
o Sit in half lotus and breathe
o Mountain pose
o Neck rolls, shoulder rolls, arm rolls
o Stretches up to the ceiling and rolling down
to the floor
o Shaking their hands
o Sitting down and doing the three sister asanas
o Stretching their legs
o A few more difficult poses such as fish or
shoulder stand
o Massage (modified, as fifth through eighth
graders can be self conscious in a co-ed class)
Meditation, Relaxation and Guided Imagery
In the first few classes I would have the students do corpse pose and then a guided relaxation where I had the children concentrate on relaxing different parts of their body one area at a time. I also had kiirtan playing the entire time in the background. I then use a guided imagery. These were very simple visualizations that start with a walk in the woods or a beach or a mountain climb. They always end with something open ended where the children can go off on their own journey with someone they love.
The idea is to first give children a positive internal image and feeling and then have them create their own special place full of love and people who love them. About the third or fourth class I will introduce meditation before the corpse pose. I talk about it at the beginning of class as another way to relax their minds after they have relaxed their body. They still do corpse pose after and the guided imagery. I found that when I replace the meditation for the guided imagery at the end there was tremendous resistance. The children were so hungry for that positive imagery, they wouldn’t give it up. When we meditated first and then relaxed and then did the guided story, they really were able to let go and meditate.
Extensions
After they get up from the guided imagery, we shared our imaginary stories or journeys. The children loved this aspect. They were so into sharing their stories and some stories were very beautiful and deep. We ended with an artistic activity such as painting drawing or crafts such as beadwork. The children got to express an aesthetic part of themselves in these activities. 
Yoga for Teachers and Parents
It should be mentioned that for two years there was also a class of yoga for teachers taught by Anjali, a local Ananda Marga yoga teacher, and a few of the teachers received personal meditation instruction. The parents have also invited me to give a class on stress reduction and want more classes for themselves and their children next year. I guess we can say that one good thing that has come out of the current U.S. administration is a whole lot more stress in our lives and the desire to look for alternatives.In American culture today the stimulation is so intensely external. The children in my school rely on TV and video games for most of their outside school experience. There may not be a lot of adults to interact with or activities to engage in. I found that the children are also exposed to a lot of violence, anger and harshness in their lives. There are children in my classes that have been homeless or lost a family member to violence. Their lives often are unstable and inconsistent. They might not know where they are going to sleep or how they are going to eat, who will care for them or will they be abused. Of course there were also children who had very loving and intact families. There were amazingly beautiful and spiritual stories that came from all the children no matter what their background. They really enjoyed creating a place inside that was beautiful, secure and loving. They had great capacity for this and great need also. It was an honor to provide that “Quiet time” for them.