WIDEN Stance, Chests, Exhales
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Sat Nam, Clarkston High~ We WITNESS your WORTHINESS WITH WILD WONDERMENT!
Thank you Aquarius Magazine for publishing this article:http://media.wix.com/ugd/ee8f16_5f2a61db6b174e07a7f578a618dea9a8.pdf
Yoga is everywhere, and it seems like everyone is doing it. We see it in movies, on T.V. shows, in commercials, and in ads in magazines. Most of the images presented for mass consumption relating to yoga are generally comprised of white, women, in expensive tights and tank tops, on yoga mats.
In sharp contrast to what you may have seen on TV, at Bob Mathis Elementary school yoga is taught in the classroom at the desk without any yoga mats! Once a week every student in the school, including special education classes, receives 15- 20 minutes of yoga instruction in the classroom. You may wonder how effective this method is given the perceived lack of mobility and small space a public school classroom offers. However, it is remarkable what the students are able to accomplish in such a short period of time, in a limited environment.
I had the pleasure of observing the 4th and 5th grade rotation. Cheryl Crawford, founder of Atlanta Yoga Movement & Co-founder of Grounded Kids Yoga, led me from class to class as she implemented one of the Focus Series sequences in each class. At a school that is 96.1% African American, I wondered how a white woman with a singing bowl teaching yoga in the classroom might be received. Yet as soon as Cheryl entered the room, in each instance, the students perked up. The majority of students were excited to see her, their eyes twinkling with curiosity about what they might do with her today. Some of the teachers were equally excited for Yoga, making sure they put their work away so they could participate with their students.
None of the classes received the same instruction. Each class of students had unique needs, and as a result each class practiced a different sequence. The children were all completely open to the process, they knew exactly what to do. Each group immediately turned their chairs to face the front of the room, grounding through their feet and placing hands on their heart and belly. It was clear that the children not only enjoyed this practice but that they also needed it.
Cheryl led the children in short chair friendly sequences that got them to both sit and stand. Partner poses, Laughter poses, and even the occasional lunge were all fair play! At the end of the each 15 min. session, Cheryl asked the students if any of them would feel comfortable leading the instruction of a pose or breathing technique for their class and 75% of students answered in the affirmative.
The one commonality amongst all the classes was the gracious, open energy demonstrated by all the teachers and students at Bob Mathis. The level of grace and gratitude that was present in the room when engaged in their yoga practice was palpable. Through their open hearts and minds, the students at Bob Mathis have been able to experience the benefits of Yoga with No Mat Needed! The fundamental principals of Yoga transcend the limitations of a mat, studio or clothes. Yoga is truly about connecting with oneself in an authentic and accessible way that utilizes movement and breath. The method of Yoga being taught at Bob Mathis truly embodies the ideals of authenticity, accessibility, and mindful connectivity.
Two weeks from today at 7 PM you can watch a documentary about our yoga program at Bob Mathis Elementary on the AIB Network!
Yoga, Privilege and Public School
Underfunded and over populated Public Schools are not a new phenomenon. For decades there has been a call to improve the quality of the education and experience in public schools. However, I know from my own experience growing up in New York City, that not every public school is created equally. Since nearly half of the funds that pay for public schools are connected to property taxes, it is easy to see why some schools are be able to provide robust curriculums with supplemental enrichment while other schools are not able.
The new normal for students who live in areas with underfunded schools is that they are not privileged with programs like Art or Music. Frequently, the school administration is strapped, understaffed, and focused on creating budgets that secure the school’s ability to provide students with much needed breakfast and lunch. As a result of their budget constraints, these underprivileged schools could only dream of providing supplemental enrichment programs for their students.
You may ask: If the students are learning the academic necessities in the classroom and the school is feeding them, what else does the student really need? The truth is that everyone learns differently. In Frames of Mind, Gardner discusses the variety of ways in which humans can learn. Body-Kinesthetic learning occurs when humans use touch, sound, action, movement and hands-on work to understand new ideas and solve problems. Yoga offers students an opportunity to learn using their Body-Kinesthetic intelligence.
In 2015, Atlanta Yoga Movement received a generous grant from the United Way. As a result, I was afforded the opportunity to teach the Yoga By Letter curriculum at two under served, under funded, and over populated schools in Atlanta. The Clarkston neighborhood, where these two schools are located, is populated mostly by Middle Eastern and African Refugees, while there is some residential development happening in Clarkston the current landscape is predominated by low-income apartment complexes. Many of the students at these schools are learning English as a second language, and all of them come from economically disadvantaged families.
Armed with a Curriculum that marries movement, literacy, mindfulness and fun, I threw myself into the work. Almost instantly I began to watch the students at each school transform. I watched these students who may have heard of Yoga, but had certainly never practiced it, arrive to each class excited and ready to move.They gleefully repeated the alliterated action words, laughing without reservation during laughter poses, and soaking up the names of their muscles, bones and glands. Unbeknownst to me, the students at Indian Creek Elementary loved Yoga so much that the word started to get around that 3rd and 4th grade were getting to do Yoga during PE and Health, with in a few days 5th graders were asking why they didn’t get to do Yoga. The next week , the 3rd and 4th grade classes that had gym during the flex period were asking their teachers to switch PE periods with the other teachers so they could get Yoga. The students who were not receiving Yoga could see the value in what their schoolmates were getting and logically they also wanted it.
Yoga, an endeavor marked for the privileged in the US, has enriched the quality and experience of public school for these students. Privilege is an unavoidable reality of the American experience; however, awareness of the inequity of resources can be the greatest ally of the underserved. Organizations like Atlanta Yoga Movement and the United Way are working tirelessly to expose under privileged children to supplemental enrichment programs like Yoga, while at school. I didn’t know what Yoga was until I was 15, and even then I held the limiting belief that it was something only afforded to the affluent. Thankfully the students of Indian Creek Elementary & Jolly Elementary have received some exposure to this life changing practice, and do not have to limit themselves by thinking Yoga is not for them.
The Yoga By Letter curriculum provides many benefits beyond the obvious as the students are able to learn Anatomy, Physiology, Vocabulary, Health, Science, Self Awareness, and Mindfulness all in one fell swoop. You haven’t lived until you have had a 3rd grader, that is still learning English, come up to you over flowing with excitement wrapping their fingers on their collar bone yelling, “CLAVICLE” or grabbing their heal shouting “CALCANEUS” in utter jubilation.
Yoga should not be a Privilege and it should be in every public school, especially the ones with socio-economically disadvantaged student bodies. Through exposing children to new ways of thinking, vocabulary, and ways of learning we are investing in the future of our society. The old cliché is true, The Children are our Future, so we must invest in them. I’ve decided to invest in them. Will you invest in them?
To Donate click here. To inquire about becoming one of our teachers please email Cheryl@atlantayogamovement.org.
The children at Jolly Elementary practicing Yoga :
With our prevalent use of Facebook and Instagram, we have moved towards a culture of total commoditization. The health food industry has never been as glamorous as it is now; all the cool kids eat brussel sprouts. Didn’t you know? Yoga is not immune to this. With studios popping up left and right, we have a growing market of coupon-based classes that allow people to skim the surface of this ancient practice of mindfulness. This is moving the goal of yoga towards an achievement of a pose, rather than experiencing the yoga within the posture (the blending of intention, breath and movement). Yoga is quickly becoming the modern jazzercise.
Our children, like always, are taking the brunt of this false advertisement. We all desire to look and feel beautiful, but at what cost? What lies are we willing to tell ourselves in order to achieve a seemingly good photo or profile? What kind of over generalized standards have beholden ourselves? High school is a time in which we begin exploring the framework of our identity. High school age students, ranging from 13 – 19 years of age, have a strong understanding of the world around them, but it is not often that they are given the tools or the time to explore activities that encourage emotional maturity.
One of the most important exercises that I have practiced with my students at Druid Hills High School is mapping the states of our bodies. The United States of You curriculum encourages students to see our thoughts and feelings as the temporary acts that they are. This exercise allows students to explore their emotional maturity in a new and innovative way. Within each of us, we have a multitude of emotional states; this is what allows us to be dynamic individuals, and this is also what allows us to share in the human experience.
As continually growing beings, permanence doesn’t exist. Hair becomes long and shabby, so we trim it. In due time, we will have to trim it yet again. Our hair never remains cut to one length. Permanence doesn’t even exist in the natural world. The sun rises and set each day; it is never only day or only ever night. We experience a continual motion of atmospheric change with the seasons. The fluid nature of growth is similar to the fluidity of our thoughts and feelings. We can feel permanently lonely if we attach our identity to the feeling of loneliness, but what happens when one is ready to feel connected? Oops, you’re out of luck? You once felt lonely, now you must always feel lonely? Cognitive Behavioral Science suggests that the more we think something, the more we’ll begin to feel that way, and the more we begin to feel this way, the more we begin to act this way – thinking, feeling, doing. We unknowingly create mantras that lead us towards self-inflicted suffering.
Through weeks of careful, guided meditation the high school students are given the space to explore all of their different thoughts, how these thoughts affect their bodies, and how the combination of these thoughts and physical sensations lead them towards a state of emotion. These states are then personified – What shape is it? Does it have a color? Does it have a texture? Does it have a temperature? Does it say anything? Personification allows the students to identify more quickly when they are living in a particular state for an extended period of time, giving them the power to choose if they like the way this state feels and whether or not they would like to navigate their thoughts and feelings towards a different state of being.
A few days ago, my first period class of 17 girls spent their Friday morning guided through a Body Scan – a meditation aimed at drawing one’s focus to each limb, digit, and joint of the body. From there, I gave them a blank body form and asked them to indicate the various states of being within their body that they have come into contact. The only thing I suggested is that they use color (pending the state has a color) and words to help with the clarification of states and to leave any locations on their bodies that felt vague blank. This form of expression and visual representation of their individual experience is quite moving.
It is also eye opening when we start to consider how a certain chronic pain is the in the same location as a state of darkness. The body map is a road map, and with this map, the students begin solidifying the vocabulary needed as they delve deeper into coursework.
Living presently within one’s body gives us independence. This independence empowers our interaction with the world around us. We get decide if someone’s actions will make us so angry it ruins the rest of our day or if we want to use the anger to ignite a passion for change.
Mindfulness begins with connection. One could argue that we are practicing connection on a greater scale than ever with modern technology, but I would suggest that we have moved towards overly attaching ourselves to the movement around us instead of within us. Yoga aids in the connection to oneself by using the breath to bridge the mind and body. One of goals of the United States of You curriculum is to offer students the space to tune-in their authentic selves; the person they want live as each day. At Druid Hills High School, we practice Life work.
Thank you Michelle Colburn for capturing the essence of our class. xo