Last week, we conducted an experiment.
We took 6 children between 8 and 15 to Spain to join a group of school teachers.
The idea was to introduce the children to a week of yoga and meditation together with a group of yogis taking the TeenYoga training course, as well as lots of joy and sun!
There were opportunities to ask the kids what they felt about school, friendships, bullying and yoga among other things.
Here is what they said: yoga makes me feel: still, happy, strong, stable, balanced, free, good, trust, stretched, secure and relaxed. (they made a film about it!)
They even demonstrated with a beautiful yoga sequence they made up themselves. When asked about what do they do when they feel sad, it was a tricky moment, as one of the boys became very emotional as he said he really did not know what to do – it appeared that one of his closest friends had been so severely bullied that he had stopped going to school. It was a very emotional and disempowering event for his friend and for him to watch this happening. Yet the group held the space for the young man to quietly cry. It was very moving.
Teaching yoga is not only about postures, it is also teaching a way of life, based on kindness, collaboration and openness, or as the famous family psychiatrist Dr Siegel says in his lecture to TeenYoga: COAL- curiosity, openness, acceptance and love.
AS school teachers, we are leaders, we are constantly modelling a way of life, yet many teachers are burnt out and are assessed and criticised, they are not able to remain calm, stable and kind under the pressure of harsh expectations.
The reasons why so many kids have mental and physical health issues remains unclear, but the fact is that 1 in 4 or 5 teens are suffering from some kind of disorder related to depression or anxiety. All research points to the fact that mental disorders in adulthood have their inception at this time. Therefore it appears to me to be of utmost importance to find ways to help young people cope with difficult emotions – “emotional resilience” as well as understand what it is that could cause trauma and disorders and how to avoid these events. In other words, we are looking at teaching kids “happiness classes”.
Dr Seldon got there first, he introduced Happiness Classes at Wellington College several years ago and last year was knighted by the Queen for his services to education. His school is one of the top schools in the UK, having jumped 192 places since his employment as head. Sir Seldon took his yoga Teacher training course back in the eighties and devised systems based on his learning there to implement in his school, to great advantage.
There are some strong national movements initiating yoga as a whole school approach to mitigate the pressures and stresses of the teachers and students. Leeds University Psychology Department work together with TeenYoga, to research the impact of yoga on various aspects such as chronic pain, stress, illness and anxiety. The results are astounding. Children seem to be much more available to the healing power of yoga than adults are and sometimes feel a profound sense of wellbeing after just one session.
In one of yoga’s main texts; Patanjali’s Sutras, there is really one sentence that sums up the intention and existence of yoga, “the pain of the future is to be avoided” (heyyam duhkham anagatam). The whole point of yoga is to alleviate future pain through extended practises of meditation in its various forms, a practise the Jung also found useful and profoundly transformative for himself.
As school teachers, when we are faced with the pain of our students which is then exacerbated by our own pain, we are driven to alleviate it and find solutions that are simple and easy to put into practise.
With this in mind, the new conference, INSTILL, in London in July, is bringing together international speakers and officials from the NHS and government as well as the world of yoga to look at yoga as a viable option to bring more awareness of wellbeing practises into schools. It is the first conference of its kind and will be held at SOAS in London.