Saturday, June 18, 2011

Can YOU Get 20 Kids Focused and Calm? Yoga Can.

What potential chaos would ensue, I thought, as I tossed and turned in bed imagining Kindergarten kids out of control on and off their yoga mats, fifth graders flailing around, laughing at the poses I modeled up front, refusing to follow my lead. As my nightmarish reverie continued on I felt the harsh glare of unhappy teachers as they whispered and wondered, "What in the world was this woman thinking?" And then as I lay in bed half-frozen in self-doubt, on the verge of looking up the PE teacher's phone number and calling him right then and there (around midnight) to cancel, something settled over me and with the ease of a bird flying through the air on a sunny summer afternoon and I thought, "I'll do it." "Move into the fear," I laughed at myself as I decided to just do it!

Last January, for reasons that escape me, I offered to teach yoga during our next Field Day. When the PE teacher approached me 2 weeks before the event and I confirmed, "Sure, I'll teach yoga to every student in our school. Two-hundred plus kids, sure, happy to do it!" I was both excited and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into. The largest kids yoga class I had previously taught was 8 students. Why shouldn't my next step be to teach an entire school!

"Seriously?" I questioned the PE teacher. "I am teaching yoga for only 10-15 minutes? And I'm teaching 11 classes of between 12-20 kids in 4 hours?" What are they going to learn in a 10-minute yoga class, I panicked? Most yoga classes are 75 minutes. I've learned how to do a lunchtime yoga class in 30 minutes but 10? It'll take that long just to explain the rules of yoga, I worried as I again questioned my sanity at offering to teach yoga in such a forum. "Just have fun," the PE teacher attempted to calm me down. "No stress," he e-mailed me. I had to laugh. The PE teacher was telling the yoga teacher to have fun and not stress. "I can do that, " I e-mailed him back, hoping that would inspire me with confidence. "Move into the fear," I once again advised my self, all the while crazy excuses ran through my head. "My dog aspirated a chunk of her dog food while we were playing "dog bowling" with little bits of dog food in the garage (this actually did happen once!) and I had to rush her to the vet," I envisioned myself telling the PE teacher an hour before Field Day. "Sorry, I can't make it."

By the time Field Day rolled around, however, I felt pretty ready (well, as ready as I was going to be!). I had made 190 cute little yoga pins using (thank God I have a wonderful and supportive husband who helps with every crazy thing I want to do). I had borrowed 20 colorful yoga mats. I had run through the yoga routine 67 times with everybody and anybody who would watch and listen to me. And, I had two trusted, amazing staff members who offered to help with crowd control. Bless my two friends, I thought, as Field Day dawned.

With the sun gently shining and all our yoga mats laid out in a colorful half-circle under the cool shade of a giant tree, I taught yoga on Field Day. I taught groups of 15 and groups of 20. And, although I didn't plan on grades 2 and 5 teaming up at my yoga station, there they were, all 35 of them, ready for yoga and so I taught them to breathe slowly in as they counted 1, 2, 3. Standing still and tall in mountain pose with feet grounded in their mats and hands clasped together about the level of their sweet little hearts, my young yoga students appeared as peaceful as the morning sun over a calm and quiet lake. "Slowly breathe out 1, 2, 3," I directed each of my classes, amazed at how they all followed my lead. Who knew one could teach yoga for 10-15 minutes? I am now convinced yoga can be taught anywhere for any amount of time and students will feel the benefits.

To my surprise, in most sessions we were able to move through a sun salutation by bending forward, lunging, planking, folding back and then standing up. During all sessions we had time for the Warrior Series (kids love the Warrior Series) as we all bent our front leg at a 90-degree angle, straightened out our back legs and held our arms in various positions for Warrior I, II, and III. We also had time for Tree Series. We balanced on one leg for what I call Oak Tree Pose and then stood with both feet on the mat swaying to the rhythm of our breath with arms over our heads and palms out in Palm Tree pose. We ended this series by flapping our arms in a gentle side-to-side twist in what I call Weeping Willow Pose. We even had time for a quick relaxation. "Breathe in and hold your breath...hold, hold, hold....breathe out and relax," I called out over the blare of the megaphones screeching in the background. I marveled again and again at how much all my little yoga students seemed to enjoy and find peace lying quietly on their backs in the shade of a sturdy old tree in the midst of the chaos of Field Day.

And instead of teachers glaring and questioning my sanity, many sat right down in our group and began bending and twisting as I demonstrated the yoga poses. Several were shocked as their students stood still breathing slowly 1, 2, 3. "Maybe you can try this in your classroom," I offered to several teachers who I knew might be able to get their inattentive students to focus with calm, rhythmic breathing and a few yoga poses. If yoga can grab their attention and focus on Field Day, it could certainly do the same in the classroom. One teacher told me this was my "calling" and that she was thrilled and amazed at how responsive and calm her students were during our session. Several teachers said that our yoga station was their student's favorite station of the morning. And for one sweet, shy little girl, who had been in my yoga class before, our yoga station was the only activity she participated in on Field Day.

"Do you really think you can get 20 kids to focus at one time?" a staff member remarked on the morning of Field Day as I walked down the hall in my yoga clothes, ready, yet a little nervous for what the morning would hold. "We'll see!" I smiled tentatively.

Twenty kids all calm and focused. Easy.

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