Training Teachers to Teach Yoga in Public Schools

Susan wrote an inspiring article about her teaching of Ananda Yoga in public schools. At that time, she was about to embark on a seven-week series, funded by a Jeannie Ritchie grant, in which she would instruct other classroom teachers in how to integrate yoga into the classroom.

Following is her report on that series and on some wonderful subsequent developments.

Our classes began right before the holiday break in December 2003 and continued until the second week in March 2004. We met whenever it was convenient for the teachers.

Looking back, it was a great success, in terms of both how much the teachers enjoyed it, and how much they have integrated it into their classrooms since that time.

Before I describe what we did, I should note that I had some qualms about training “yoga teachers,” some of whom had never before practiced yoga — and at that, training them in just 14 hours! But I knew that they were not actually going to be yoga teachers as much as do some postures with their kids, bringing certain aspects of yoga into the classroom.

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I gave them way more than I knew they would use. Several of them, though, did have a yoga practice, and those were the ones who had more of an interest and desire to use the techniques.

As it has turned out, many of the teachers who stayed with me afterward for yoga classes have used the techniques more. In addition, our Physical Education teacher has gone on to take more training, and has used yoga more in her own program as well.

Following the Program Flow In the first class, the teachers received an Ananda Yoga session for themselves, so they could have a point of reference. We spent the next five weeks on pranayama, exploring different postures, and ways to introduce and teach them to their students. There was ample time for questions and discussions.

We needed to address many pragmatic issues for school-teachers who want to offer yoga to their students, so we devoted fully one-half of a session to such topics as:

  • How to deal with questions from parents
  • How to work with a child who prefers not to participate
  • How to set up the classroom for yoga
  • Practicing outdoors vs. indoors
  • Sequencing
  • How to fit yoga into an already overcrowded and demanding schedule

It was important not to forget the teachers themselves. So each week, no matter what, they were given at least a ten-minute guided deep relaxation. For many it was their favorite part, since all day long, teachers give out to others without receiving back.

The main thing with this type of training is, of course, follow-through. So many new ideas are introduced, and there is already a huge menu of things we need to and want to do with our kids. So there’s a lot of potential for yoga to get pushed aside. But I’m happy to report that I still get frequent reports of successful yoga sessions with students.

Rounds Two, and Three, and …

A few of the teachers did not want to stop yoga, so we set up an eight-week series just for them. The group was small and very enthusiastic.

In the autumn of 2004, we repeated the seven-week series with six very enthusiastic teachers from all over the district. We had fourteen hours of class time over the seven weeks: one hour each week was devoted to bringing yoga into the classroom, and the other hour was devoted to the teachers’ own practices.

We were able to have in-depth discussions about the benefits of yoga practice, both for our students and for ourselves.

One significant day was spent gaining an intuitive understanding of how our energy, attitude, and response to the students impacts the classroom climate. In the evaluations of the class series, several teachers mentioned this session as having the most practical impact on their teaching and relationships with students.

The Ball Keeps Rolling

In the latest reports from Oak Knoll, the grant school, yoga is now an integral part of the Physical Education program, and several teachers are including yoga practices in their curricula. In the autumn of 2004, we also piloted a six-week “Introduction to Middle School” class for our new sixth graders. One of the components was coping with stress, and we incorporated yoga as one of the modules.

My middle school asked me to make a yoga video for this (rather than leaving my home classroom to do demos in each of the other eight classrooms). Do you remember from my earlier article a boy named Ted, who was so enthusiastic about and dedicated to his yoga practice? Well, we used Ted as the star of the video, and it was shown to all nine classes at the school. It was quite a success!

In addition, the yoga club at the middle school is going strong. Ted still comes to yoga club and is quite committed to his yoga practice. He confidentially informed me that his nickname among the very peer-conscious eighth grade is “Yoga Ted,” and he seemed proud to have earned that.

But Ted isn’t the only one who comes. The yoga effort has resulted in a very committed group of students who regularly attend the yoga club. Also, there is a young man in the club — a son of a fellow yoga teacher from another tradition — who enjoys the club so much that, each week, he brings with him more potential yogis and yoginis. We are running strong at 8 – 10 kids per session.

All of this has been a very exciting journey for me. With adults in our yoga classes, we often have ongoing relationships and learn about the impact of yoga on their lives. But with children — whether we’re teaching them in regular school classes or teaching them yoga — it’s only occasionally that we hear about what happens to them as time passes.

Nevertheless, we know from our own yoga experience the value of these teachings and techniques, and we know that as we plant this little seed of yoga in those young bodies, they cannot help but be impacted positively in their lives. In my estimation, the potential benefit from sharing yoga with children is great, and I feel very blessed to have had these opportunities.

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