Way to Cut Grade School Stress: Yoga
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
SAN FRANCISCO, March 22 —
Fourth graders at the Rosa Parks Elementary School have
various classroom jobs: line leader, attendance taker, door
locker, yoga monitor.
"When you're mad you go do yoga and you feel much better,"
said Frederick Nettles, 10, a monitor who was coaching first
graders in the intricacies of the "new moon," a forward-bending
yoga posture. "It calms your nerves."
At seven public schools here — with more on the way — the
"yoga break" has taken its place beside typical school rituals
like recess and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Yoga Journal, a Berkeley bimonthly, calls it "om schooling."
Besieged by budget cuts — most of California's elementary
schools no longer have physical education teachers — schools
like Rosa Parks are finding their own center. With free teacher
training by Tony Sanchez, a yoga master, yoga is becoming
an integral part of the physical education classes and the
regular classroom as well. Mr. Sanches founded the United
States Yoga Association, a nonprofit organization.
Students in Elaine Gee's fourth-grade Chinese bilingual class
spent 10 minutes the other day doing yoga before a big grammar
test. A favorite is the "cocoon," which involves relaxing
the head, spine, arms and legs on the floor and breathing
to release tension.
"It helps them concentrate, especially on rainy days when
there's a lot of nervous energy," Ms. Gee said. "These students
are under a lot of pressure to succeed. Testing is coming
up, reports are going home, so we're doing more yoga."
Rosa Parks Elementary is worlds away from the universe inhabited
by yoga devotees like Madonna and Sting. All students qualify
for a free or reduced-price lunch.
Mr. Sanchez, with the help of a small stipend for teachers
from the San Francisco Education Foundation, has trained 60
classroom teachers citywide in hatha yoga, which concentrates
on athletic postures and breathing techniques.
Yoga is not common in the American classroom yet. But it
is increasingly becoming part of the physical education curriculum
nationwide, along with other nontraditional activities like
weight training, biking and in-line skating. It has recently
been introduced to adolescent inmates on Rikers Island, where
"we've found it teaches concentration, self-control and discipline,"
said Tim Lisante, New York City's deputy superintendent for
alternative, adult and continuing education.
In Chamberlain, S.D., Ronda Klein, the school nurse, recently
began teaching yoga to students at St. Joseph's, a Catholic
boarding school for American Indian children.
In Seattle, 15 of 97 public schools have yoga as a warm-up
in gym class, and it is an elective for high school students,
said Bud Turner, the physical education coordinator.
"Physical education is moving in the direction of lifetime
activities like toning, swimming and yoga," Mr. Turner said.
"We're getting away from traditional team sports dominated
by three kids in the athletic elite."
A nonprofit group called Yoga Inside, founded three years
ago in Los Angeles, sponsors classes in 31 states, many in
schools in poor urban neighborhoods.
San Francisco's yoga-in-the-schools program was prompted
by the failure of 74 percent of California public school students
to meet state fitness requirements, said Gloria Siech, a physical
education content specialist for the San Francisco public
schools. "We felt elementary school kids were more receptive
and there was a lot of need," she said.
To avoid potential controversy, she said, the program focuses
solely on the physical aspects of yoga. There is no Sanskrit
or mention of Hindu deities.
The Accelerated School in South Central Los Angeles, an acclaimed
public charter school, introduced yoga classes for all students
last year. Kevin Sved, the school's co-founder, said a few
parents declined to have their children participate for religious
reasons. "The tricky part is that some of the teachers want
to connect spiritually," Mr. Sved said. "But this is about
the physical, mental and emotional aspects of yoga."
The San Francisco schools have gone further than most by
training teachers to include yoga as a regular part of the
day — "in the classroom, when they're scrambling," said Sandy
Wong Sanchez, program director for the United States Yoga
At the James Lick Middle School, Adiam Aklilu, 11, had just
come out of "the tree," an elaborate pose in which she placed
the inside of her right foot on her left thigh and then balanced.
"It gets me pumped," she said. "It makes me feel like I did
a lot of work."
At Rosa Parks, there are signs that students are bringing
their yogic karma home. Danny Washington, said his daughter
Ariel, 9, is "a lot calmer now in different situations."
Tea-shall Britton, 9, taught yoga to her mother, Tawanna
Granger, a freelance nurse, and now they do it together in
their living room in Chinatown. "We become partners," said
Ms. Granger, a single mother. "It helps us focus."
When she received a paycheck in the mail the other day that
was less than she expected, her daughter knew what to do.
"Mommy," Tea-shall commanded. "Do your cocoon."
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