By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Can teaching Yoga in schools improve compassion? Over the last several decades, the incidence of violence in schools has risen dramatically. Sadly, this violence is often perpetuated by students towards other students and teachers. Violent acts often begin with violent thoughts, beliefs and pent up anger and hostility. As these toxic and negative thoughts simmer under the surface, a student may sink into such a place of darkness that a violent act may seem to be the only way he or she can experience a sense of relief and satiate an incessant drive to exact revenge for the perceived injustices she or he may have suffered at the hands of other students or teachers.
Fostering a sense of compassion and empathy while teaching Yoga in schools will help to bring awareness to the underlying sense of disrespect and mistreatment that a student may feel has been unfairly directed his or her way by other students and/or teachers. The rage over mistreatment often has its roots in a student’s family of origin, so it is a hard “bud to nip.” However, the physical postures and breathing exercises of Yoga will help to release painful emotions and dissipate some of the negative emotional charge surrounding those hurtful experiences.
Reminding your Yoga students to be gentle and compassionate with themselves, as they practice Yoga postures and pranayama exercises, will help them to relax into the practice and accept their own strengths and limitations with a balanced perspective. As they begin to generate a sense of compassion for themselves, it will become easier for them to feel compassion for their fellow students. Fostering compassion for oneself and others will begin to substantially chip away at violent thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions.
As part of teaching Yoga in schools, you may also want provide a ten minute period of time for the students to talk about the school environment and incidences of bullying that may be occurring, either at the beginning of class or the end of class. Encouraging communication about bullying may be difficult at first, but as students begin to feel comfortable they should begin to feel your class is a sanctuary.
In this way, you will be providing your Yoga students with a platform to discuss emotionally violent incidences before these untoward events turn physically violent. Listening to the other students speak about their own experiences will also help facilitate awareness, understanding and compassion among the group of students in your Yoga class. Over time, this understanding and compassion will begin to radiate outward from your students to touch other students in the school and will begin to foster compassion in the school community at large.
Side Notes for Yoga Teachers
When teaching Yoga in schools, you are not limited to one method. You can teach flows, holding poses, pranayama, relaxation, meditation, laughter Yoga and more. Your class can start with Shavasana, end with it, or both! This creates an atmosphere where students can build new relationships and your classes don’t have to be the “same old thing.” Your class theme can be about compassion, mindfulness, or a peak pose. The unexpected is great for young people who want to get a taste of something new. As you know, there is much for students to discover about themselves and Yoga provides many tools. The most important part is to keep your classes interesting, because physical, mental, and emotional health improvement is a gradual process. We can’t change the world in one class, but we sure can make a big difference. Keep your class style casual and comfortable. The final result will be a positive experience for all.
© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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