There we were, five of us, early on a Saturday morning in a large, chilly room ready to participate in a workshop on Yoga and Writing. The workshop was offered by an organization I’ve been affiliated with for several decades. I’ve always really enjoyed and benefited the opportunities it offers teachers on Long Island to come together to improve/hone their writing skills. The mission of the organization is to promote writing amongst teachers who will then share their skills and their passion for writing with their students.
Sadly, over the past five or so years, attendance at these workshops,usually held on Saturday mornings, has been slowly dwindling. The directors of the organization have tried everything they can think of to stimulate interest, but the numbers keep going down. Since the arrival of the Common Core Standards, most teachers have shifted their attention and their time away from such enriching experiences and turned them toward the data collecting, testing-driven enterprise that we still call education. There’s no energy left at the week’s end for Saturday morning camaraderie or enrichment. Or so it seems.
But here we were anyway…five intrepid souls plus a yoga teacher,
coming together despite all the obstacles. The yoga teacher explained that she would not be leading us in the “American yoga” style of teaching which usually involves assuming a variety of yoga positions throughout the session. Instead, she said, she would be drawing from her personal experience as a native of India who has been immersed in the philosophy and practice of a more ancient tradition of yoga. Her intention during this session was to help us “open” ourselves to a more relaxed experience of writing.
She then led us through an amazing series of prompts beginning with the visualizing of a beautiful waterfall before which we were told to stand and breathe, mindful of our natural breathing. Next we were instructed to “bathe” ourselves in the water emanating from this waterfall to cleanse ourselves and eleminate the toxins in our life. We were instructed about the seven places in our bodies most susceptible to energy blockages and to use the same rushing, gushing pure waters of the waterfall to flush away any obstacles or blockages in those seven places. We ended the session with several additional prompts that helped us to further focus on our breathing and how to coordinate it with movements of various parts of our body to achieve a deeper sense of relaxation.
The goal: To demonstrate how each of us has the power to gain control of our emotions, particularly when stressed, and to shift our focus toward a strength and stability in ourselves developed over time through these practices.
When the session ended, we unanimously agreed that it had been an amazing experience to share and of utmost importance to learn that we could turn to our inner strength and calm in times of stress.We never did get to the “writing part” of the workshop, but instead spent a good hour or so after the yoga session talking about how to salvage the program from its creeping demise.
Having this experience reminded me of how important the mind/body connection is and how we undervalue that connection in American culture and education. I mentioned how wonderful it would be for teachers to be able to engage in this kind of activity at least once a week, to enable them to deal with the increased stress in their work lives.
I went on to say how amazing it would be to engage in these practices with our students; how we have gotten farther and farther away from allowing children to experience physical and mental release from stress by reducing physical education time in the curriculum and playtime in general. Older students could benefit as well; they live in a pressure cooker every day called high school. Imagine how different their day would be if they were allowed a half hour of time in which to meditate, practice yoga, or just rest in a quiet, calm space.
What’s yoga got to do with education? Everything, it seems.