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  • Writer's pictureRachel Terlop

Youths Can Yoga

In the summer of 2017, I took the full summer off to rejuvenate from the school year. I spent the summer buzzing between stained glass window-making class, painting class, coffee shops, and Trinity (to teach one class). Although I was doing all of these things, I did not truly feel rejuvenated, I still felt.. the dreaded teaching word... burnt out.

Upon scrolling through social media, I came across an add for a company called Breathe for Change, a 200-hour yoga training program designed specifically for teachers. After reading that description, I hurriedly started filling out the inquiry form. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, for me, came with a lot of guilt. I was interested in Breathe for Change because the description of the program explained that not only is yoga integration in the classroom beneficial for students, but also for teacher personal well-being. The promise of teacher well-being was too much to ignore, because my being needed to be well.

Within two hours, I am on the phone with the CEO of the company, and she is telling me about her journey as a teacher, and how she felt shame and guilt for being burnt out by the strenuous world of teaching. Just hearing someone else hear me, and share understanding in my job frustrations was incredibly validating. She continued by sharing how Breathe for Change was born, and how her PhD thesis on the integration of yoga into the classroom has developed into this expanding professional development program. How yoga in the classroom not only supports children's self-regulation skills, but also the teachers in the process. By the end of the phone call I was in tears; excited about the potential of helping my students with self-regulatory skills, nervous about learning yoga (something I had only done a handful of time), and filled with self-doubt on whether or not I could even complete the program. Somehow I was accepted to the Breathe for Change program and began preparing by buying my first yoga mat, and some grippy socks.

What followed was four months of hard work, self-reflection, tears, stretching, and growth. . Breathe for Change consisted of 16, 10-hour day long professional development sessions. 8 weekends, with 20 hours of yoga, seemed daunting when first looking at the schedule. However, by some cosmic gift, I was placed into a mentorship group with some of the most beautiful humans I have ever met. Our little group, The Truth Tribe, was the support I needed to help me not only learn the physical postures of yoga but also work through the limiting beliefs I held about myself. I am forever grateful for the experience, and could spend hours writing about my mentors and friends made in the program, but I will save that for another day.

During the four months of the Breathe for Change program, I learned more than the physical postures of yoga. I learned about my communication style, and how others are affected by it. I learned that I hold myself back at times because of fear. I learned that I struggle to clear my mind. I also learned that I associate my success to my ability to be creative. I also learned that all of these things affect how I show up every single day in my classroom. ...and that if I am holding back, not feeling successful, and communicating in a different way than my students, it all impacts the success of my classroom.

Everything I learned at Breathe for Change, I brought back into my classroom. We identified our communication styles as a class, practiced breathing techniques, and started doing mindful movements during brain breaks. But the most exciting thing of all was having my parents contact me about their kiddos doing yoga at home, and how they have noticed a difference in self-regulation skills. From there stemmed the idea for Mother/Son yoga.

I reached out to the mom's who contacted me and invited them to start meeting on Wednesday afternoons for an hour of yoga. We have had three weeks of successful practice; learning and practicing different postures, taking some deep breaths, and working on clearing our minds for just a few minutes.

Being able to teach yoga has given me a different teaching outlet; it just feels different and untainted by anyone's standards, restrictions, guidelines, or data collection. It also has given me the opportunity to connect with parents, and my students in a new way. Yoga is such a nurturing, open, and freeing experience, and I am happy that I can provide my students and their families some time to just focus on themselves, and their breath.

I am honored to center myself, right alongside them.

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