YOUNGSTOWN Seminars explore bringing yoga to schools

The exercises can help to stimulate or calm pupils, advocates say.
YOUNGSTOWN -- You're the teacher.
It's 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and your 25 third-graders rush off the school bus and into the classroom, fired up and energetic after a long weekend.
They're running around, laughing and generally goofing off.
What do you do to get their attention?
You could yell and scream until they quiet down.
You could threaten some sort of punishment.
You could start the day with recess and let them run off their energy on the playground.
Or, you could have them do the "down dog," "the tree" or "the lotus."
"All too often the teaching environment degenerates into yelling at students -- 'Be quiet! Pay attention! Do your work!'" said Karres Cvetkovich of Youngstown, a yoga instructor. "That's where I think yoga exercises can be used effectively."
Cvetkovich is among a small group of local yoga enthusiasts starting an effort to get teachers and school districts to integrate yoga exercises and techniques into their daily classroom activities.
The theory is that yoga techniques can help children of all ages manage stress, keep focused and ultimately make them more receptive to learning.
As part of the effort, Dr. Micheline Flak of Paris, France, the founder of Research in Yoga Education, will conduct seminars from 1 to 5:30 p.m. today and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday in the Medical Education Building at Forum Health Northside.
The seminars are designed for teachers, parents and others interested in learning more about using yoga in the classroom. The cost is $50 to attend the Sunday seminar only and $60 to attend both.
"It's amazing how effective these methods are," Cvetkovich said. "To take just a few minutes out of your day to do a yoga technique, it just sort of harmonizes the atmosphere and rebalances the energy in the classroom."
During her visit to Northeast Ohio, Flak also has conducted workshops at the Atma Center in suburban Cleveland.
"We're hoping by bringing her here to plant a seed, to pique people's interest, and that the people who come to the workshop learn something that they find useful, talk to other teachers and begin to use it in the classroom," said Martha Loughside, an instructor at the Atma Center.
Flak said she first began introducing relaxation techniques in the classroom when she was an English teacher in Paris in the early 1970s. She later founded RYE, and now yoga is used in classrooms throughout Europe and in parts of South America, she said.
In Israel, yoga is part of the country's teacher training programs, Flak said. In Italy, the minister of education has recommended the use of yoga in all classrooms, she said.
Yet it is rare in the United States.
Loughside and Cvetkovich said that, outside of a handful of Montessori schools, yoga isn't used in classrooms in Northeast Ohio. Flak will speak to teachers and staff at the Montessori School of Mahoning Valley in Youngstown on Tuesday.
Resistance in U.S.
Ayesha Venkatrao-Holcomb is president of the Satyananda Yoga Center in Austin, Texas, and has helped produce a computer software program to teach yoga techniques to children.
She said many teachers and school officials support using yoga in their schools, but there's one big barrier.
"A lot of people react to yoga in a very narrow perspective and think about it as a religion or brainwashing and things like that," she said.
"We need to educate parents more about what yoga is, that yoga is more like a science and shouldn't be confused with religion."
Yoga, which comes from India and dates back more than 5,000 years, promotes mental and physical health and well-being through exercises, physical postures, breathing and meditation.
Cvetkovich, who invited Flak to Youngstown after meeting her in India last year, said 18 million people in the United States practice yoga.
"It's huge, and the reason is that it works," she said.
And it can work in the nation's classrooms, too, she said.
"Teachers are always in the position of trying to modulate the energy of the group," she said. "Sometimes the group is lethargic. Sometimes the group is a little too stimulated or restless or distracted.
"These yoga methods are ways in a very short period of time that you can either calm kids down or stimulate things or bring back focus."
Worth a look?
Dr. C. Jay Hertzog, dean of Slippery Rock University's education college, said he has never heard of using yoga in school classrooms, and he cautioned against concluding that yoga is the magic solution to classroom management.
But he also said the concept is interesting and may be worth exploring as another tool that teachers can use to help their pupils focus.
"But you have to gather some data on it first to see how it works," he said.

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