Early Lessons: Teaching Yoga and Life Skills - Class at Lake Elementary School, Richmond

By Prachi Murarka

Every Friday afternoon, 20-30 elementary school children prepare themselves to take a yoga class. When the teacher enters the cafeteria, the first cohort of students runs up to her smiling. "Can I help set up the classroom today?" "Ms. Danielle, Ms. Danielle, can I help too?" These 7-10 year-olds are enthusiastic about spending their Friday afternoons in a Niroga yoga class. Latino, African-American, and Asian students take the class to pass Hanuman, the stuffed monkey, around to talk about their feelings, share their favorite foods, dance, breathe, and play games centered around the yoga.

As class begins, the students warm-up with the rules in yoga poses:

- Raise your hands if you have a question
- Respect your body through self-embrace
- Respect your space through trunk twists
- Hands to heart with non-violence

At an early age, these students are learning life skills that will enable them to adopt nonviolent behaviors and build self-esteem and resilience.

Yoga and life intertwine: During class, one of the students asks to count in her language as we held a pose. A smiling, spunky Thai girl beams as she starts, but a Latino boy next to her starts laughing. In the middle of counting, tears roll down her cheek and another student points out that she is crying.

Danielle asks the boy, "Why are you laughing?" He doesn't know. Then she says with compassionate firmness, "It would be nice if, at least, you could say you're sorry?" He apologizes, and the girl switches mats. Danielle reiterates to the group, "Thai is such a beautiful language." The children are then quieted by focusing on the next pose, and calmed by practicing a simple breathing exercise.

This little class can be a space for mistakes to be met with compassion. Differences can be met with the beauty they actually hold, instead of resistance and laughter.

A classroom in an elementary school reflects the culture outside the room, where there is ethnic conflict and resulting trauma that comes from bullying or ostracizing people that are different. Yet, when that social reality presents itself within the yoga class, it can be met quietly and simply with the practice of yoga, healing wounds and promoting peace. The techniques the children learn to calm and control their bodies and minds, can be used throughout the rest of their lives.