From Rifle Range to Yoga Space
"You can be educated in soul, vision and feeling, as well as in mind."
- Marcus Garvey
That is the guiding mantra of Tara Asciutto. She has been a teacher at Oakland High for the past 17 years. As a world history teacher and instructor of trauma-informed yoga, she understands the real life stressors and trauma that many youth in our community face, from navigating the everyday stressors of high school life, to the economic and educational disparities, racism and discrimination, institutional and community violence, to intergenerational trauma and loss.
In 2010 Asciutto learned how chronic stress and trauma impact the teenage brain and learning. She immediately shared the research with her students and began facilitating mindfulness: 10 minutes at the beginning of each history class she taught.
Ms. Asciutto saw a transformative shift in her students, classroom environment, and herself:
"It's not uncommon for educators to experience symptoms of compassion fatigue or secondary trauma. Although I maintained a steady yoga practice in my personal life, it was facilitating mindfulness five times a day that fostered a new calm in my day. I could catch my breath, and I began to cultivate a more sustainable practice of self care, vital for the demands of being an educator."
After a couple of months she conducted a survey with each class… the results were overwhelmingly positive, but she wanted to do more.
Because yoga integrates physical movement with breathing exercises and mental focus practice, it increases activation in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and helps enhance those aspects of children's mental functioning that are central to cognitive development. This increases self-awareness and self-regulation: the ability to identify needs, manage emotions, develop more self control and gain a deeper awareness of how thoughts, emotions and behaviors are connected.
With support from the principal, she was able to transform a space on campus - the JROTC rifle range - into a healing yoga space, creating a paradigm shift throughout the school, from militaristic training to healing.
Contemplative practices have since been adopted by every teacher within the Public Health Academy of Oakland High.
Here is how the practice has impacted one student:
"Intergenerational trauma has always made me worry about my next steps, because I'm always thinking about what might happen if I don't succeed. But mindfulness allows me to sit in silence to funnel my thoughts through breathing and this process lets my body know that I'm going to be okay."
- Malena Rim
From Rifle Range to Sanctuary