An Educator’s Experience Practicing Yoga Every Day for a Week
Yoga is an ancient physical, spiritual, and mental practice that originated in India. The yoga practice involves breathing exercises, physical movements and postures, and mental training. The word “yoga” originates from “yuj” which in Sanskrit means “to unite” or “join”. For thousands of years, through various interpretations and styles, the goal of yoga is to form a union between the triad of spirit, mind, and body; to achieve liberation from suffering. In today’s modern age, yoga is used for a wide variety of purposes, such as building strength and stamina, developing flexibility, improving coordination and balance, and relaxation. Due to its therapeutic nature, it is often used to promote mindfulness, and research demonstrates its effectiveness against chronic pain, mental illnesses, diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, and conditions like diabetes.
I vividly remember my first brief encounter with yoga. At the time, I was still an undergraduate chemistry student, not yet enrolled in teacher’s college. Between my third and fourth year, I worked in an electrochemistry lab full time. I became very close to all the summer students, visiting students, and graduate students in the lab. At the start of the summer, one of the graduate students had just earned her yoga instructor certificate and hosted “yoga in the park.” Even though I was very unfamiliar with yoga, I attended to support her. The feeling of calmness and relaxation in my mind and body was nothing like I have felt before. With every pose, I felt years of stress release from my body. After it was complete, it felt like my mind had been renewed. I was curious about every new noise, sensitive to the small patterns around me. I was rediscovering life. My interest was piqued, but with my busy life and lack of experience, I never pursued this notion further.
Recently, as a student teacher learning how to best run my future classroom, I realized the importance of movement in the class. As a high school science teacher, movement had never been at the forefront of my lesson planning. Through research, my relationship with the Embodied Learnings team, and my most recent experience in an elementary school classroom, I have really begun to believe in and see the value of bringing movement into the class. However, to really understand and experience the benefits, I made it a mission to practice yoga every single day for an entire working week to see what I could learn about myself as an educator. No time and place seemed more perfect than my sunny backyard or cozy bedroom during our social distancing stay at home. It was time to roll out the mat gathering dust in my storage room!
Naturally, I did not know where to begin or how to properly guide myself through this new yoga journey. I also wanted to ensure that I would not move in any way that would cause injury. I turned my trust over to the world wide web to use various yoga videos. This inadvertently taught me my first lesson about accessibility. Yoga was accessible right from home and there were so many options to choose from, from beginner to advanced. As an educator, knowing that I did not need to rely on school resources to bring movement into my classroom really made me think “why would I not include it?”
The second lesson I learned was about distraction, business, and noise (both virtual and in person). My big family was always moving and doing something in the house, my phone was buzzing, and I was always moving about from one task to the next. I had never realized how much control my devices and distractions had over my life until I actively and consciously spent 30 minutes a day without them. It made me wonder how my future students, who will come to depend on technology more, will learn to just focus and be in the present moment. Being okay and accepting of stillness and quiet was difficult at first but near the end it helped improve my focus, transform my mood, and increase my productivity.
On the very third day, I chose a yoga video that addresses vulnerability. As an educator, one of my main goals is to make my classroom an open, inviting, inclusive, and non-judgemental space for all. That is easier said than done. Even I, personally, have trouble opening and being vulnerable around my peers. However, I did not know how a yoga video could change that. This is when I learned my third lesson regarding the importance of language. How we frame our lessons, how we invite students into an activity, and how we talk to our students can really make a profound impact on the classroom environment, just as the instructor in my video had a profound impact on my vulnerability.
Lastly, one of the most important lessons I learned from practicing yoga every single day is that prioritizing mindfulness is not a waste of time. As teachers, we often get caught up trying to deliver curriculum before we run out of time. However, I learned that making the conscious decision to take care of my own mental and physical well being did not take away from my other daily tasks. If anything, I looked forward to a moment of calm without distraction. I learned the value of taking a break when I needed it, rather than forcing myself to continue onwards. Incorporating conscious mindfulness in the classroom will help my students the same way and will help model the importance of prioritizing their own mental well being. Mindfulness through yoga is a journey that allows us to just stop, breathe, and be in the present moment.
At the start of my journey, I really did not have any expectations. I dived in open-minded and eager to learn. By the end of this journey, I learned so many valuable lessons that I will carry into my future classroom. I learned the value of accessibility, language, and mindfulness. Yoga offers so many other lessons and I am sure each individual benefits from it differently from the next. One thing that really shocked me at the end, after all my realizations, is the lack of movement in secondary school classrooms. I recall back to my previous placements in secondary schools with students sitting at their desks learning from worksheets and textbooks. As I begin my teaching practice, I hope to change that, even if I am teaching upper year science classes. Most of all, what I did not expect was to grow such a love of yoga and love for the benefits it had on my life. In my personal life, I hope to continue practicing yoga and continue learning more about the importance of movement in the class.
Guest Author: Maryam Mohammad recently graduated from the Bachelor of Education Program at Western University. Previously, she received a Bachelor's degree in Chemistry and Biology from Western. Currently, Maryam lives in New Brunswick where she's working towards becoming a Vision Teacher (teacher for students with visual impairments). In her free time she is an avid photographer, her favourite subjects being nature and portraiture. Maryam loves hiking and running on nature trails all over the country. Her favourite hike thus far was up a mountain in Alberta where she got to see the Lake in the Clouds (Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, and Lake Agnes) and drink from a mountain top tea house. She also loves badminton, drawing, writing, and cooking with friends.