Schools reach for yoga to calm and collect students
The San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, February 25, 2002
San Francisco -- At a school in the heart of a San Francisco housing project, children and teachers take time from math and reading to breathe and balance.
On a recent day, the sounds coming from a third-floor classroom were as soft as the rain outside. Children inhaled through their noses and exhaled through their mouths. They balanced on one leg, concentrating on poses. When they finished, they lay on the classroom floor. Still and quiet.
Slowly opening his eyes, Rosa Parks Elementary fourth-grader Benny Huang said, " I feel really grumpy in the morning. Yoga makes me feel ungrumpy. "
While yoga has earned a reputation in recent years as the exercise of the hip and affluent, pro bono yogis are bringing inner peace to inner-city schools.
As researchers study whether yoga leads to improved learning, the prevalence of school-site yoga has led to the coining of the term " Om Schooling. "
Teachers say the exercises work wonders in calming antic kids and helping them to focus -- especially before tests.
Anastasia Crocker, who teaches at Rosa Parks in the Western Addition housing development, has been amazed by the amount of stress her students bring to school.
" When I see they're anxious, stressed and fidgeting, which is most of the time, I'll have them do certain poses and -- like magic -- they calm down, " Crocker said.
Craig Strong, a yoga instructor and a private-school teacher, says he has observed how yoga builds students' self-esteem.
" Yoga is similar to other sports in that it takes determination and will, " Strong said. " It's different in that you compete with yourself. When kids see themselves improving, their self-esteem improves. "
Phyllis Camp, who teaches physical education at James Lick Middle School in Noe Valley, starts every class with balance and concentration exercises. She also offers yoga programs to teachers and parents.
" Yoga allows kids to get to that other side, the side that kids in junior high school don't get to, which is to be calm and to find inner controls, " Camp said. " It's better to show them how to do that. "
In San Francisco, that inner peace is sought in more than a half-dozen elementary, middle and high schools. The hatha program used in these schools was created in 1997 by respected yoga teacher Tony Sanchez, who founded the nonprofit United States Yoga Association and runs the San Francisco Yoga Studio.
The kid-geared yoga program fits perfectly into the California Department of Education's goals for physical education programs. State education code requires that all public school students have at least 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days.
An ideal program, says state schools chief Delaine Eastin, emphasizes " the whole child -- physically, mentally and socially. "
Gloria Siech, who oversees physical education programs in San Francisco Unified, says she wishes every school had access to yoga. In the city, the programs are funded through grants and offered to schools for free.
" Yoga teaches kids how to control their bodies, which is really difficult at a young age, " Siech said. " A lot of teachers use it after recess to calm kids, or before tests to focus them. "
Several times a day, San Francisco students and teachers take quick breaks to practice yoga and breathing. The exercises are done in auditoriums, classrooms or outdoors if weather permits.
Sanchez's program, called ABC Yoga, combines mind and matter. Children learn 20 poses ranging from the " crescent, " a side stretch with arm overhead, to the " tree, " a more challenging pose balancing on one leg.
Teachers incorporate yoga into lessons on physics, anatomy and geometry. While careful not to discuss yoga's religious aspects, teachers do explore the history of yoga and its exercises.
Within ABC Yoga is a program called Yogasthma: Seven Steps to Asthma Control. Designed to teach children how to control their asthma, it includes yoga breathing and stretching exercises and a series of workshops done in partnership with St. Luke's Hospital.
" Yoga allows kids to become more aware of themselves, of their posture, and to grow into healthier adults, " said Sanchez, who runs the program with his wife, Sandy Wong-Sanchez.
" Kids also develop the ability to concentrate, to relax at will and to overcome stress. Yoga is based on alignment, weight distribution and self- awareness. "
In San Francisco, the yoga program is offered as a unit, or part of a semester, or as a yearlong physical education curriculum.
Schools offering yoga include George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks and John Muir elementary schools, Ben Franklin and James Lick middle schools and Galileo High School.
The district hopes to expand the program to Sherman Elementary, Claire Lilienthal Elementary and Marina Middle School.
At Rosa Parks, kids and teachers have incorporated yoga into their daily routine. The program, begun at the school in 1999, is supported by a grant from the San Francisco Education Fund.
Nearly all of the school's 300 children come from low-income families and qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Yoga was not something the kids had been exposed to, teachers say.
Before introducing the program to the kids, participating teachers take a series of workshops led by Sanchez and his staff. Once kids get the hang of it,
teachers turn the class over to student leaders.
Nine-year-old David Go takes the job of classroom yoga instructor seriously.
At his direction, the class of budding yogis moved quickly and efficiently through every pose.
Afterward Go said yoga " makes you calm down when you're mad or angry or nervous for a test. "
Student Paul Madrillejos spoke of another benefit. " Like in the morning, when you're sleepy and stuff and you can't focus, you do yoga, and you can focus. "
E-mail Julian Guthrie at email@example.com.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle Page B - 1