I am fortunate enough to work in a school with girls who are switched on to learning. What does this mean in practice? Well, they turn up ready to engage in whatever I prepare, there isn’t any challenging behaviour, I teach every minute of my lesson the content of my subject, nothing else. Of course, along the way they learn about turn taking, team building, self-confidence, self-expression. Sounds like heaven for some teachers, hell for others.
The issues I see in my classroom is the weight of expectation and results. They pile the pressure on themselves, their parents emphasise how important it is to do well, the school has a long history of academic success. Society says unless you go to the best universities, achieve the best grades you just won’t go anywhere. My students are all to aware of life after school. Sometimes I catch myself having conversations with 14 year olds who know what university they want to go to, what career they want. I look back and think how much I simply daydreamed about Summer holidays and which book to read next. It makes me sad for a lost childhood. These are society savvy kids who already seem to be on our little hamster wheel of a rat race. And this makes me so sad. I grieve for the loss of their genuine childhood.
To make up for it in a very small way I ensure our PE department offers key stage four and five yoga and mindfulness. We are one of the lucky few who can afford to offer a yoga instructor, well trained and empathetic to their needs. She floats in to the dance studio an image of calmness and togetherness and if I’m honest the girls are in awe. They want to take away a little bit of that peacefulness of spirit. They crave it. And if I’m honest so do I. Every Tuesday I sit amongst my year 11 students as she asks what would they like the focus to be and every week they beg for Shavasana and breathing and quietness.
They playfully giggle and explore the sun salutations and poses, some are braver than others and will try anything upside down. Their personalities beam out as some remain cautious and stick with what they know their body can do and others explore their limits. That is the wonderful thing about yoga, it is all ok. Whatever you feel is right for you, is right for you. This is a gentle form of exercise, there is no judgements. Of course, there is wonderment as our yoga teacher demonstrates the extension of these poses that we fumble our way through. But they all get it, they all feel in a safe place. How many girls feel that physical activity and sport is a safe area? How many cringe at the feelings of judgements, how many are mortified as they compete as individuals or teams and shy away from the whole experience? As a teacher, a physical practitioner, I never get that vibe in the yoga class. I feel an energy that comes from the girls that says ‘it’s ok to just be me’. I wish there were more opportunities for those kind of feelings in Physical Education and Sport at all ages.
And then the magic begins. We finish our physical part and we begin to explore the mind. We lie down, palms to the skies, eyes closed, we breath as a collective, as an individual and for a few moments we just allow ourselves to be in the moment. For me I think about a blue sky, and every thought passes over like a cloud and I let it pass. They are mostly thoughts of what I need to do next in my day. But I allow myself to just empty my mind momentarily.Amazingly, so do the girls. I see as we roll up our mats, that they need that space. For a moment to be nothing, do nothing, think nothing. No pressure, no exams, no essays, no judgements, no worrying. They all chitter, chatter about how hard they find it. Some don’t find it hard at all and are so relaxed the fall asleep. The hardest part for them is spending a few moments meditating, not snoring and dribbling. But that’s ok too.
I know there is science behind, I know that it has positive effects. I know there is research to back up my thoughts. Every Tuesday and Wednesday I see it happening before my very eyes. I see a class leaving sleepy, chilled out, renewed, energised, ready to take on the challenges of the day. Wouldn’t it be nice if the government had a broader view of physical education. Wouldn’t it be great if sometimes we looked at it with an alternative perspective. Maybe then it wouldn’t be a case of women finding physical activity in their 30’s because they were so scarred by their experience in their teens. If state schools had a little bit more money to spend on broadening the curriculum then maybe every student could find the something that switches them on. Yoga seems to be the switch to physical activity for almost a third of my year groups. Of course, I still have the third who play on the teams, who participate competitively. But what about that other two thirds? Let’s get every single person moving, it’s easy for us to target those who are super engaged and competitive and super sporty. What if actually we need to find something that can make every single female ‘sporty’ and not in that jolly hockeysticks kinda way?
Back to my class. The class is packed out, the girls jump to choose it. They love the asanas and the mindfulness in equal measure. I wish every school could afford the luxury of an experienced, mindful yoga teacher that could give every child an opportunity to have a few moments to just be.Wouldn’t that be nice? I am so very lucky that I get to sneak into these classes and get my Om on for a few precious moments every week! What was your nemesis at school? Did you get switched off? What could have helped you find your thing? What physical activity makes you tick?
Article courtesy of the runawayeducationalist