Whole Life Magazine

October/November 2013

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Page 8 of 43

city of angels ONE CALM BREATH By Christine Van Zandt What kids can learn from yoga N Photos: Josh Wood obody but a zealot would want religion in public schools, but yoga? As practiced in mainstream America, yoga is no more a religion than football is (although an argument could be made about the ritual of the Super Bowl). A few uneasy parents in San Diego County disagreed, bringing a lawsuit against their district that asserted teaching yoga to elementary school children amounts to unconstitutional religious indoctrination. Ultimately the judge rejected the lawsuit, saying breath and physical activity have always been part of physical education. San Diego administrators had accepted a grant to teach yoga in hopes it would help students stay calm and focused on their studies, and possibly allay bullying. Here in Los Angeles, yoga teacher Kelly Wood has quietly served innercity public elementary schools for more than 11 years with similar goals, via 20-minute interactive classes that focus on the breath. Funded by donations from the community and run by volunteers, Wood's nonprofit, Smiling Calm Hearts Open Our Learning (SCHOOL), works with more than 900 students each week at no cost to the school system. Wood's classes range from kindergarten through 4th grade, in crowded rooms with many different developmental levels. In a typical class, initially the children are rowdy, but they settle down quickly and participate eagerly, seeming to embrace a moment of peace that hopefully will stay with them throughout the day. Wood chooses asanas designed to ignite whole brain functioning, to help children become more open to learning; a composed and coherent state has been found to improve academic success and enhance emotional/social skills. Her easy dialogue engages the children both physically and verbally, and it's clear to see they are having fun. As in the recent dust-up in San Diego, Wood fields questions from concerned parents about yoga's religious elements. However, her classes are tailored to ensure that the children benefit from yoga with no spiritual component. The ideas she shares are secular and universal, such as, "Our hearts are calm today;" "Our bodies are healthy;" and "We help each other." It's difficult to see a down side to teaching children to pause before reacting, understand what they're feeling, have a gentle attitude and generously help others. We're never too young (or old) to learn it all begins with one calm breath. —www.school-yoga.org october /november 2013 9

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