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March 31, 2010 > Glenmoor students practice yoga and kindness

Glenmoor students practice yoga and kindness

By Alyson Whitaker

Put 40 second graders in a room together and you'd expect a whole lot of wiggles, chatter, and commotion. But, each Friday at 8:40 a.m. the two second-grade classes at Glenmoor spend 40 minutes in near silence and stillness. No, they're not taking a spelling test or learning a tough new math concept - they're practicing yoga!

At the beginning of the 2009/2010 school year, a notice went out to all parents of students in grades K-3 at Glenmoor Elementary in Fremont announcing that budget cuts had eliminated PE from the primary grade curriculum. A request was made for volunteers to step in and fill the void - anyone with sports or exercise experience, or just a desire to help the kids move their bodies for better health.

When Claudia Zuanich read the note, she knew that she could help. As a yoga and Pilates instructor, she has worked with hundreds of people, helping them to learn and benefit from the calming thoughtfulness of yoga. As a mom of three active young children, she also knows the importance of teaching children these skills early on.

Two mornings a week, Claudia is now a volunteer yoga instructor at Glenmoor. She began teaching her daughter Nikita's second grade class, and has since increased to include multiple classes and sessions in grades one - three, as well as her older daughter Alexa's fifth/sixth combo class.

When the students step inside the Yoga Zone (aka, the cafeteria, auditorium, gymnasium, and multi-purpose room), they quietly and respectfully remove their shoes and socks and take a seat on a mat. They're instructed to "practice kindness" by sitting next to someone who will help them make good choices. In other words, choose your seat carefully so you won't be distracted by a noisy neighbor! Sitting in Lotus position, otherwise known as "criss-cross-applesauce," they wait for their session to begin.

Claudia means business, and the kids know it. She treats the students just as she would paying clientele, acting in a professional manner through the entire session. As a group, they begin each session by reciting their Yoga Oath: "I promise to use my brain for good thoughts, my mouth for good words, and my heart for good actions. I promise to try my best."

A guided meditation helps the students learn focus and control over their thoughts and actions. Sometimes, they close their eyes, make a bowl shape with their hands, and imagine filling it with their favorite color. Other weeks, they fill their bowl with kindness and happy thoughts, and smiles begin to appear on their faces as their bowls are filled.

They are guided through basic yoga poses including "downward facing dog," "child's pose," and "reverse warrior," and most know immediately what form to take. They must use their muscles and focus to hold the pose, which can be a challenge for a wiggly eight-year old. Claudia walks around the room, checking to make sure there are no "noodle arms." In between poses, or when something is especially challenging, the students are encouraged to again find their happy thoughts.

Just as reading, writing, arithmetic, and athletics require a great deal of practice and repetition to master, yoga requires consistent practice and persistence. Learning to master the mind and body isn't learned overnight.

In addition to being a physical outlet for students, the benefits have carried over into the classroom as well. A simple reminder to "practice kindness" is all it takes for the students to calm down and take the steps to make good choices. Learning self-control of both mind and body is an emphasis of yoga, as well an important life skill. The teachers participate right along with the students, and have seen the benefit of this added weekly exercise to the regular curriculum.

With government funding to education at an all time low, parents across the board are stepping in to fill voids left by budget cuts. The skills, knowledge, and expertise of parents are helping to bridge the gap and ensure that students continue to benefit from a well-rounded education.

When Claudia volunteered to teach the students, she was thinking primarily of the benefit it would have for them. Unexpectedly, she has experienced a personal benefit as well. As she watches the students leave her class each week, they walk a little taller, smile a little broader, and carry with them a sense of peace. She sees them treating each other and their surroundings with more kindness and more respect. And that is what yoga is really all about.

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