With Donna Harrington integrating yoga into our gym curriculum, a wide variety of IACS students are now finding themselves in downward facing dog positions they never expected to be in.
Last year yoga was offered as an elective. Senior Nicholas Kaffine found himself in a class with a 1:4 ratio of boys to girls. Yoga is an activity primarily dominated by fit white women. This means that many large IACS demographics don’t find much appeal in the practise. “I see the girls maybe more into it or more excited about it,” Junior Jane Nealey said when asked about gender disparities in gym yoga classes.
Despite its popularity primarily among young women, yoga has benefits for everyone. It teaches you to be more conscious of your body, tuning into your physical awareness, while simultaneously pushing yourself to the limit.
“I daresay most people would be surprised (I was) that I can get a full class of teens to just lay there and not giggle or whisper and just relax,” said yoga/gym teacher Donna Harrington.
The real benefits of yoga seem to be primarily mental for teenagers. Yoga has been proven to lead to better test scores including things like IQ tests. “It’s like giving your brain a chance to take a breath… Yoga is good for stress, and therefore, good for teens. If there are teens who are not stressed out, I have yet to meet them,” said Mrs. Harrington, who sympathizes deeply with the her students and hopes that yoga can help to combat the painful aspects of teenage lives.
Stress is a mindset which most high school students become more than familiar with in the four years that teenagers spend overwhelmed with academics, extracurriculars, and developing social skills. Anything which can give students a chance to relax can feel like a blessing. “It felt nice after yoga class, not only was it a load off of my normal homework load, and not working during a period in school. I don’t know what it was but I felt less stressed that semester,” remarked Kaffine, on the mental impact of his yoga and outdoor education semester. Ms. Harrington, for her part, likened allowing children a chance to meditate and decompress to “giving someone a glass of water who has just crossed a desert.”
Yoga is rising in popularity as its physical and psychological values are being recognized. In a study done on Complementary Health Approaches by the US Department of Health and Human Services, it was found that 21 million adults and 1.7 million children in America use yoga. These statistics are much higher than they were as recently as 2007, when only 6.1 % of adults used yoga. Throughout the country yoga is growing more widely practised. IACS is not the first school to offer a class in it.
The yoga elective class was three 80 minute blocks every week and while it was not limited to yoga, in winter it was difficult to go outside. This meant that the students signed up for this class were doing very intensive yoga and meditation very regularly. Kaffine took the yoga class in his Junior year and said, “Those were the fun classes where we did a variety of things.”
For her part, Nealy said, “For gym it [yoga] makes sense but in our specific gym class we do yoga a lot. Gym class should be varied.” The general consensus seems to be that yoga is best spaced out between other kinds of physical activity.
If you have Ms. Harrington for a gym teacher than you may find that your time is well balanced between yoga and other physical activities. The yoga is more effective and less overwhelming in the new gym set than it was in the elective because it is not so concentrated. In the ideal world, of course, yoga at IACS would be very different. Ms. Harrington currently maneuvers a little cart piled high with mats, blankets, and straps to her classrooms. In a perfect situation though, she says that she would love to have her own little yoga studio at IACS. It would be a place where students would feel that they could relax the minute that they entered. But of course IACS does what it can with the budget it has.
Yoga at IACS is still a work in progress. Ms. Harrington is consistently trying to find ways to improve on her current systems. Part of this means that she is working hard to make her yogic curriculum inclusive to all students. “I try to design classes that nourish, keep it fun and light. I’m taking a seminar in a few weeks in something called Broga – yoga for men.” Perhaps with the implementation of Broga at IACS even the students not originally drawn to yoga will see some appeal. It would seem that we should all expect to find ourselves in warrior poses sometime soon.