As a special education teacher, Lisa Joesten worked every day with students experiencing an inability to focus, anxiety and an excess of unproductive energy. As a certified yoga instructor, Joesten knew how this ancient philosophy of obtaining mindfulness—an awareness of mind and body—helps people relax and focus.
“Before this school year began, I’d worked with adults, teaching yoga and I’d been practicing yoga since my younger child, who is now 10, was first born,” said Joesten, who works at Yost Elementary School in Porter. “It’s funny sometimes how things make sense. I’m a yoga teacher and a special education teacher, and it just kind of clicked. It just felt right.”
What felt right was taking her yoga to school. After talking to her supervisor, Joesten started working with the special needs kids in her school, teaching them the basics of yoga including breathing exercises, gentle body movements and simple poses like The Tree and Down Dog which help them learn balance and to become aware of mind, body and breath. Joesten noted that kids particularly love balance poses such as The Tree. Down Dog is popular too because she encourages them to bark while doing so.
“Yoga gives them strategies to focus,” said Joesten. “Yoga in general can bring a focus and calm, so if the kids are in class and feeling anxious, say about a test, breathing and yoga postures help them get everything flowing. I have some kids who are very active and it helps calm them and refocus all that energy.”
Now, because of the positive impact of providing these strategies to students, Joesten, who said that changes in behavior has been significant, is being tapped to teach other school professionals how to implement a mindfulness/yoga program in Region schools.
“It’s a way for children to slow down,” said Anita Bedouin who has taught yoga classes for children at the Valparaiso YWCA. “It shows them how to be quiet, be still and teaches them how to breathe to calm themselves.”
Bedouin taught two age groups, kids from 3 to 6 and 6 to 10. With the younger children she worked with them on breathing and relaxation poses, pairing those with making animals sounds like barking and meowing.
“It was fun for them,” she said. “A lot of yoga is about holding a pose for a long time. With mine you flow from pose to pose, to relax. It’s really amazing how it helps the kids, I could see a big difference between when the classes first started and at the end.”
Bedouin also has worked in a hospital setting with juveniles who have gotten in trouble.
“It was mostly boys and many of them would be very hyper at the beginning and at the end you could really see how it helped,” she said.
Not only is yoga considered one of the fastest-growing sports in America, more kids are becoming practitioners. The Yoga Room and Bookshop in Crown Point offers both weekly yoga classes for kids ages 4 to 12 but also summer and winter yoga camps.
“It’s a about growing fit physically, emotionally and mentally,” said Mike Zolfo, owner and director of The Yoga Room which this year celebrated its 20th anniversary. “Kids love it.”
Zolfo said the classes, which are taught by Jennifer Connelly, a certified yoga instructor, are designed to increase concentration, attention and focus. The kids acquire the necessary tools for managing stress and help build flexibility. He said the breathing exercises also help kids who have asthma. Parents can either join in the class or kids can attend class on their own.
Yoga isn’t a religion said Joesten. Instead it’s considered a philosophy practiced for health and relaxation with roots going back some 5,000 years. In Sanskrit, the word yoga means union—an integration of mind and body.
“Yoga gives kids a sense of well being,” said Bedouin noting that as many boys as girls attend the classes. “That’s why they like it.”