CEDAR RAPIDS — Teachers, on hands and knees, took a deep belly breath before springing forward — sticking out their tongues, crossing their eyes and letting out loud, raspy exhales.
The pose and technique — known to yogis as “lion’s breath” and said to be an energizing and empowering practice — was one of many practices taught this week to some 30 Eastern Iowa educators interested in bringing yoga and meditation into their schools and classrooms.
The teachers’ instructor, Julie Murphy, led them through a two-day training at a Grant Wood Area Education Agency facility in Cedar Rapids.
The “Yoga for Teachers” course encourages educators to participate as if they are young students, said Murphy, chief visionary officer for the Challenge to Change yoga studio in Dubuque.
“We can’t just tell them what to do; we have to show them ourselves,” Murphy said Thursday morning after a kindergarten teacher asked about how best to convince students to take the practice seriously. “ ... And we say the why: because we can help to train our brains.”
Challenge to Change has trained about 2,000 Iowa teachers since it opened in Dubuque in August 2016, said owner Molly Schreiber. Staff members are planning to teach yoga directly to students in about 30 Iowa schools next school year.
The business also is opening a second location this August in Marion, at Vella Yoga, 871 10th St.
Yoga and meditation give children more control over their movement, breath and bodies, according to Challenge for Change curriculum.
Many Iowa schools already use yoga — an ancient practice that emphasizes controlled breathing — to teach students how to focus, as well as cope with feelings of anger or anxiety.
Johnson STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids began teaching students deep breathing last year as a way to calm down, said Kathy Gilbert, who teaches reading and math to at-risk students and attended this week’s training.
“It’s really an alternative to continuing to lash out in whatever way,” she said. “ ... What I like about this class is it takes it even one step further. We could be teaching that as a form of concentration, or as a form of self-discipline.”
Vicki Freiburger, who works with high-performing elementary students in the Linn-Mar Community School District, said she, too, hopes to provide her students with more self-regulation tools. Many have trouble quieting negative self-talk or struggle with being vulnerable in the classroom.
Learning is an inherently uncomfortable process, yoga instructor Murphy told the class, as learning something new requires leaving your comfort zone.
“I have a lot of anxiety-ridden kids in my room, (worried) about being perfect,” Freiburger said. “They don’t like to step out of their comfort zone because then they might not look so smart.”
The two-day training — which costs between $85 and $150 through area education agencies and counts for college or teacher recertification credit — had teachers take “yoga naps” with small lavender-infused pillows over their eyes, practice positive affirmations and stretch into fundamental poses.
“Tuck your toes, lift the hips, drop the heels, and come into your first Down Dog,” Murphy told the teachers during their first lesson of the day. “This might be your first Down Dog of the day, or the first of your life.”
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As they work to teach students to regulate their bodies and minds, some teachers said they could see yoga and meditation being another valuable skill set for students.
“I see how hard our kids struggle to find outlets for their anger,” Johnson’s Gilbert said. “This makes so much sense to me, and we’re seeing more and more kids coming with more trauma in their past.”
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