Guest blog by Leonie van Iersel
This is a belated blog that I’m so happy to share! Today seemed like the right day as my dear friend and Kula member Leonie is headed off to start a new chapter. I had the privilege of meeting Leonie in person first in Austin while she was traveling and then later in Europe on the Find What Feels Good Roadshow. She was such a reflection of pure light, smarts, vulnerability, and love. I’m forever grateful and honored to share this amazing story of how she shared the powerful tools of yoga with others.
Good luck, L!
And…Let’s keep going. -Adriene
It all started in the spring of 2016 at Luzac Utrecht, a small private high school in the center of the Netherlands where I work as a vice principal. It started small and without any specific intentions. The students were going through their final exams. One girl was so anxious for her physics exam that I offered to do some Yoga With Adriene with her. I knew this girl pretty well. I had had several mentor conversations with her and had advised YWA to her before. We did the video for ‘stress and anxiety’ together and it worked. She was more relaxed and asked if we could do videos more often. When other students heard about these yoga classes they started attending them too. Then, after some hesitation, even co-workers joined these sessions. I bought some yoga mats and used a smartboard to project the YWA videos. In no time I was ‘teaching’ several classes a week. After a while even the younger pupils attended and I found myself teaching a class of 18 students. The classes continued until the summer break.
During summer break, I took off for Nicaragua without any intention for the next school year. In Nicaragua I was able to come to my deepest inner self and I set up some intentions for the future. I found out I have two major passions: my students and yoga. My retreat in Nicaragua was so beautiful and special that I wanted to end this holiday in a fitting way. I called the airline and changed my flight so I could attend Adriene’s class at Practice Yoga Austin. I went to the class with Kula member Lisa who also works as a teacher and we had the best time ever. Adriene was so kind! She recognized me and my story from my earlier posts on FB. She was so enthusiastic about what I was doing at school, that she sparked a little (okay, a huge) light in me and offered to help me.
On my way back to the Netherlands, I made a plan to integrate yoga into our school curriculum. My plan included three target groups:
- Students that are interested in yoga
- Students working towards improving their self-confidence and world perception (yoga+)
On my first day at school, I had a good talk with the principal about my yoga plan. He had noticed the impact yoga had had on both me and our students and he gave me his blessing. I sent my colleagues an email and invited them to a yoga class before the start of our first meeting of the school year. Twelve coworkers showed up. Four were unable to attend, but would have loved to join. We agreed we should do this more often and on a regular basis.
The kick-off to the new school year was just two days after my return to the Netherlands. In my opinion, it is best to start new things right at the beginning of the schoolyear. So there I was, standing in front of a full lecture room, trying to enthuse students for my yoga classes. My plan was small and I had no idea how it would unfold but it worked. In a period of 2 days 30 students applied for yoga classes and I removed the sign up form. I was overwhelmed by the amount of students wanting to attend and I had never thought of the consequences. I scheduled the yoga classes into their schedule, right next to their Dutch and Mathematics e.g. classes. My first yoga class was in the first week of school, on Thursday. A little ill at ease, I used a classroom for the yoga lessons. That meant I had to remove all furniture. It took hours to prepare and then put it all back after the yoga class was finished. I realized this wasn’t working. So plan B unfolded: I needed my own yoga studio. Together with the school’s concierge and a coworker I transformed the basement of the school in a yoga studio, in one single day. I installed a beamer and a screen and since then I have my own yoga studio.
As the school year unfolds, the impact of this yoga project becomes more visible. 45 students are attending now. Every week I teach 2 classes with co-workers in the early morning, before school starts. I teach 4 student classes. Starting next week another class will be added. This one is for the students with deeper goals (yoga +). Yoga is a great tool to serve this target group. For them I will use different videos and I’ll add a small assignment to it, to influence their thinking mind. The following class we’ll evaluate both their week and the assignment, then continue our self-love program.
The students’ reactions to the yoga classes are both heartwarming and amazing. At the end of class I evaluate; I ask what they experienced. In the beginning I was stunned by their reactions. Young adolescents were able to express themselves by sharing how good and happy they felt after practicing yoga. How grateful they are for these classes and how unique it is to have this at a high school. Students are radiant as they leave class and step into the rest of their day with self-confidence and ease. I am still stunned by the effect yoga has. A student who experienced huge pressure from the outside world, learned how to deal with this pressure in a different way through these yoga classes. The breathing exercises helped her cope and she has found more peace and calmness. Other students who were more skeptical towards yoga, used this opportunity to try it out and they too are experiencing the benefits. Yoga works!
It’s so good to integrate a weekly yoga practice into the school system because the students benefit from it in many ways. Yoga creates more balance. I noticed some students have become more aware and calmer, which helps them work more focused and with ease. Furthermore, the group vibe that arises is phenomenal. They connect to each other and to themselves in such a loving and respectful way; it makes the school an even better place to evolve.
I experienced the importance to serve both students and coworkers. The dynamic that unfolds is amazing. They stimulate each other and that has helped yoga become a part of our school culture. I recommend this project to all school leaders, teachers or social workers. I hope many will join me on this journey. I know it’s something new and uncommon. It takes courage and strength to build this. But if I can do it, you can do it too. Yoga is an amazing tool and the journey is so rewarding. Start small and let things unfold. Believe in it and never give up!
For me, this project has changed a lot. Four weeks ago there was nothing, not even a plan. My life is a rollercoaster at the moment. I’m trying to manage my vice principal tasks alongside my yoga project, as best I can. It’s very hard work, but it’s so rewarding. The beginning of the school year is a very busy time, so I hope everything will settle down in a few weeks. I feel strengthened by my coworkers and the Kula. I know they have my back on this insane and amazing journey. I’m really grateful for everything that is happening right now and for all the support I’m getting. Even the students’ parents have my back and stimulate their kids to join me. I have no idea how things will unfold. I never thought this would be such a huge success. Last week, I guided an outside yoga class alongside the canal next to the school. It was a unique experience. The kids ended this practice with a big applause for me….. I love this journey!