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Yoga and the Classroom

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:

  1. Coworkers
  2. Students that are interested in yoga
  3. 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!

32 comments on “Yoga and the Classroom”

  1. Hi I am new to yoga and found your videos on YouTube and have been following them for the past month and a half. I would love to be able to do a crow pose and a four arm stand what are some things I could add daily to my practice to lead up to those

  2. This is am awesome story!

    My main reason for doing yoga was to find peace. I found that and much more, thanks to Adreian and her generosity of sharing yoga with us all.

    1. Sorry for the wrong spelling, darn phone likes to spell the way IT like to spell
      Adriene that's how it's spelled! Gotcha this time phone!

  3. I find this story so deeply inspiring. I am a sixth form teacher in the UK (students aged 16-19) and I know how powerful a tool yoga could be to this age group with all of the pressures that they face. I have found a suitable teacher training course and have had some ideas for classes with young people - I even had a dream recently where I was leading a class with children, which gave me some new ideas. The one thing missing from all of this is courage. I do not believe that enough people would be interested. I do not feel 'qualified' to lead such a project, even with the prospect of completing teacher training beforehand. I admire what you have done and wish you every continued success, and I hope I can draw strength and courage from your example. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Clare - I am sure that you can pull it off. Just try it. It only takes one person to join you and then another and then another. Take a leap of faith 🙂

  4. this is wonderful! I too am a teacher, I teach primary. I have encorporated yoga in my curriculum since I started teaching. Yoga makes ME feel good, so why wouldn't it make my little ones feel good, too? The power of breathe is something i talk about and use in my classroom. We learn to play and connect with our breathe and understand that when we move our Prana we can send messages to our brain, to soothe, calm, energise or focus ourselves. It rules! and- its fun! yoga is play!
    thank you for sharing this blog. I think I too will blog about my yoga teaching to my kids... kids and yoga rule!

  5. The school my little guy attends uses the concepts of yoga, such as deep breathing and stretching, to calm and energize little bodies whenever the teacher senses the need. As a yogi, I am very pleased and excited about that.

    This yoga project is so, so special. May it spread like wildfire!

  6. This is such an amazing inspiration to instill and grow healthy lifestyle habits within the classroom. I've been reading and learning many articles lately around the concept of movement (and lack thereof) in classrooms today. As a teacher, I have introduced yoga concepts with my students on a very small scale, but have wanted to expand this to a broader application. Do you have any suggestions on how to successfully present similar ideas to administrators? I'm also curious if there are any yoga instructor certifications that would be recommended when leading yoga classes in classrooms/schools?
    Thank you again for the post!

  7. Wow!! This is so inspiring. Thank you so much Leonie and Adriene. If someone would have shown me a YWA as a child or at school, it would have changed my world. Thank you Adriene for the life changing work that you do 🙂

  8. Thank you for your blog. With all you are doing it must have been difficult to take the time to write this blog. I appreciate that you shared your experience with us. Congratulations to you for the difference you are making in the lives of so many people. Your story is beautiful and inspiring.

  9. I am a high school teacher and I try and live my practice and lead by example.Early in January one of my students mentioned that she was doing this "online" yoga thing. I said " yoga revolution?". We shared the journey together and it enhanced my own experience. I have had my students meet me at the local yoga studio for public classes and encouraged them to try meditation and yoga at home.

    Sowing the seeds of yoga....

  10. Adriene! I work for a summer camp with kids living below the poverty line. I take them on hikes in the Rocky Mountains (Alberta) and would love if you could make a video for me to teach them! Maybe focusing on listening to yourself and not being on the ground too much?
    This would be super great!!! Yogi love

  11. I simply starting yoga a few days ago and I love it..and I’ve lot off issue in my back, and I’m happy now!

  12. Adrienne - I teach in a middle school in rural northern Vermont! I have been incorporating yoga into our daily math warm ups for several months now. Though I get push back from some students, it is so wonderful for those who engage!

    I found your Yoga At Your Desk video, and the students lOVE it! The quiet, the music, the is such a lovely class warm up. THank YOU!!

    Wondering if we could have a little more of that vibe, <10 minutes of getting your yoga on with music instead of words....particularly for students (who don't want to get on the floor). I love the balance and awareness it brings to the classroom.

  13. Hi Adrienne,
    I have been watching your videos and growing my yoga practice thanks to you at home. Yoga has helped me through so much in my life and I find myself promoting yoga to everyone I know. I am a middle school teacher and thought about starting a yoga club at my school. Middle school is such a hard time, socially, emotionally, and academically for the students. I think so many students would benefit from a weekly yoga option at school. While I was thinking about this, I thought about you and your videos. You are so kind, funny, educational, and encouraging. Do you have specific videos that are geared towards young adolescents? Please let me know!

    Thank you!

  14. Leonie,

    Thank you for your inspiring story. I almost forgot how real our magic is. When we're passionate and determined, anything is possible. I'm a new mom of a 16 month old and I had lost some of my fire to bring movement to adolescents, I've lost some of me but your story is a reminder to keep dreaming big, planning and asking for what it is I want.

    Love and Light to you on your journey


  15. Leonie! What an amazing journey you are on This is so refreshing to learn of your story and what you are bringing to life for everyone involved. O the ripples, waves and tsunamis of LOVE that you are creating on this planet I am so grateful to be aware of the works you are doing. And Adriene is such an amazing blessing on this planet So much LOVE for both of you and everyone involved

  16. Thanks for sharing the story of your inspiring journey. I can see in the comments that it resonated with a lot of people who are pursuing or considering similar projects. The passion is contagious. What a gift to givers and receivers alike. Viva Con Pazion!

  17. I used your videos to teach a yoga club for elementary school students including one who has limited use of her arms and legs leaving her in a motorized wheelchair and 7 second grade rambunctious boys. The kids loved when Benji would make an appearance so we had our pet turtle join as well. I would love to send you the pictures and videos of this. The student who is in the wheelchair mentioned it to her doctor and they said yoga is a fabulous type of therapy that she can be successful at.

  18. I love this idea. I am a special needs high school teacher in North Carolina. We are very lucky to have a yoga instructor volunteer his time once a week. I follow Yoga with Adriane and practice at home every day. I love your idea of using her videos to hold classes for teachers and regular ed students. You have inspired me to bring this to my school. Any pointers or advice would be greatly appreciated

  19. Beautiful & inspiring!
    It's amazing to bring awareness to the young ones,

    Thank you for sharing!

  20. I LOVE THIS STORY! I am and educator and so is my husband. We live with 3 teens and a preteen and between school and home we are noting that kids are feeling stress and anxiety more and more yet they lack the skills to cope with it. I hope to see more of this in the future and I hope that some day I have the courage to start something similar. I am new to yoga and started to combat my own anxiety....IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE. My goal for now is to get my own teens started on the journey. But I think wholisticly we need to be teaching stress and anxiety coping skills in school along with self-image affirmation. Yoga touches all of that. If we can reach kids before they get to that anxiety trigger and teach them to listen to their bodies and be mindful it would change their adult lives with so much positive affect. Thank you for caring about kids!

  21. Both my kids go to yoga classes with me. And they are finding different things there but they are both growing their strength, confidence, sense of achievement. It is wonderful to sea this bunch of preschoolers chamt OHM together and than teaching parents about relaxation.

    Keep it going Leonie.

  22. Thankyou for sharing your insights. I work in a bilingual kita with 3-6 year olds and have slowly introduced breathing, relaxation and a few poses into my morning circle. I am convinced now to take this a step further and invest in a kiddies Yoga training programme...your blog consolidated this am so grateful.

    Best wishes to you,


  23. I am 58. Mrs Atkins a high school science teacher host some yoga classes during our last year in high school. It is because of her I have gravitated in/ out of yoga over the years. Never underestimate the power of good intention.Shout out to all yoga teachers

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