the new ABCs

learning awareness, balance, compassion & clarity in the classroom

model by charlotte oh,

The fusion of mindfulness practices and conventional schools is not so simply achieved. It’s a point I’ve been keenly aware of since I tried to lead some Hatha Yoga workshops in two schools last month. I went as a guest facilitator to an after-school girls’ program in a rough part of town. It seemed like a good fit – a group of eleven- to thirteen-year-olds who had been learning all year to think deeply, stand up for themselves and get along non-violently. Teaching them to relax and listen to their bodies should have been a snap, but it wasn’t.

I was confronted by the chaotic atmosphere of the schools. If you haven’t been in a public school lately, let me tell you! It is an incredible world. That many ’tweens and teenagers in one place makes for a lot of sound, movement, needs and desires. It was difficult to calm the kids down and try out some practices, especially since I had misgivings about being yet another adult telling them what to do.

Teaching children is not the same as teaching adults, not on the surface, anyway. I didn’t know what their religious backgrounds or beliefs were, and I couldn’t assume their consent as when I lead a class of adults who choose to come to yoga class. I instinctively used clearer phrases and less explicitly “spiritual” ideas to convey the practices.

Near the end of one workshop, the girls had gotten rambunctious again but I wanted to give them a chance to try Savasana, the “end relaxation.” We sat down, I told them about it, and then I let them choose. They decided that keeping quiet for ten minutes was worth the promise of relaxation. Watching them lying down, concentrating, the fists uncurling into open hands, and, even more poignant, the fists and shoulders that couldn’t let go, I was reminded why I was there. Classrooms are not the simplest places to introduce awareness practices, but they are perhaps among the most essential. It is so worth the effort.

Juniper Glass loves to get into a subject and write about it. She lives in Montréal where she works for Filles d’Action, an organization that engages girls in learning about themselves and their world. She teaches Hatha Yoga and is a student of the marvelous and illuminating Kundalini system. Her articles have been published in ascent, Utne, and Inspired Lives (ascent’s best-of collection). Reach her at

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