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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Meditate your way to success
James Lick school
Pupils at a Californian school lose their boisterousness

Teachers across the UK are searching for ways to tackle classroom discipline. One experiment in California is having significant results.
Typical school rituals like recess and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance are being joined by something that has been dubbed "om schooling" in establishments in California.

But for a growing number of youngsters at state schools in San Francisco, yoga is helping bring inner peace to inner city establishments.

Yoga lesson
Lesson time at Cathedral Hills School for Boys
At Phyllis Camp's physical education class at the city's James Lick School , the noise level as the children line up outside class is deafening. They tumble into the gym a raw bundle of energy.

In normal circumstances it would take a teacher several minutes to calm this lot down. For Phyllis it takes no time at all as she quickly gets them lined up in four rows and under her control.

"I want to start with our butterfly breathing," she tells the group. "Interlace your fingers, tuck them under your chin.

"Breathe in and let your elbows come up and your head tilt back. Breathe out and let your elbows come back down."

The cavernous gym is eerily quiet and the level of concentration from these 10 to 14 year olds during a PE class is unusual. The transformation from boisterousness to calmness is impressive.

Yoga makes me concentrate on all my tests and homework

"I think that is a wonderful thing for 10- to 14 year olds to have a quiet moment," says Mrs Camp.

While critics might decry the practice of yoga in school as too alternative, the United States Yoga Association says there is an increasing body of anecdotal evidence that indicates children are benefiting in a multitude of ways.

The testimony of the children at James Lick seems to underline that claim. Sayra Hernandez says: "I think it's affecting my school work.

"I used to do really bad, now I'm getting good grades and yoga makes me concentrate on all my tests and homework."

Ibrahim Ali says: "I go with Sayra to math class and it helps you a lot. It makes you relax and do good work."

James Lick school
"A wonderful thing... to have a quiet moment"
The yoga in school project was prompted by the failure of about three-quarters of California public school students to meet state fitness requirements.

But in Mrs Camp's class the physical aspects of learning to maintain balance and holding poses like the triangle or the tree pose pushes the children.

Moshun says: "It gives us more strength in our legs and helps us to get stronger and run faster. I do track and it helps my legs." Trey says he enjoys "the tree pose because I like to learn balance".

Star appeal

While yoga has been embraced by the rich and famous from Madonna to Sting, the opportunity to bring it to the inner cities was one that the organisers felt would make the most impact.

Sting and wife Trudie
Sting and his wife Trudie help give yoga star appeal
Sandy Wong Sanchez, who is the programme director for the US Yoga Association, says: "We thought this was the most important part giving it to those children who would not get the opportunity to be exposed to it."

On the other side of the city at the Cathedral School for Boys, third grade private school teacher Craig Strong uses yoga both to improve concentration and as an aid in reinforcing certain subjects.

They find and inner peace but it is not a religion, it is a calmness

Phyllis Camp
"Certain kids learn more from doing and moving. Their kinesthetic approach to learning is stronger than other more traditional approaches."

During the geometry lesson, Mr Strong gets the boys to adopt poses and point out the different angles that their bodies make up.

"OK, Buck is demonstrating the triangle. Can anyone tell me what the angle he is making with his arm in the air and his body bent to one side?" asks Mr Strong.

A slew of hands go up as the boys fight to contain their eagerness to shout out an answer.


Mr Strong says as well as being an aid to learning, yoga has also improved his students' self esteem and confidence.

Cathedral Hills school
Learning to maintain balance
There's no doubt about that, as Buck Gores explains what yoga has done for him. "I'm a smart person. I'm not trying to say I know a lot but I think it helps me relax."

For Max Downie, the physical aspect of yoga is what excites him. "I want to be a sports player when I grow up and a lot of them do yoga to help them with their strength and stuff."

Simply put, Jessie Garrett says: "I just think, wow, yoga is really cool."

While yoga also has a spiritual side to it, that aspect is not taught because of the separation of church and state under the American constitution.

Mrs Camp says: "I think everyone has their own spiritualness to themselves and I am imposing none of that on them.

"As they work with this programme they find and inner peace but it is not a religion, it is a calmness."

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See also:

14 May 02 | Education
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