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Community school uses yoga’s calming influence

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Tannner Oates has fun while elaxing on his back with his 2nd grade classmates at the Aspen Community School during Yoga instruction Wednesday afternoon in Woody Creek. Daniel Bayer photo.
Daniel Bayer © 2003 | Daniel Bayer © 2003

The glass doors swing wide, and the Aspen Community School’s second-grade class surges into the gymnasium.

These antsy 7-year-olds have just one class before the end of the school day, and they’re ready to get it over with. But their demeanor changes slightly with the sounding of a small bell. They are momentarily silent – a miracle, it seems, for a group with this much energy.

“Let’s focus, everyone,” whispers Julie Goldstein, ringing the bell a second time for emphasis.

It’s time for Yoga Ed., the once controversial program recently accepted – with open arms, faculty members note – at the Aspen Community School.

Nearly every student and teacher participates in the new program, Goldstein says. They gather each Wednesday at the ACS gym for abbreviated classes – 30 minutes for younger students, 45 minutes for upperclassmen and faculty. Though the program began just last month, teachers have begun to notice a slight change in their classes.

The second-grade class, for instance, seems to follow directions more efficiently. During yesterday’s yoga session, the children were asked to walk – “Calmly and quietly,” Goldstein cautioned – to the opposite side of the gym. When this directive was followed by the sounds of a stampede, the class was asked to return to their original positions and try again – this time, with success.

Children learn a variety of yoga positions in each class – and, after a recent overhaul of the Yoga Ed. curriculum, these positions do not use Sanskrit-based names, Goldstein notes. Instead, students are encouraged to “keep your back flat, like a table top,” to “look up, like a dog,” or “arch your back, like a Halloween cat.” Lion, cobra, mountain, rock, tree – each name is familiar to Goldstein’s classes, and simple to reproduce.

Meanwhile, Goldstein wanders among the mats and helps the kids perfect each pose.

“I don’t know many rocks that talk or wriggle around,” she warns one boy.

“Do mountains spin around, or are they strong and stable?” she asks another.

“Let’s be a forest that doesn’t say a word. The best tree you can be is strong and tall,” she tells two giggling girls.

Another small chime from Goldstein’s bell silences the class. After a few more relaxing breaths and poses, Goldstein is able to quiz the children on their lesson.

“What does the word yoga mean? It means that everything is …” Goldstein begins.

“Balanced!” the children chorus.

“And that everything is …”

“Connected!” the children answer, after a few hints from their instructor.

The second class is dismissed, a handful of children grab their shoes and race each other into the afternoon sunshine. However, the rest of the class dawdles slightly before leaving the gym, calmly rolling their yoga mats while chatting with friends and teachers.

One dawdler, 7-year-old Gigi Mottier, seems quieter than she was just half an hour before.

“Good,” Mottier says, when asked how she feels. With a shrug, she adds “I’m calm.”

Her teacher, Missy Prudden, also sees a slight change in her students.

“It did calm them a little bit,” she reports. “It really is working – Julie’s doing a really good job with them.”

Prudden predicts that the change will be even more noticeable over the next few weeks as her students become accustomed to the class.

“I think it’s going to be beneficial,” she said.

Aspen Community School Principal Jim Gilchrist hasn’t seen an immediate change, either. Still, he hopes Yoga Ed. will eventually help his charges handle their daily stresses.

“For a lot of these kids, they really need an opportunity to be calm,” Gilchrist said, listing the many elements – class work, homework, commutes to and from school – that burden children. “This is a time for them to really be quiet, and be in touch with their body.”

These classes also offer an advantage for teachers. Wrangling an antsy group of second graders isn’t as difficult as it once was, Gilchrist said.

“If you tell kids to sit down and calm down, that doesn’t work,” he said. “This is a process that really works.”

[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]


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