Of all the bodily organs the brain is the one which, in proportion to its volume, requires the maximum ratio of oxygen. This need is felt all the more when one is engaged in intellectual work as are the children at school. Learning French, English, maths, history, biology or any other subject requires the brain to be in top condition. Yet, you may see how little is done to maintain and promote its fitness. Think of all the material which students must imbibe, understand, memorize and give back in the form of papers, essays, tests and recitation. Yoga will help children to learn more efficiently with less effort.
Children spend most of their time at school in a sitting position with backs bent; they hardly get any exercise. The following practices give them a chance to stir their bodies and circulate energies. The back, neck and chest muscles are stretched which is exactly what is needed. Deep breathing supplies fresh oxygen to the brain, which clears the mind and makes school work considerably easier. It is good to open the windows for at least two or three minutes every hour or class period. If possible the children should perform the asanas while some fresh air is circulating through the room.
School teachers are recommended to experiment with these yogic techniques on themselves and then start applying them in their classes as they are really effective.
Now we are going to act in such a way that this tense body will awaken and move spontaneously through slow breathing.
To start, imagine you are a lump of clay. Crouch on the floor and feel yourself as a motionless piece of earth. Become aware of your breath. Then start to stir slowly, but pay attention! Every time you breathe in, you must raise a muscle: finger, head, eyelid, foot, back, anything you wish to raise. While breathing out, slowly lower a part of your body. Remember to close your eyes and bring your attention to the breath. This is essential. When you breathe in, make some part of your body go up. When you breathe out, any part may come down in its own way. It is as if the lump of clay, your body, is becoming alive as you breathe through it.
Anybody doing this just for a few minutes will feel calm and peace resulting from the practice. The children's faces show it with the sight of all these 'lumps of clay' each moving in its own rhythm is very impressive. This exercise may be practiced at any time the beginning or the middle of a lesson, depending on the atmosphere and mood. With children aged 10 or 11, the up and down movements may be difficult to follow. At this early stage it is enough to let them stir their body as they feel, whether they breathe in and out. Smaller children might not be able to get an awareness of the respiration. The teacher must find this out for himself.
Any exercise in breath awareness is particularly effective creating a period of silence.
Be silent and stand erect with feet together, hands at the sides. While breathing in slowly raise the arms above the head. Stretch the arms and fingers well. Slowly lower them while breathing out Raise the arms together again while breathing in deeply. They interlace the fingers above the head, palms uppermost towards the ceiling, and look at them. Stretch the waist, then unlock the fingers and stretch again. Slowly lower the arms while breathing out.
Stand erect with feet together, hands at the sides. Inhale and raise the arms straight up with the fingers pointing forward. Exhale while bending the body at the spinal base so that it forms a right angle. Look forward but keep the spine straight. Breathe normally in the right angle position. Then while inhaling slowly return to the erect position.
Stand erect with feet apart. While breathing in, raise the right arm and point the left toes in a diagonal line. While breathing out slowly, come back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side and then relax.
Stand erect with feet apart. Raise the arms and place both fists behind the neck with the elbows pointing sideways. While breathing in, turn the upper part of the body slightly to the right. Then breathe out and bend forward bringing the head to the right knee. Gently swing the head and upper trunk from the right knee to the left. Imagine you are a pendulum on a grandfather's clock. Now stop swinging and return to the erect position while breathing in. The same process is repeated turning the torso to the left.
Stand with feet apart. Gently drop the head and let the arms fall limp. Slowly bend the upper part of the body forward like a puppet with loose strings. Let your hair fall down and feel that your cheeks, tongue and lips are totally relaxed. Then start swinging from left to right. Slowly come up.
Surya namaskara, salutation to the sun, is very beneficial for children at school. In this dynamic exercise the sun, giver of life, symbol of universal energy, is greeted in a series of postures which balance the endocrine system and result in total relaxation. (See APMB, a BSY publication).
Eye exercises, hand clenching, wrist bending and wrist rotation can be effectively combined with slow breathing to relax the strained eyeballs and hand muscles. (See APMB)
When children come back to the classroom after lunch time they shouldn't do any asanas, as this would be contrary to the process of digestion. It is better to introduce asanas when their stomachs are empty, either at mid-morning or during the afternoon.
Relaxation is more effective when it is preceded by asanas but it can also be practiced separately i.e. after lunch when asanas are not possible. After asanas the children are asked to come back to their chairs and quietly sit down.
Sit comfortably and place your head in your arms as a bird puts its head under its wings before going to sleep. You are not going to sleep though. You are feeling good after the physical exercises. Let the table, chair and ground hold your body. Feel your self becoming very limp and heavy, pause. You are just as soft as a teddy bear. You have nothing to do, and you are feeling so comfortable that you don't wish to move any part of your body now. Feel how still you are. Feel how heavily your tongue is resting in your mouth. Your lips are touching each other, but your jaws are slightly apart.
You are very comfortable and you have plenty of time. Become aware of being as motionless as a statue, a breathing statue, pause Now count twelve breaths, starting from twelve back to zero. pause Take your time; there is no hurry, pause When you have finished, just feel that you are breathing quietly, pause. Now take a sentence from your last lesson and mentally repeat it over and over again. Then you may slowly move a finger, your toes in your shoes, your back. Slowly raise your head but don't open your eyes yet. Put your palms on your closed eyes, pause Take your hands off now and slowly open your eyes. You may raise your hand say aloud the sentence you have been repeating mentally during relaxation time.
Children are overworked mentally and many lack sleep. This weariness is often expressed through over-excitement which creates an atmosphere of dissipation in the class. For those pupils who do not get enough sleep, this relaxation time is a real boon. Relaxation is appreciated fully by the children even though having a complete rest while remaining awake is a new concept for them and requires some cooperation and effort on their part.
The instructor must assure the children they have plenty of time in these privileged minutes. Isn't it precious and highly beneficial to feel that eternity is at hand for a while? This is a rare sensation sadly missing in the hurried hectic life we are leading from morning to evening. There's no clock, no timetable, no chores for the child during relaxation. He may even dream a little. This is real welfare at school and brings us to the deeper meaning to it.