In our school we are using short yoga exercises before the lessons in an attempt to regain tranquility and increase the faculties of concentration and attention of pupils. Obviously such exercises are bound to surprise parents who, accustomed to the norms of compartmentalised education, are not familiar with the idea of an English teacher giving instructions in breathing exercises as a preamble to the lesson. Also surprising is the group apprenticeship in relaxation. Some may be skeptical aft regards the effort made by a teacher specializing in one subject to systematically develop a faculty which is useful in all subjects - namely the ability to concentrate.
Everyone has heard of psychosomatics, the fast progressing medical science which works on the close interdependence of the psyche and the physical. Yoga, to some extent, could be defined as preventive psychosomatics. Actually these age old methods inherited from the East give a very real resonance to the old Latin adage 'a healthy mind in a healthy body'. Yoga once again gives it a sense, a character and an effectiveness because the very basis of the yoga system lies in a dialectic which unites body and spirit. For example, it establishes a close link between breathing rhythms and states of consciousness. An excited person does not have the same breath rate as a calm person. By regulating the breath we can effect mental and in turn physical relaxation which act in a beneficial way on the student. This is only one example of the numerous ways we can apply this respected science which has been tested by time. Yoga can easily be integrated into the program made by the National Education to introduce a more pliant and vital form of relationship between the physical and intellectual disciplines, and to encourage a greater harmony between pupils, teachers and parents. Introducing yoga into the school curriculum has a positive effect on the entire atmosphere of the school environment. In doing so we are reminded especially of the 'art of living', the art of living happily at school.
Well-being at school certainly implies a great program. Is it Utopia to speak about such a subject? Perhaps not, when you see the increasing number of teachers who care to have happy children, happy youths in their classes, and when you see the enthusiasm they display while teaching quite a number of yogic techniques.
It might seem purposeless to speak of the need for relaxation at school, when a lot of teachers and professors complain that school children and students are over-relaxed. Here is what a Paris teacher was writing not long ago:
"There have been considerable changes since 1968. We have passed from the excitement of the sixties to the frustration of the seventies. It is true that we still hear some vociferous minorities, but they are on the decrease. What we have to face is not so much aggressiveness as utter indifference." So the question I am asking is, 'Can we still offer relaxation to such pupils who seem to have found the secret of it too well already?"
In fact this is an apparent paradox. The over-relaxed attitude with the accompanying attitude 'Fed up with it all' feeling is due partly to the rhythm of work that the young people have been subjected to from elementary school on.
There have been a number of studies written on the subject of fatigue at school. In the preface to a book devoted to that subject in 1976 Professor Dene, a famous children's specialist wrote:
"It is high time to originate a vigorous movement among parents and teachers in order to put forward the concern of the child. Up to now, the child has been somewhat rubbed out, sacrificed as it were to the rage of professional claims and to adult selfishness."
That children are overworked is a fact well known by teachers and parents. This is particularly apparent by the end of each class period, morning session, school day, school term, school year. We can recognize it in the form of either weariness or over-excitement. We have to analyse this scientifically and it is significant that recently two new departments have been created in the Institute of Pedagogical Research. The first one is termed Psycho-sociology of Education and the second Biomedical Research as Applied to Education. I feel convinced that the study of biological rhythms must be pursued, for it is now a well ascertained point that the non-respect of such rhythms is the main cause of fatigue at school.
There remains a lot to do undoubtedly, but I feel convinced that the 'vigorous movement' advocated by Professor Dehe is being fostered right now by the kind of yogic experiment we are having here. There are many encouraging signs. Our experiments are a proof of it, and I think this movement is destined to grow with time.
Yogis have stressed the importance of correct breathing for thousands of years, and now medical science is coming to the same conclusion. Doctors keep saying that anxiety, tension, heart trouble, liver and bowel diseases, and a host of other health problems can arise from incorrect breathing.
The ability to breathe correctly ought to come naturally. However, the majority of children do not know how to use their lungs completely. Incomplete breathing causes spasms in the area of the rib cage, the famous 'knot' in the pit of the stomach, which consequently induces reactions in the circulation, digestion and psychic system (distress, aggression). There is no doubt that children should be trained from early age in the art of correct respiration, for their very health and balance depend on this primary function. They may gain considerable energy or they may lose it in similar proportion according to how they use their lungs. Fatigue is akin to de-vitalization, and both can easily be avoided by breathing correctly.
By combining abdominal and chest breathing, it is possible to inhale the optimum amount of air into the lungs and also to expel the optimum amount of waste air during exhalation. This type of respiration, called complete breathing or yogic breathing, can be taught to children and practiced regularly before class to get them accustomed to breathing correctly.
Place the right hand on the abdomen and the left hand on the chest. Inhale by first expanding the abdomen (feeling the right hand rise) and then the chest (feeling the left hand rise) until the maximum amount of air has been drawn into the lungs.
Then exhale by first relaxing the chest (feeling the left hand fall) and then the abdomen (feeling the right hand fall) so that the maximum amount of air is expelled from the lungs.
The whole movement should be smooth and slow from abdomen to chest and from chest to abdomen.
The period of childhood and adolescence requires excellent medicines, the best of all being air, water, light and nourishment. It is of utmost importance to get the children to breathe well, to establish a good rib cage and a supple, solid vertebral column, and to strengthen their abdominal muscles so they can achieve puberty under the correct conditions.
We must, of course, give physical education its due. But from the practical point of view we often find insufficient or poorly equipped facilities, a lack of funds, and most important, a disrespect displayed by many families for subjects which are unproductive in terms of examinations. Often in the minds of parents, attempts to improve the physical, emotional and mental well being of students are seen as being in conflict with studies. But it is important to remember that all the efforts aimed at toning the child's organism, far from retarding his progress at school, greatly improve it. We must achieve a balanced physical education, rather than producing Olympic athletes who, once past their peak, find themselves in tatters. Yoga, with its formative rather than competitive outlook, has a lot to offer. It is a complete system of development on the physical, intellectual and spiritual planes, a remarkable system of education which naturally adapts to all stages of life.