Application of Yoga in the Classroom
Jacques de Coulon, Switzerland
Experience shows us that many children are handicapped by a dissipation
of their physical and mental energies due to the stress of our modern
world. This situation has disastrous repercussions on their personal equilibrium
as well as on their school work and particularly on their learning capacity.
And what does our educational system do about this? Not very much. Modern
education is essentially based on the accumulation of knowledge, and it
can be criticised on two points:
- It does not concern itself enough with the child himself, and the
harmonious development and balance of his personality. We find many
tensions in the child, underlying conflicts between his emotions and
the demands of his mind. For example: John is supposed to be concentrating
on a problem in mathematics, but, at the same time the emotionally charged
images of the football game flood his field of consciousness. So there
ensues a struggle between this image and the attention required to solve
the maths problem.
- Our educational system does not base itself enough on the inner
conditions necessary for learning in the child; it does not talk much
of the qualities which allow a child to learn well and quickly: concentration,
attention, etc. Twentieth century education resorts to a whole series
of purely external palliatives.
The majority of learning problems are not related to any lack of intelligence
but, rather, to the fact that the child is not capable of working efficiently
because he has not been taught how to concentrate. This is very important,
because, if learning difficulties are due to a lack of harmony and self-control
in the child, and not to a congenital lack of intelligence, it is possible
to remedy this state of affairs. We must give the child the tools which
will allow him to become balanced and to manifest fully the wealth which
lies inside him.
The remedy is adaptation of exercises from the yogic tradition which
are suitable for the child. By yoga we mean all the techniques which allow
the individual to join with his innermost centre and to yoke together
the different aspects of his personality. Yoga is independent of any particular
system of belief. It is a very practical method aimed at knowing ourselves
and harmonising all the different layers of our entire being.
Mandala: a cosmogram, a psychogram
One way to create this harmony is through the use of mandala, the centre
of which corresponds to the atman or the soul. From mandala comes the
central idea of our work. The mandala is an absolutely universal symbol.
It consists of a centre from which emanate symmetrical parts like the
spokes of a wheel.
The mandala is, first of all, a cosmogram, representing the infinitely
small, the atomic structure of electrons, as well as the infinitely big,
the planets revolving around the sun. The intermediary world also often
expresses itself in the configuration of a mandala, as in a butterfly,
a flower, or a man who has a central axis, the spinal column, with limbs
symmetrically placed on either side.
The mandala is also a psychogram. It represents the victory of harmony
over chaos. We have noticed that the simple act of concentrating on the
centre of a symmetrical design such as a mandala will very quickly induce
a relaxed state of calmness and concentration.
Basic approach to the work
Our major effort has been to adapt an ancient tradition to the child
of the twentieth century. We have based our work on the following criteria:
- The motivation of the child: the yoga exercises are attention-holding.
In choosing them we let ourselves be guided by the child and from this
comes an efficient training, which corresponds to the likes and aptitude
of the child.
- Holistic approach: the training is a synthesis; all the levels of
the personality are harmonised simultaneously.
- Structuring: we have experimented for a long time before being in
a position to structure these exercises in progressive stages.
- Location and material: these exercises do not need sophisticated
materials or a special locale.
Outline of exercises proposed for the classroom
- Work on the body:
- a) The body in space
- becoming aware of the centre of gravity
- balancing exercises; to develop the balance of the body is also
to balance the psyche - stretching, opening the body in the six directions:
high/low, left/right, front/back.
- b) Becoming aware of the central axis and making it more flexible-
the vertebral column.
- c) Exercises of body immobility in a correct position.
- Work on the breath (in relation with the emotions):
- a) Learning complete breathing, making use of simple movements (growing
tree, windmill, flying swan).
b) Work on the breathing rhythm which can be used to obtain certain
states (dynamism or calm, for example).
c) Use of sounds (Om) chanted on expiration.
- Work on the senses, notably turning the senses inward, centring
exercises for the senses of hearing or vision.
- Work on the mental level:
- a) Receptive concentration (development of memory power)
- concentration on a symmetrical design -concentration on different
colours in order to evoke the complementary colours
- listening exercises.
- b) Expressive concentration (development of will and imagination);
above all, to learn the technique of visualising mental images which,
accompanied by a positive attitude, produce a desired state of calmness
and concentration. The mind can become a very powerful instrument
if we learn how to use it.
- Simple relaxation exercises. Many exercises of this sort are well
known and should be adapted for children.
Application of the practices
Many of the practices can serve as a transition to work which require
sustained attention for example, stimulating the faculty of concentration
via the medium of vision, trataka.
- Stare at a little white dot in the centre of a geometrical design for
about thirty seconds. Think only about your gaze which must not waver.
- Suddenly shift your gaze to a small black dot placed to the right.
You should see the exact replica of the design at the left, only the
colours will be reversed, i.e. what is black on the left will become
white on the right. N.B. This exercise is more effective if it is practised
with coloured designs. After gazing, one sees the mandala appear in
the complementary colours, red becomes green, etc. The eyelids can be
closed lightly after the concentration and the design will be seen inside.
- Other exercises can be used to calm an agitated mind, and they also
allow the repetition of an auto-suggestive phase in a conducive state.
For example, rhythmic breathing combined with eye movements.
- Close your eyes lightly and repeat silently to yourself a positive
sentence, such as 'I am becoming more and more calm', or 'I will solve
this problem perfectly'. Or you can visualise yourself glowing with
happiness at the idea of finding the solution.
More exercises can be integrated directly into the school program, for
example, the mandala form can be applied as well in mathematics as in
learning a language. For example, find all the ideas associated with a
Effects of the exercises
Having practised these exercises for many years, we have noticed a very
swift sharpening of concentration and of the capacity for attention; a
diminution of body agitation as well as a deep sense of calm in the body.
All this translates into a very clear improvement in academic results.
But above these utilitarian results, we should also consider the general
effect of well being on the personality of the child. When the child learns
to exercise a certain degree of control over his inner states by simple
and natural means, he can marshal his energies himself. He will be able
to bypass drugs and to find in himself the source of inspiration.