RYE in the Classroom

Michael Lawlor, RYE UK

A report of a seminar given by Micheline Flak (Yogabhakti) exploring ways to introduce RYE techniques into UK schools. the seminar was held in London in October, 1990.

The focus was on the development of creativity in the classroom and the seminar fell naturally under the headings of the first six limbs of Patanjali's Raja Yoga.

  1. Yamas - relating to others - learning together
    We began by holding bands in a circle; we breathed in unison, symbolising our unity and stretched backwards, arms above our heads symbolising the opening of the petals of a lotus flower. Then we walked around a large room to music. When the music stopped we found a partner whom we interviewed. After a further walk to music we stopped and found another pair, to whom we introduced our partner. We then formed a complete circle and everyone told the group what kind of teaching they did and where. We were encouraged to note the names of anyone working in the same areas, so that we could meet them afterwards with a view to networking. After these activities we felt we were working together as a harmonious group, a living example of the yamas in action.
  2. Niyamas - 'cleaning the house' - working on one-self
    Micheline led us through a series of Pawanmuktasana limbering exercises, starting with the toes and working up through the body to the neck. We did these sitting on the floor but Micheline explained that many of them could be done sitting in chairs, making them suitable for the classroom. Deep breathing was incorporated into the exercises. We also chanted numbers and letters and sang a song (Yellow Submarine) while rowing an imaginary boat, showing how language can be incorporated with physical movements in a natural way. We also played imaginary pianos as a finger exercise. It was easy to see how children would benefit from these physical movements at the beginning of a class and how their learning would be enhanced through their increased energy and alertness.
  3. Asanas - operation 'straight back'
    Five volunteers acted out the way in which man with his upright posture had evolved from earlier forms of life with horizontal spines, fish, reptiles, mammals and primates. We then stood against the wall and used it as a measure of how straight our backs were. We squatted slowly with the wall keeping our backs upright, becoming aware of how much our posture needed correction. We then stood and did an exercise which focused on the correct position of the pelvis and back. It was called 'Lucky Luke' and involved us pretending to be a character from the Wild West drawing his guns from their holsters with lightning speed. One could see how this exercise would appeal to children, although it could be considered to be somewhat at variance with the non-violent teachings of Patanjali. We finished with salute to the sun while sitting in chairs. This was a useful illustration of how many of the classical yoga postures can be adapted for use in the classroom.
    During these activities we had been advised not to take notes, but to concentrate on the action. We now had an opportunity to make notes in a way which was both a useful memory exercise and a collaborative group activity. We formed groups of six and between us recalled what we had done up to that time.
  4. Pranayama - correct breathing
    We started this session by sitting in our chairs and breathing out deeply whilst slumping our bodies into the chair. We then carried out a number of abdominal breathing exercises, becoming aware of how important this activity is in keeping energy at a high level and emotions calm.
  5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses and relaxation
    We placed our hands on our foreheads and recalled a pleasant holiday experience. We became aware with all the senses of ourselves sitting on the chair- the feel of our feet on the floor, our buttocks on the chair, the position of our body. We became aware of the sounds in the room and chose three to concentrate on.
  6. Dharana - developing attention
    We were each given a white card on which the word 'alive' was written in blue on the top half. The bottom half was blank. In the centre of the letter 'I' there was a large black dot. After gazing at the dot for fifty seconds we looked at the blank bottom half of the sheet and saw the word ALIVE again, this time in orange. It was a startling experience. We held this picture of the after-image in our inner vision for as long as possible, practising the skill of concentration. We then went on to visualise the word in its original colour, followed by something alive and moving. This was the beginning of our work on creativity.

To develop creativity further we carried out an exercise called Likhit Japa. For this we had to write a word of our choice over and over again on a sheet of paper, making patterns with it. We then lay down and repeated the word to ourselves while listening to New Age music. We walked round the room, looking at each other's work. Some of the words I noted were JOY, FAITH, INSPIRATION, SELF-CONFIDENCE and SPACIOUS. We then produced a mandala, taking one of these words and placing it at the centre. The word chosen was ENTHUSIASM. "What is enthusiasm?" we were asked, and in answering the question ,the group soon filled the blackboard with definitions. We then had to invent sentences combining some of these definitions, and when we spoke them they were recorded and played back. "Enthusiasm is the dynamic flow of energy which carries the world with you", and "Enthusiasm is the infectious delight which sparks a forest fire" were some of the contributions.

The remainder of the seminar was spent in discussion about the theory and practice of RYE, and some further physical exercises. These included cross-crawling, moving opposite sides of the body in synchronisation as a baby does when it crawls. This has an important effect on the synchronisation of the two brain hemispheres, given the fact that each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body.

We were reminded that yoga is not just relaxation and inner awareness, but relating to others as well. It is a balance between the inner and outer worlds of the individual which is an important and neglected aspect of education. As well as helping the children to develop in this way, the teacher must work on him/herself. He/she should practise yoga regularly, in order to become a model for his/her students. A teacher must feel the urge to do this. You cannot teach what you do not feel.