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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.