Yoga as Whole-Person Development

Dr Marguerite Theophil, Bombay

“Education should illuminate the inner genius already in man and help in the process of evolution. It should develop the integrated and balanced personality of man and aid towards making man divine.”
Swami Satyananda Saraswati

As all teachers have experienced, difficulty in focusing is a major problem for the school child today. Many reasons are put forward, such as the immense pressure of the existing curriculum, coupled with increased media and other excitation; unappreciated and unmotivated teaching staff; parents with too little time. Unfortunately we cannot wish away any of them. Working with these 'givens', what can we do to help our young people make sense of their lives, give them a sense of being centred and grounded, and equip them for a future of increasing complexity?

Children have many problems that they find difficult to articulate, and often express these through their behaviour. It might make more sense if we educators understood enough to move away from interpreting these problems in the light of only ethics and morality, and saw them for the psycho-psychological imbalances they often are.

Teaching yoga to young people at this level needs to address some of these 'imbalance issues'. This is mainly done through the regular discipline of practice that can help the growing young person to channel and direct his or her emotional energies in a constructive way. Enforcement of outer discipline needs to be replaced with self-discipline.

Yoga works in many ways; it tones the body and regulates its systems, and the pranayama and visualization practices calm the agitated centres of the mind. The increased capacities of concentration and retentive memory naturally improve school work. This in turn enhances self-esteem which sustains effort and interest.

My fear is that our attempts to force onto children 'what is good for them' might have the tragically opposite effect of putting them off yoga for life. To avoid this, we need to pay attention to a few simple but often ignored details.

Classes for young people should be prepared and presented differently from classes given to an adult group. For a start, asana need to be worked through in a more dynamic than static manner. Sequential exercises are more easily remembered too. Pranayama, breathing practices that elicit imagery start out by being fun, and end up creating emotional stability. Relaxation practices, while extremely beneficial, need to take into account a child's attention span. It is essential to create an atmosphere of calm enjoyment and at the same time stimulate the right amount of excitement and alertness.

No amount of lecturing, or worse, punishment, can convince a student to do things in what we might consider 'the right way'. Through regular practice the student has his or her own experience of the positive changes so far, that can encourage him or her to stick with this path.

Recent studies indicate that relaxation is necessary to enhance memory. If students are tense, they find it difficult to grasp things or to remember them. Hence, it is important not to make the teaching of yoga another grim affair. It would not be out of place to suggest that the perfection of asana and techniques needs to take second place to relaxation and creative awareness. Perfection will automatically grow out of repeated practice. Practice will only be regular and sincere if it is perceived as enjoyable and worthwhile.

Yoga education needs to go beyond the definition of yoga teaching to its integration into the class work and even the life of the student.

It is obvious that those chosen to teach the yogic tradition need some awareness of the process and a great deal of sensitivity as to where the children in the class are, in terms of their energy and mood. When the majority of the class is saturated with information, tired and listless, the teacher needs to be able to offer a short energizing break; when the group is boisterous and agitated, yoga can offer safe and acceptable ways to expend excess energy, as well as to cool down to a state of preparedness. So, while a single yoga teacher is often the solution the school goes for, the benefits are manifold when all teachers go through a learning process that will help integrate yoga into all aspects of the school day.