CORNER BROOK — Rosemarie Bennett can't wait to introduce yoga to students and teachers at her school, especially now that she has realized it's been a great way to relieve stress in her life too.
Bennett is the only school-based social worker in all of Newfoundland and Labrador, but she joined a group of a dozen teachers who took part in a four-day Yoga in Schools program at C.C. Loughlin Elementary School in Corner Brook this past week.
Delivered by award-winning yoga instructor Jenny Kierstead from Nova Scotia, the Yoga in Schools program is designed as an introduction to the relaxing exercises in a way that teachers may make it part of classroom activities.
Bennett, who is based at C.C. Loughlin and also partners with parenting and children's groups at the nearby Dunfield Park Community Centre, was chosen by the school to take part since C.C. Loughlin had already identified yoga as part of a learning program it is establishing.
At a health fair the school held in June, students identified yoga on feedback forms they filled out as their top choice of activities they enjoyed the most. The school has since used some funding it had to purchase yoga mats.
"We have some high-need students, some who have autism, some with special needs and some with behavioural issues and do not know how to self-regulate," said Bennett. "Yoga has been proven to help in all those areas. We wanted to bring it into the school because we wanted to get our children to focus so they could learn more."
Bennett would love to see students looking for quiet places to get some yoga in during their lunch and recess breaks. Even better, she hopes they will bring what they learn about yoga home to their families.
Bennett said every kid, from those who are active in competitive sports, to those who spend their time watching television or a computer screen, have stresses or bad habits that the relaxation and physical exertion of yoga could help.
"This will benefit them not only in school, but later in life too," she said.
Kristy Mills, a Corner Brook native who now teaches Grade 1 at Mary Queen of the World School in Mount Pearl, can't wait to bring back what she has learned to her colleagues.
"A lot of teachers were interested in me coming back and showing them what I have learned and maybe even doing it themselves," said Mills, who does practice yoga regularly at home.
Kierstead, a former high school teacher herself, recognized yoga as an incredible tool for teachers and students to deal with their busy lives and has written several yoga programs designed for specific age groups. The elementary program is more game-oriented and features creative names for the various yoga poses, while the high school level involves more physically challenging postures and is geared towards teaching breathing techniques that help release stress and anxiety.
"People often think it's just about stretching and postures," said Kierstead. "Ultimately, yoga is like staring into a mirror that is fogged up and, once we begin to wipe away the debris, we start to see ourselves clearly and see our lives clearly from a whole different perspective, without past baggage and wounds and anxiety and tension and fear."
In the fall, the Yoga in Schools program will be leading a 200-hour training program to certify teachers and those who work with children as yoga instructors. Mills said she hopes to do it eventually, if not this fall, while Bennett said she definitely will be going for the certification.