Students Talaa Jenkins, left, and Emya Woods do the cobra pose with assistance from instructor Ashley Krstulovich during the life skills yoga mindfulness class at Eisenhower High School Thursday. More photos at herald-review.com
Adapted physical education teaching assistant Robin Hodge demonstrates a pose while providing guidance for student Drew Dejaynes during the life skills yoga mindfulness class at Eisenhower High School Thursday. More photos at herald-review.com
The practice can increase flexibility, improve posture, build strength and endurance, and the focus on breathing can help with relaxation and calm. Yoga can even lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate.
It's a perfect fit for Life Skills students at Eisenhower High School. Instructor Ashley Krstulovich of The Student Yoga and Mindfulness Project teaches it weekly.
“I partner with schools, nonprofits, any organizations that serve its community's youth, to bring these yoga classes,” she said. “At the end of the day, it's all basic life skills: body awareness, self-regulation, focus, self-calming and compassion. So, life skills to operate in the world at large and within yourself.”
The teachers and teaching assistants who oversee the Life Skills classes, which are for the students most profoundly affected by disabilities, say the class makes a noticeable difference in the rest of the day.
“It calms them down,” said Kelle Richardson, a teaching assistant who works one-on-one with her student. “It's a good thing for them.”
Eisenhower received a Healthy Community Investment grant from the Illinois State Board of Education for activities that will improve academic outcomes, provide enrichment activities in a safe and healthy environment and strengthen public, private and philanthropic partnerships, especially to students facing the greatest challenges.
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“We're incorporating it with the regular education students, too,” Principal Amy Zahm-Duncheon said. “We've already incorporated a lot of mindfulness. I just wanted to make sure I included these students, who do (physical education) every morning, and we wanted to make sure we give them a taste of the yoga and the movements and the mindfulness, and it's been very successful. It helps calm them down for the rest of the day and Ashley does a great job of breaking it down so they understand it, and it's stuff they can use throughout the rest of their day.”
Krstulovich led the students through a beginner's practice, with poses like Mountain, which is standing with hands in front of the chest, palms together, and Frog Pose, which made the students laugh as they began in Mountain and then squatted. Much of the class inspired smiles and laughter. Krstulovich has a spongy yoga die with different poses on all the many sides, and the students took turns tossing it to let it choose the pose they would do next. One was Warrior, which is a difficult pose.
“I can't do that!” Emya Woods said, but she did do it and Krstulovich pronounced her version “perfect.”
Doing yoga helps the students work on their flexibility and body control, which is sometimes more difficult for students with disabilities, and the whole class worked hard to keep up. Marquile Boles, a freshman, said he feels “good” the rest of the day after a yoga class.
“I like to get better at stuff, and I like to do feel-good stuff,” said Talaa Jenkins, a sophomore.
Physical education teacher Matthew Hawk said the class does a variety of activities on other mornings. The yoga is a nice counterpoint to high-intensity games like soccer, he said.
“I think it's good,” Hawk said. “I've heard from the teachers that the rest of the day these kids are quieter, more well-behaved and they sit still for the rest of the class periods.”
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Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter