A pair of industrial fans blow in the gymnasium at West Side High School in Newark. A yoga instructor introduces the mountain pose to about one-hundred members of the school’s staff.
“We’re going into our ninth year in some city schools,” said Debbie Kaminsky, founder of Newark Yoga Movement. “We found that after a twenty-minute session of yoga, that 64 percent of students were more peaceful and less stressed. So with that, we started bringing yoga to more schools in Newark. It really has traction after we taught over 26,000 students and over 3,000 educators.”
West Side High School Principal Larry Ramkissoon plans a school wide implementation of Yoga instruction for both staff and students.
“The physical education and health teachers will be exposed to an additional level of training, especially when implementing some of the physical moves to help their students as conditioning elements of the program
Principal Ramkissoon believes yoga could help bring a third straight state championship to the West Side men’s basketball team.
“Beyond the physical, it’s about the mental state of our athletes,” Ramkissoon said. “It’s what happens when they come back from a terrible quarter. It’s what happens when they close out a really tight game. It’s that mental toughness and that calmness that we see super-athletes have all of the time. So we’ll be using it with our athletes, in social and emotional interventions, and in our physical education and health classes.”
Dalya Holt, a high school guidance counselor says yoga breathing exercises will likely make it into her routine when dealing with troubled students.
“Sometimes students come in and their upset about something that went on in class or something that went on at home. I think it would easily be something to incorporate to get them to stop and breathe for positive affirmation,” Holt said.
The Newark Yoga Movement has struggled to fight off its fair share of skeptics. Hakin McLaurin at West Side High was one of them.
“This morning I thought they were about to waste my time. Now I have a whole completely different outlook on the positive aspects and effects of yoga,” McLaurin said.
McLaurin thinks a little yoga might help his students concentrate in the classroom.
“We deal with high risk students. Our kids are always rowdy, like they ate a bag of sugar,” said McLaurin. “Sometimes when you want to teach them it’s hard to get them to learn when they can’t even focus. I found a few different techniques like the leg tree to bring them back down. Especially when you get the crowd after lunch. When you get the crowd after lunch, you know how that goes.”
Newark Yoga Movement founder Debbie Kaminsky introduced a buddy system to school staff instructing them to write down three things they’re grateful for over the first forty-days of the school year. In yoga circles, they call it a gratitude journal.
“From a Yogi Tea tag quote, ‘Habits are hard, make the hard easy, make the easy beautiful,’ after they get that habit of forty-days, it’s in their system and it’s not a big deal anymore because now they have also experience the positive change.”
Newark Public Schools are backing the yoga movement, offering grants to spread the program across the district.