Fact: A lot more people are doing yoga every yearWhen I need some concrete evidence to counter all the depressing information swirling around, I remind myself that things that I value are gaining in popularity.
The increase in number of US adults practicing yoga is larger than you might realize. According to the 2016 statistics, 15% of US adults actively practice yoga (A full 28% of US adults have practiced at some time in their lives). Especially exciting to me is that of the almost 37 million active yogis, 37% have children under the age of 18 who also practice yoga.
I've been practicing yoga seriously for half my life. It is no small thing. I've clocked a lot of hours on my mat and I know how powerful these practices are personally. Yoga changes people. And it leads to change.
The practices of yoga are done for all kinds of reasons and in many different ways, but the shared element of all yoga is the life-changing part: mindful breathing. When you breath deeply, filling the lungs more than normal, the movement of your diaphram stimulates the vagus nerve. This nerve runs the length of your spine and into the base of the skull. The vagus nerve, when stimulated by the diaphram, sends neurotransmitters through the body with the message to relax.
This physical response when you breath deeply is automatic. It means that after a few deep breaths, you are much less likely to yell and scream, or to do reckless, arrogant, or greedy things.
I truly believe that the more people who are breathing deeply, the better life on earth will be. So more people doing yoga is reason for optimism.
The kids are loving it!
Maybe you read about the Breathe For Change program in a recent Cap Times article. I teach yoga, including a Mother-Daughter course with with my kids, but honestly, my daughter hasn't told me much about the yoga and breathing they do at school. She is in her first year of school and, since we do yoga at home, she probably just thinks it is pretty normal. She has no idea that the Breathe For Change program is radical and that she is incredibly lucky to be at one of the program's pilot schools.
I have my own worries about public education in this country. I know that teachers are stressed out and get burned out. I know they are underpaid and they are expected to do incredible things in short order while the public complains and criticizes. I don't think this creates ideal circumstances for teaching or learning.
I remember hearing my daughter's kindergarten teacher say, "I get to do yoga tomorrow!" She was excited about it. And I was excited for her! A portion of her staff training and in-service day was devoted to yoga, mindful breathing, and reflection. That is exactly what I want the teachers who are educating our kids to be doing!
The Breathe For Change mission is "to empower educators to take care of themselves, their students, and their school communities through wellness practices such as yoga, mindfulness, and community building."
Ilana Nankin is the yogi who founded Breathe For Change. The Tenney-Lapham neighborhood got lucky. Lapham's first-grade teacher Christa Peterson was earning her teaching degree at UW-Madison when Ilana first started thinking about how yoga could benefit educators. Ilana and Christa stayed in touch. Through this connection, and the openness of the Lapham Principal, Lapham is now one of the Breathe For Change strongholds. Teachers, staff, and students are taking deep breaths, regularly.
Last week there was an open house at Lapham Elementary School so that parents could learn about the pilot program our children have been part of all school year.
Walking to school for the evening event, I asked my 6-year-old what we might learn. In a proud rush of excitement, she demonstrated Pizza Breath and Flower Breath, both techniques for mindful breathing. She told me about the musician JusTMe, then broke into a rap and skip-danced the rest of the way to school.
The floor of the auditorium was full. The energy was high. Ilana was wearing a bear hat. She has a huge smile and calls herself Breathing Bear to the kids, who were hugging her affectionately throughout the evening. The room was full of good vibes. Many of the kids were wearing their bright orange Breathe For Change t-shirts. A bunch of the kids were clumped together in the front, close to their Breathe For Change teachers, including JusTMe, who clearly holds a super-star status for the kids.
While the students went with JusTMe to learn a new song and dance, the parents were given a serious but loving talking-to. We were told just how simple it is, to breathe deeply, and that it requires no expertise. We were explained the basics of what a deep breath does for the body and mind physiologically to calm the nervous system from a state of reactive tension. We were reminded of the value of this for parents, and assured that all parents can take advantage of the powers of the breath. Then we did some deep breathing.
Wow. How radical. How potentially revolutionary.
Parents could use the techniques of Breathe for Change, too. In my most optimistic moments, I believe that Breathe For Change is the future, and we are riding a wave that is part of a turning tide. As the shirt says, they are "Changing the World, One Teacher at a Time."
A short promo film about Breathe for Change at Lapham Elementary School:
Watch this great video---you will probably recognize some neighborhood faces---and consider donating to their crowdsourcing campaign to grow the program to include more teachers, schools, and students.