There is a strong case for introducing Yoga to young children in schools. Physical exercise plays a much less important role in the education system, children spend more time at their desks and less time exploring physical movement; resulting in an upsurge of RSI, poor concentration, fatigue and irritability. Children now undergo many modern day pressures over which they have very little control and little outlet. I believe that the school setting could be greatly enhanced by the introduction of some aspects of the yoga tradition in and around the classroom, particularly the asanas (postures) and meditation. The postures are scientifically proven to advance the flow of blood to the brain and internal organs; enhancing their working function. Meditation steers the mind towards a positive and sustainable outlook.
To precipitate this advancement I teach yoga to children in schools and train only the most committed of yoga practitioners and therapists to do likewise. I have also advised schoolteachers on how they can incorporate yoga as movement therapy into the classroom without challenging faith, without worry of injury and with the use of very little space. The postures are also an invaluable aid for increasing the flexibility of children before sporting activities and exams. The focus required to hold a posture promotes inner strength and confidence. I have devised the essential yoga style warm-up for budding young British Olympiads and those preparing to sit the ubiquitous SATs and entrance exams.
Youth Yob Culture
In 2005 I became very concerned by the increase in youth yob culture: the apparent anti-social behaviour by youths towards their community. Having lived in inner London all my life and observing the changes, I felt compelled to write an article exploring the roots of this behaviour and how yoga as a popular path to health and self-realisation may prove to be an answer to this controversy. I called this article 'Yotopia'.
Sustainable measures need to be put in place to prevent ‘yob culture’ reproducing from generation to generation. Some radical education needs to be introduced into the lives of young people, something that teaches them the rewards of altruistic behaviour. Young people would greatly benefit from being reminded of the universal law of cause and effect: ‘what we reap is what we sow’.
Our competitive and materialistic society adds to this effect: the result is a society of unphilanthropic and unbenevolent individuals. An exploration of the self and others on a deeper level in order to raise collective consciousness is not encouraged, talked about, let alone considered. The trend amongst young people is to see ‘yob culture’ as a way of life for them, they lack self-esteem. They are searching for a role model and a sense of recognition. This is enhanced by a number of issues including their under-achievement at school, a lack of parental guidance and low aspirations. These symptoms of society are usually precipitated by a lack of education and understanding of the ‘self’, physical needs are disregarded, healthy eating (to sustain their mental and physical well being) unrecognised as being related. As widely reported, this is leading to a society of obesity; ill health; and a disregard for the sanctity of the body and mind. Making the majority of young people under-nourished emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
Thus we come full circle to young people that being unhappy, often unknowingly, with their own lack of wholeness, set about victimising vulnerable passers-by, destroying public spaces and upsetting the peace in a vain attempt to feel a sense of power over someone or something in their unrewarding lives. Youth yob culture has flourished from a feeling of destitution.
In order to curb the rise of youth yob culture in our society, the children of today need educating in how to maintain their physiological and psychological health in order to go on to lead fulfilling, happy and public- spirited lives. They also need to understand that the value of spiritual wealth far outweighs the value of material wealth in terms of sustainable happiness.
So how do we set about teaching children these life lessons? And how do we set about reaching as many children as possible?
The best place to target as many children as possible with this education is in school. And possibly the best mind and body tool to begin teaching children is meditation and some aspects of the yoga tradition. Yoga is hugely popular in the UK; cities are saturated with classes for adults and children. But yoga is all too often inaccessible to adults and children who have come from emotionally and financially deprived backgrounds. And often what is on offer is an exploration of yoga postures without an exploration of the deeper ethos behind this discipline: gaining control and a deeper comprehension of the mind through present moment awareness or ‘mindfulness’.
I believe that we would not have as deep and as many social problems with our current generation of children if they had been given lessons in school that had nothing to do with academia; that taught them skills that would help build their confidence and teach how to transcend negative aspects of the mind, and give them a profound understanding of who they are and why they are.
The answer to ‘Who am I’? and ‘What is my purpose in life?’ can become apparent through ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness teaches that the essence of being lies in just ‘being’. The truth is the moment and all lessons can be learnt and understood by staying in the moment. There is nothing more. This is probably the most powerful stance a human being can take. A child who grows up understanding this concept will learn to grow into a rounded, self-assured individual: un-harangued by a concern for the past and anxiety about the future.
Yoga has enriched and inspired many people’s lives. Friends and students have spoken to me about the transformative effect that yoga has had on their lives by helping them to harness their mind and train their body. In this present climate of rising youth yob culture, it is worth considering, how much difference it would have made to young offenders lives if they had been given the opportunity to make this connection whilst still at school.
The answer for those already involved in youth yob culture may not be yoga and meditation in schools: it may be too late for this; although, that does not mean that yoga and meditation would not work. Perhaps free sessions in a youth centre would be more apt, or, as part of community service, offenders should be sent to a yoga teacher for rehabilitation. To encourage a more caring attitude towards themselves and society, we need to catch children young and educate them in the benefits of knowing the mind, listening to the body, the importance of camaraderie, respect for elders and abiding the law. In short our children of today need a lesson in self-realisation and altruism.
The problem of youth yob culture is widespread through many social groups and ages; so, this new lesson must be daily, a little at a time, throughout the school years, so that children are never too far away from being reminded that they have the ability to become something great and good: if they only follow a few simple life rules.
My training is in physical theatre and yoga (separate disciplines). I have used these disciplines, my experiences with ‘yob culture’ and raising 3 boys to devise a project to help the children of today learn about the true values of life. I have written a series of exercises especially for schoolteachers to be implemented by schoolteachers for the benefit of schoolteachers and the children they teach. It may be too controversial to call it yoga or even meditation. Although this new lesson, that I propose, does have its roots in a tradition that is concerned with bringing to the individual unity to the body and mind and an understanding of the Self beyond the ego. The message needs to be accessible to children of schools of all faiths across the board so I propose that the name of these short timetabled lessons be known as ‘Unity Breaks’. My vision is to see 5 minute ‘Unity Breaks’ on the timetable in between lessons throughout the school day across all age groups. These breaks from academic application are made up of mental and physical exercises that offer an instructive and fun approach to unifying the body with the mind, creating camaraderie and team spirit amongst the class, and mutual respect between teacher and pupil.
I watch my five-month old baby as his face becomes animated at bashing his mobile and watching the rabbit swing from side to side. His facial expressions convey a reaction to a rudimentary understanding of cause and effect. My baby seems to have more of an understanding of this concept than young people. But too long ago they were a baby bashing a mobile, delighting in cause and effect, evolving with this potent discovery, ready to be led in a way that would benefit mankind. All children are born blameless, an asset to their society, why are we not nurturing and nourishing this beautiful quality throughout the educational years? I am here to change this.