Sitting Chair Twist.Red Barn.8.23.11.Herald Lisa Flynn, right, leads a room full of teachers, mostly from Mitchell School, in Yoga4Classrooms held at the Links at Outlook Tuesday. Teachers are introduced to mindfulness-based activities which will benefit the classroom.  Deb Cram/dcram@seacoastonline.com

August 24, 2011 2:00 AM
(Article as printed in the Portsmouth Press Herald on 8/24/11 can be found here.)

KITTERY, Maine — All 40-plus teachers at Mitchell School stood crammed in the middle of a room Tuesday morning, talking in loud voices at each other about what they had for lunch the day before.

"Notice the sensations in your body, notice your breath, notice your heart rate," said yoga instructor Lisa Flynn.

Next, they stood in "mountain pose," breathing in and out evenly, relaxing the body. "Now, take your pulse. How is your heart rate? Do you feel more in balance?"

That difference, between boisterous and calm, is often the difference between a child whose mind is wandering and one whose mind is focused, said Flynn. And with a some simple yoga techniques, teachers can improve classroom time for their students.

Flynn knows what she's talking about. Founder of Childlight Yoga in Dover, for the past five years she also has run Yoga4Classrooms, a program that incorporates yoga practices in elementary schools.

What began as a volunteer project at Central School in South Berwick, where she and her family live, has grown to incorporate schools from the Seacoast region as well as in Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Flynn said, too often, classroom time is "so structured. There's no time any more for PE (physical education) and kids only get one recess a day. So it's no wonder they can't concentrate. They're not connected here," she said, pointing to her heart.

"Y4C," as it's called, features 67 yoga activities, many done at a child's desk and none requiring special equipment or clothing. Included are yoga postures, breathing exercises, visualization and community-building games.

Flynn said some last as little as 30 seconds and few last longer than 90 seconds.

"We call it an imagination vacation," she said. "The teacher tosses them in throughout the day. If they notice an imbalance in the room, they can take advantage of" the practices.

The Yoga4Classrooms Web site is replete with testimonials, including one from Central School teacher Kathy Bousquet.

"The time we spend on our practice is not 'lost' academic time (a concern of some teachers)," she wrote. "It actually increases student productivity on academic tasks. The children are more focused, alert, better listeners, more able to follow directions and are more relaxed during challenging tasks."

The Yoga4Classrooms program is coming to Mitchell School, thanks to first-grade teacher Tonya Fitzgerald, who took the training last summer and began using some of the practices during the past school year.

"As teachers, we're always looking for new and fun things for the children to do," and the exercises "really help the brain to work better," Fitzgerald said.

The program involves training like the one held Tuesday, as well as a 10-week in-class residency program with trained instructors.

The work of Yoga4Classrooms has also caught the attention of researchers. A team of graduate students from the University of Massachusetts Lowell are coming to the school this fall to study the effects of the practices on children's school performance.

Flynn donated her time Tuesday to train the teachers, but the residency program does cost money — something in short supply at Mitchell School these days of dwindling budgets.

Flynn appealed to her fellow yoga instructors, and upward of 12 Seacoast area practices contributed money (note from Lisa Flynn: These include Buddhi Boutique, 3 Bridges Yoga, Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, Prasada Yoga Center, Yoga East, Blue Moon Yoga / YogaLife Institute, Lauren Hajjar / ChildLight Yoga – Merrimack Valley, ChildLight Yoga, Yoga on York, Cider Hill Yoga, plus G. Williker's) as well as Bob's Clam Hut, Good Girl Graphics, Sarah Varney Photography, The Red Barn, and Trashcan Lids productions

In addition, Kittery School Department health coordinator Becky Bridges was able to contribute some funding from her budget.

Mitchell School Principal David Foster said not all the money has been raised, however. He said Flynn has agreed to start the program this fall even without full funding, but he's hopeful that community members would be willing to contribute.


Tax-deductible donation checks payable to Horace Mitchell School can be mailed to:

School Yoga Fundraiser, c/o Childlight Yoga/Y4C
453 Central Ave., Suite 103
Dover, NH 03820.