Author Archive

APPG on Yoga – Exchange at the House of Lords

We wanted to share with you an exchange that happened at the House of Lords recently. We hope you enjoy this.
 
“Question 11.22 am
 
Asked by Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
 
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will draw up a strategy and campaign for the expansion, particularly in the National Health Service, of access to yoga and its associated health benefits.
 
The Earl of Courtown (Con)
 
My Lords, there is evidence that yoga helps to build strength in healthy adults and can improve health conditions such as high blood pressure. The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days a week, and yoga is one of many activities recommended in their report, Start Active, Stay Active.
 
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
 
I am very grateful indeed to the noble Earl for such a positive response. I am sure that he will agree with the Secretary of State’s statement last autumn that, if the NHS is to survive, we need more social prescribing by GPs, which will help with the financial position. Given what the noble Earl just said, I am sure he will agree that yoga helps people with mental health problems and back pains, those tackling addictions, and people with obesity—a whole range of subjects. Is he willing to meet a group of representatives to discuss how we might take this forward, particularly in the context of the 10-year programme being drawn up to try to offer people greater movements towards better health while saving the NHS money? I declare an interest as the co-secretary of the All-Party Group on Yoga.
 
The Earl of Courtown
 
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right about the importance of social prescribing—it can be felt right across the population, particularly in relation to mental health. I agree with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about social prescribing; that is one of his top priorities. The noble Lord asked whether a meeting could be arranged with me, him and other interested parties. I will pass that request on to the Minister responsible so that they can have a useful conversation.
 
Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
 
My Lords, it is acknowledged that yoga is very beneficial for mental health: it provides mindfulness, an ability to make better judgments, to relax, and to take decisions in a sensible and responsible way. In light of that, does my noble friend agree that yoga should now be made obligatory for Members of the House of Commons?
 
The Earl of Courtown
 
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point about the importance of yoga and the great benefits that it gives to everybody. I have unrolled my yoga mat in my office and am waiting for a lesson from my noble friend Lady Barran, who is a teacher of yoga.
 
Baroness Walmsley (LD)
 
My Lords, there appear to be particular benefits of yoga for older people in improving balance and muscle tone, NICE estimates that falls cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion a year, and we know that older people often become lonely, ​so the mental health and social benefits of going to classes also apply. Given those facts, will the Government encourage yoga for older people?
 
The Earl of Courtown
 
Yes, the noble Baroness is quite right. The only proviso as far as that is concerned is that more frail elder people should take great care—the noble Baroness makes a hand movement which I think describes her exercise.
 
Anyway, deep breath! The noble Baroness is quite right about the importance of social prescribing and yoga being of great advantage to the population.
 
Baroness Meacher (CB)
 
My Lords, is the Minister aware that East London NHS mental health trust has for seven years been running and evaluating sports programmes—including yoga, but also many other activities—for people with severe mental health problems? I shall give an example: 100% of those involved in its boxing programme for forensic patients—those with severe mental health problems and a criminal history—have achieved a significant improvement in their mental health and well-being. Will he make NHS England aware of the work in East London and issue guidance to mental health trusts across the country that they should all run a range of sports programmes for people with severe mental health problems?
 
The Earl of Courtown
 
The noble Baroness is quite right: the importance of those various forms of activity is well felt. I do not know the event that she described, but I know that Haringey CCG has created a better care fund to improve health and social care services for older people, particularly those with long-term health conditions. Strength and balance is one of the programmes funded by that partnership; that goes back to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I will of course make that point to the department, but more and more areas are getting involved in social prescribing, which is promoted by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and is without doubt doing a great job.
 
Lord Stone of Blackheath (Lab)
 
My Lords, I have just discovered that you can do downward dog on these Benches: I invite noble Lords to join me. With the evidence showing that yoga and mindfulness can be good for preventing and curing illnesses, both physical and mental, what progress has been made with the establishment of a national academy for social prescribing? Will representatives of yoga and mindfulness practice be on it?
 
The Earl of Courtown
 
Yes, my Lords, engagement with stakeholders on the national academy for social prescribing has already begun and they are being consulted. The academy is under development. I have asked the department and NHS England whether representatives of yoga and mindfulness will be engaged in its development.
 
Baroness Thornton (Lab)
 
My Lords, I can bear witness to the efficacy of workplace yoga, as I attended many of the lunchtime sessions organised by my noble friend for seated yoga before the Christmas break. I ​enjoyed them very much and commend them to all Members of the House. Noble Lords will be very relieved to know that MPs, Peers and other staff were not required to don their Lycra during lunchtime. Is the Minister aware of the amount of workplace yoga being encouraged for NHS staff for not only their mental but their physical well-being, for those who have to lift heavy weights and so on? That programme should be rolled out across the whole NHS.
 
The Earl of Courtown
 
The noble Baroness makes a good point. What she did not mention is how good yoga is for stress, and how to reduce one’s stress levels with movement, breathing and meditation. I know that yoga classes are available in various workplaces, but I was not aware of the NHS programme. I will, of course, bring it to the attention of the department.”

Continue Reading No Comments

Royal Seal of Approval

His Royal Highness Prince Charles said yesterday, “By its very nature, yoga builds discipline, self-reliance and supports self-care – all of which contribute to improved health. Indeed practised within a group, it has tremendous social benefits as well”. These words were spoken at the first national conference on yoga in healthcare that occurred last weekend in London where I was speaking about yoga for young people. His words bring support to those who have practised yoga for a long time and might open the door to this majestic practise to those who are looking to prolong and increase their quality of life. There is a movement for yoga to be included in school curricula and also for it to be prescribed by doctors in GP surgeries to help with various specific conditions. This may well change our perspective on healthcare from relying on outside help and support to taking control and power over our own health.

When we come into a space to move together, ground ourselves, feel into our aches and pains and work out how to relieve them by ourselves, controlling the breath and the emotions, to end in deep relaxation together, we can become masters of our destiny.

Yoga teaches us to accept ourselves as we are, embracing us into a peaceful community. When we accept ourselves unconditionally, we will accept others without judgment or criticism. This leads to a pleasant life and an effortless sharing of peace.

Continue Reading

Yoga Changed My Life – A Manifesto For Change

This weekend was the inaugural conference on yoga in healthcare. It had me thinking. When we say, “Yoga changed my life”, what do we mean? Which aspect was it that actually shifted my state so profoundly? What is it that is so healthful and that works so deeply?

Is it the movement? Is it feeling stronger and more flexible in my body, feeling more alive? Undoubtedly!

Is it the breath, being able to control my emotions and thoughts to some small degree by using my breath. Learning that I can drop my cortisol levels and my heart rate, by using the breath – most certainly!

Is it calming the mind, learning to respond in a more socially acceptable way, in a kinder way? That helps.

Is it meditation? The knowing that there is a deep, calm space inside me where I can rest whenever I want to? For sure, this helped me a lot.

Is it the chanting, that opens the heart and sublimates emotion to devotion? Oh, this has been so blissful for me at times!

Is it the touch of the yoga teacher and the soothing voice? When are we touched without any request? When are we spoken to in comforting, gentle voice? When are we given permission to let go, to surrender to the greater good, to Mother Earth, to the guru within ourselves?

Is it the simple Namaste at the end? The light/Divine in me sees the light/Divine in you. To be Divine, to be recognised as Divine. How could we not be moved by this? To be brought into the numinous, the holy, magical and mystical part of ourselves and of life – enriching and deepening.

Or is it the effect of being told everything we want, everything we desire, is already here within us? We are already perfect. We have nothing more to be or do. This deeply peaceful state of being certainly helps.

But as I watch my ageing mother, alone and sick and my burgeoning teens go out in the world, I understand, it is the community that brings belonging, brings meaning and brings connection, which enriches their lives and places them in a meaningful space which keeps them well.

So it is for me too. The community that is committed to silent communion in truth – Sat-Chid-Ananda. This. Brings. Solace. This. Brings. Healing. This gives us permission to develop a secure attachment to ourselves and those around us sometimes for the first time in our lives.

To be surrounded by others who are dedicated to service for the greater good and who naturally see each other with an unconditional positive regard (Carl Rogers).

Most definitely. Coming into authenticity, truth, light within ourselves makes us feel complete and content. We become acutely aware when it is absent. We seek out others, who carry that light of truth, who somewhere have touched upon contentment, touched upon the lack of constant hunger to please, to desire, to need, to be acknowledged, but content in itself, can rest for a while in calm.

For me – paying attention to myself and coming into meditation is this space of calm. But more, so much more is the beauty of a group of souls together who are all resting in calm and beauty and truth. We co-regulate ourselves into this space. A greater consciousness permeates us as a group. Satsang.

This is the kernel of how yoga changed my life, it is at the centre of it all and I am constantly looking to rest in that space of satsang. A bright, light community where grasping and transaction drop away. Where just being is enough.

When yoga becomes transactional, when it becomes a product to be sold, when it moves into spheres where these actions are normal, we need to remain strong and remain in our satsang in order to not fall into this group thought of hunger and grasping. How do we do that?

By strengthening our bonds with each other in satsang, in trust and support, having each other’s back, recognising again and again tat twam asi (I am that, we are one). Standing together in love.

“They live in wisdom who see themselves in all and all in them, who have renounced every selfish desire and sense craving tormenting the heart.” (Bhagavad Gita 2:54)

Continue Reading

Community

Today I am celebrating my 53rd birthday with 30 people. This event makes me aware of community, as my friends and family come together to blow up balloons, cook, pick flowers, make coffee and lay the table for 30 guests from near and far.

In a world which deifies the individual, the word community has become a precious concept. In the light of recent events, we are reminded of the importance of solidarity, unity and selfless action which lie at the core of a compassionate society.

A compassionate society is a successful society. When we can trust our neighbour, when we can feel empathy for our fellow human and when we feel able to support a stranger in the face of adversity, we fill a void that cannot be filled by the next i-Phone.

Our human connection is at the core of beauty, grace and love. It elevates us above being mere consumers and makes us into living, breathing, precious entities, that make a difference. We cease to see another human in terms of what he’s wearing or driving, but instead by the light in her eyes, by the generosity of spirit and by the openness of heart.

But all we need to do is look at how any ecosystem works, to understand we cannot and will never function as individuals in a cold world, it is simply not possible, we need each other, we need a mother to be born from, we need friends to lean on, we need other individuals to help us along in life – we are in fact never alone. There is always someone to be grateful for.

Our community is who we are. On our own we have little power, little meaning and little hope of understanding the true value of being human.

So we need to look up and into the eyes of others, smile and say hello – acknowledging this precious life we have a little more often! Personally, I’m off to blow up some more balloons!

Continue Reading

Shining the light on yoga in schools – Part 3

Here’s the final part to Netia Mayman’s presentation from Instil. Enjoy!

“How young people develop

I wish, as a newly qualified teacher I had understood that the girl constantly looking behind her was hypervigilant; that a boy’s apparent lack of remorse, cruelty to others and failure to take responsibility of his actions was a symptom of disrupted attachment; that another child’s tendency to collapse into passivity and silence when challenged was their overstimulated sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive no dumb insolence. As a parent I would have loved to have known that my teenager’s risk averse behaviour was a result of her limbic region developing ahead of her prefrontal cortex. Such an understanding might also have helped me to practice ahimsa more consistently in my work in schools.

With the need to become accountable for vulnerable groups (an example of how the discipline of data is not, in itself a bad thing) and political pressure by the Children’s Commissioner, the study of attachment theory and child development became mandatory in teacher training. Attachment theory is wholly enlightening if you want to understand how the self comes into being in relationship to the rest of the world. If you aren’t familiar with the basic precepts I recommend ‘Attachment in the Classroom,’ by Heather Geddes.

Our understanding of neuroscience has transformed in the last two decades. I don’t want to repeat material in chapter 3 of Charlotta’s excellent book, or in Daniel J Siegel’s ‘Brainstorm’ which is required reading for the Teenyoga course.

Rather, I’ll give you an example of how lack of knowledge may lead to government policy hitting the target, but completely missing the point.

In the nineties, development of performance measures with the introduction of Key Stage 3 SATs in English, maths and science revealed a concern about the performance of 14 year olds. Why was progress so slow compared with Key Stage 4? What was wrong with teaching? What was wrong with the curriculum? Was there a problem with the way transition to secondary school was managed? A national strategy was developed and introduced into every LA. I led this for my county and had a huge budget to send consultants into underperforming schools and to roll out training for all teachers in hotels with rather nice lunches.

The idea that learning was a magical mystery tour disappeared and the need to share intended outcomes highlighted. For the first time there was a name for ‘What I am going to teach next’, ‘What we are going to learn’ and ‘What have we learned’ and the really ground-breaking work on assessment for learning done by Kings College became nationally owned.

The project included experimenting with reducing the time taken to teach the KS3 national curriculum, introducing more literacy and numeracy, for those who needed to ‘catch up’.

There were unexpected outcomes. Teaching in KS3 was now judged by Ofsted to be better than that in KS4 so it become the Secondary Strategy, not the KS3 strategy.

There was an annual national scandal when test papers were re-marked. The assessment workforce were hard-pressed classroom teachers who understandably weren’t at their best in May on top of a year’s full-time teaching. Quietly the tests were scrapped and progress was measured from KS2 SATs, resulting in increased stress on already anxious 11 year olds. So much for several godzillions of public money and so much for the KS3 strategy. Everyone had looked at whether the teachers were teaching well and whether the curriculum was right.

Now arrive in 2018 and the publication of ‘Inventing Ourselves: the secret life of the teenage brain,’ by Sarah Jane Blakemore. It turns out that there is a decline in cognitive and social performance (I am hugely oversimplifying the research, do read chapter 7 of the book) in 11-14 year olds (KS3) because of brain function. My point is that everyone was looking at the schools and not at the children. Some schools met their targets but perhaps the whole strategy evoked Confucius, ‘When a wise man points to the moon, the imbecile looks at the finger.’ I wonder what would have been done with the money if the children themselves had been the focus.

Adolescence is a time much studied producing many revisions, myths and false beliefs. As Daniel J Seigel points out, ’Unfortunately, what others believe about us can shape how we see ourselves and how we behave.’ As yoga teachers we need to show schools that we are really well informed about the debates about child and adolescent development.

Young People under pressure

Good research usually raises more questions than it answers. So far it shows that young people may be under more pressure than previously, and that the adolescent brain is particularly susceptible to stress. If you want to follow research, have a regular look at the Cochran library www.cochranelibrary.com and of course www.yoga4classrooms.com/supporting-research which will provide you with regular updates on peer-reviewed research, including on the impact of yoga and mindfulness.

The poor physical health of our increasingly inactive children who are now the most obese in Europe must be significantly impacting on their mental health.

Many of the pressures on young people have become received wisdom (also known as myths and misconceptions) particularly with regard to social media. The use of new media forms has historically led to a series of moral panics and the cause of increased stress is still not fully understood, probably because there is no single cause.

Nevertheless, according to the Care Quality Commission, the number of children visiting A&E for mental health treatment has more than doubled since 2010. Many services are failing to meet NHS guidelines for an out-of-hours crisis service. The leader of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has said the system is unable to meet the demand: “I have colleagues working all over the country who are… doing excellent work, the trouble is… we’re not meeting the need so in that sense it’s not fit for purpose.”

Child mental health referrals have increased by 26% in five years.

Changes in education policy and austerity may be significant contributors to the crisis in child mental health, if there is one.

Cuts in intervention services have resulted in a lack of upstream intervention with families, which would previously have headed off early problems means that matters reach a crisis point before hitting the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHs, waiting list in greater numbers than ever before.

Pressure on schools for results has been acknowledged by Speilman as a factor in children, usually the most vulnerable, missing out on education. I’ve experienced directly the strategies schools have used to ‘off-roll’ or exclude ‘difficult’ students; often a cynical lack of response to communications to arrange admission meetings for children whose behaviour may be unwelcome. The rise in exclusions and proportions of children not accessing education has been enabled as schools, independent of local authorities (academisation) have less accountability to each other and to the LA, in admitting those who needed second and third chances.

Nevertheless, a rise in CAMHS referrals may also result from schools’ greater awareness and accountability for mental health issues. There are push-pull factors. Schools can no longer access free services for behaviour and and psychology. They may therefore have become more informed and resourceful. Many secondary schools in my county have an on-site counsellor, all have a full-time school nurse and the regular presence of a CAMHs worker, training in mental health first aid is being increasingly rolled out to school staff. Here is a poster about MHFA England’s 10 keys to happier living that is on the back of every staff toilet in an enlightened school where I teach adolescents yoga for 2 hours every week. Please be sure that some of the mental health provision in my county I have described above has come from the health authority. This is a post-code lottery and many counties will not have it. There is no extra money in schools for mental health. Any jam, promised for tomorrow should be ignored in the current political climate.

Young Minds (young minds.org.uk) tells us that 91% of teachers would welcome greater recognition of the work that teachers do to support the wellbeing of their students and 82% believe that the focus on exams has become disproportionate to the overall well-being of their students. Is this new school awareness a result of austerity, social media, excessive screen use and exam pressure? Are the greater number of children on CAMHs waiting lists also, therefore, partly a result of schools understanding what mental illness, as opposed to difficult behaviour, looks like? Sorry this is all questions and no answers. Be clear though, although some hospital trusts may expect more CAMHs funding and some health authorities are supplying schools with increased services, there is currently no new money in schools for mental health.

Young people are increasingly more sensible than in Socrates time?

Meanwhile there is the phenomenon of ‘Generation Sensible’ or ‘The Young Fogey’

  • Those aged under 25 are a third more likely to be teetotal now than in 2005
  • A quarter of young people do not drink at all
  • Illegal drug use among the under-25s has also fallen by more than a quarter since 2004
  • The number of nightclubs has almost halved since 2005
  • Teenage pregnancy is at its lowest since records began in England and Wales in 1969
  • The number of crimes committed by under-18s in England and Wales has fallen by 70% since 2005, to a new record low, according to the Office of National Statistics

These sensible young people, not lost in a haze alcohol, drugs, trance music and more able to control their own fertility, are acutely aware of their role in society and their future responsibilities. This in itself is a huge pressure. The neuroscience shows that this is a period of enormous diversity. Adolescents are very, very different from each other.

Second guessing the pressures and opportunities. What can we do?

Government is not unaware or unresponsive to the pressures on young people. The steps being taken to understand Child Sexual Exploitation, County Lines operations, consult on a mandatory Sex and Relationships curriculum, begin to introduce mental health leaders in all schools, and promises of more funding to CAMHs demonstrate this. However, it may be the awareness that goes with the sound of the stable door banging open and hooves clattering across the yard.

Change seems to happen slowly and in a strangely recursive way. Amanda Spielman’s speech about the new Ofsted framework on 11 October states clearly ‘our inspections have looked hardest at outcomes, placing too much weight on test and exam results when we consider the overall effectiveness of schools’ and that this has ‘increased the pressure on school leaders, teachers and indirectly on pupils to deliver perfect data above all else.’ A pity she didn’t see one of my teenage yoga classes just before half term, to strengthen her arm. Half way through the lesson all but two students had chosen a restorative posture over standing poses. At the end one of them said, very seriously, ‘Please could we have a whole lesson where we just rest’ and as a result I am going to include yoga nidra in their curriculum and have agreed this with the school.

However only 3 months before Spielman’s speech, the BBC published advice by her predecessor, ‘School open days: eight things to look for’, I found one reference to ‘the whole child approach’ and 6 to either ‘progress’, ‘outcomes’, ‘attainment’, ‘achieving’, ‘underachieving’. He may be yesterday’s Chief HMI but it takes a long time to change a culture so embedded.

I wish I could tell you more about the new framework for new inspections. It will be consulted on, do look out for it on the Ofsted website so that you can contribute before it is finalised. There is also a letter on the Young Minds website you can send to Ofsted. The significant changes in the framework will be to move away from what to how. There may be longer spent by inspectors in schools and certainly much greater focus on the curriculum: not just what is taught but how. There will be no separate judgement on attainment and progress. The 4 new judgements will be on

  • Effectiveness of leadership and management
  • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment
  • Personal development, behaviour and welfare
  • Outcomes for children and learners

A word about the curriculum. It is a myth that schools are highly restricted by the national curriculum, in what they teach and hence the fact that the average timetable is not much different to one of 100 years ago. Only local authority schools, now a minority of secondary schools have to follow the national curriculum. It has been the pressure to get a good inspection grade for academic outcomes that has caused the reduction in delivery of arts and other non EBAC subjects.

It’s impossible to know if the wholesale removal of a separate judgement on outcomes (ie academic data) will really make a difference. Spielman was clear that these will still be important. We are a country of consensus. In the absence of any driving statement about what educational values should really be, the proof of the delicate, political balancing-act of the new framework pudding, will be in the eating.

The key focus for yoga teachers (as with the previous framework) would be the personal development, welfare and behaviour judgement which will have 2 areas:

  1. Behaviour and discipline, and 2. ‘pupils wider personal development and their opportunities to grow as active, healthy and engaged citizens’. Yoga continues to be an important option for inactive students who are PE avoiders. However, few cash-strapped schools are going to pay a yoga teacher when they have a PE dept. There is, however, a real opportunity to argue for the way in which yoga and mindfulness help students to have a metaknowledge of their own health.

Any inspection I have ever conducted has had a clear eye to school culture. It doesn’t matter whether the school has adopted a strategy of respect lessons in SRE, a no detention policy or the 10 keys to happier living, the issue is whether everyone is implementing what has been agreed and whether the children have learned anything from it that they can make their own.

Student welfare is always reflected in how the staff feel. When completed by a school, staff surveys for inspection, clearly demonstrate, from contracted cleaners to the headteacher, whether adults feel valued and invested in and if they are working in a climate without fear. If this is the case for the staff then they will be conducting their duties in a way informed by ahimsa…, by compassion. It is really worth offering a staff yoga class after a period 5 one for students. You can suggest that the school initially subsidises this, that staff have 2 or three free lessons and then start to pay once they have felt the benefits. It is always better value for schools to have more than one yoga lesson back to back

We as yoga teachers, need to show that we explicitly teach students about the scientific benefits of asana and pranayama; that yoga is a highly systematic practice that pre-dates modern science, but that contemporary evidence of its efficacy is available. It is a discipline, requiring as much tapas as the will to organised one’s homework and bring the right equipment to school. It creates the habits that make destiny. I’d suggest that you make the research easily available to schools. They probably won’t look at it, but will know it’s there.

We need to be clear that learning yoga can provide lifelong benefits in managing the energies and the mind, and really practical strategies for combating stress. Anyone that you are speaking to in a school needs to know that a really good yoga teacher, whilst promoting curriculum yoga has humility and wishes to wipe off their own fingerprints. A key tenet of yoga is combating the ego: we see a real sign of our success as our students applying the benefits of yoga without us… or by inspiring a PE teacher is inspired by to spend a precious school holiday doing the Teenyoga course, very likely paying for themselves. It’s important to stress that we can work with whatever structures they use within the PE, PSHE or other aspects of the curriculum and to ask about what it is they want to achieve by commissioning yoga.

A few very practical aspects of approaching schools

Know the school

Get to know it in advance through their website. Read areas like ‘Our values’ and the last inspection report. Read recent newsletters to get a sense of what seems important to the school and what it celebrates. Show that you have researched it and want to contribute… just like getting any other job. Look at their curriculum booklets and find out which subjects look most closely related to yoga. Ask the school what their priorities are and what problems they want to solve.

If you are contacting a primary school (year 6 is a popular one for yoga because anxieties about SATs and transition to secondary) show that you know about the School Sport and PE premium https://www.gov.uk/guidance/pe-and-sport-premium-for-primary-schools and that yoga is a recognised and approved use of this.

Get to the right person

Find out who has influence and whose work can benefit from meeting with you. I was privileged to often have a key colleague who I could ring for advice about this. However, I’ve also done well looking on the website or ringing the headteacher’s PA to ask for advice or the receptionist to find who is responsible for student welfare, staff well-being, PSHE, extra curricula studies and PE. Teachers are usually teaching. Good times to ring are 12.30-1.30 (especially primary schools) and 3.00-3.30. Do leave messages for people to ring you back, but don’t be surprised when they don’t.

The school business manager controls the budget, does not teach and is on the end of the phone, get advice from them too.

Teachers are inundated with emails but still have pigeon holes. If you can afford it, make a nice poster and put it in an envelope addressed to a specific member of staff.

This talk may have sometimes sounded wry, impatient or even cynical. Santosa, contentment and acceptance, is a nyama I struggle with. However, the most important thing we can do as yoga teachers is to be informed about both young people and schools, adhere to our own practice and model both tapas and ahisma. Samadhi, is not something we should look for in Ofsted, but an aspiration we can all work towards in our lives, our teaching and our work with colleagues in schools.”

Continue Reading

Shining the light on yoga in schools – Part 2

Welcome back! Here’s part 2 of Netia Mayman’s presentation from Instil. 

Make sure you’ve read part 1 before continuing…

“Understanding where we have come from helps us to know where we are. In order to explore the question I listed the sustained changes (not the ones cancelled wholesale with changes of government) that have taken place since 1982, the year I gained qualified teacher status down the road at The Institute of Education. Apologies to delegates from other parts of the UK, but this really is just England. There really are differences across the UK between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales… I only have 45 mins.

These are legislative actions which have consistently come to underpin the way schools operate. They have been characterised by increasingly wholesale, more rapid and less consultative implementation.

  • Introduction of teacher appraisal eventually tied to pay
  • Establishment of inspection increasingly linked to implementation of government policy
  • School policies must be available and published (believe it or not my first school had nary a one)
  • National curriculum for subjects (pace academies and free schools, more about you later)
  • Legal establishment of school day (yes, there really had been no law for this until the Great Education Reform Act of 1988)
  • Minimisation of the role of local authorities and increasingly wide differentiation in types of school
  • Increased attention to safeguarding in all respects, including aspects of pupil behaviour like bullying, attitudes to race and disability. Victoria Climbie in memorium. Services working together to protect children… kind of. Sadly, since the national vow to make sure that no child ever died because professionals did not talk to each other, as in Victoria’s death, there have been many more cases.
  • Testing, testing, testing with a move from teacher assessment to examinations.
  • League tables. Publication of results of individual schools.
  • Measuring inequality leading to exposure of the underperformance of ‘indigenous’ working-class pupils and those with SEND
  • Balkanisation of teacher training and significant fluctuations in the supply of teachers, usually linked to the strength of the economy. Recruitment rises when there are few alternatives to teaching… but there are other significant factors.

I then recalled a conversation with a tearful trainee teacher last week. She had come to staff yoga tell me she was too stressed to participate. She couldn’t understand the latest data trawl and had to work instead of coming to class. She said she felt like the cat that had been kicked at the end of a long chain of accountability, starting with the headteacher’s need to keep the school ‘Outstanding.’

Evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research, the teaching unions and other bodies suggests:

The overall number of secondary teachers is falling fast, pushing the average pupil-teacher ratio from 14.9 in 2011 to 16.0 in 2017

The government has missed its teacher recruitment targets for 5 years in a row

Increasingly large numbers of working age teacher are leaving. Despite a smaller proportion retiring, the leaving rate is climbing significantly.

Long working hours, rapidly implemented government changes and pupil behaviour continue to be key contributory factors to teachers leaving the profession after 2 years.

Teachers are happy with their pay, and frequently take less well-paid jobs when they leave. Of the three professions of nursing, policing and teaching, teachers have the lowest rate of satisfaction with their amount of free time and the longest working hours (50 pw in term time.)

This made me explore common features of times when I had felt particularly effective and happy in my own work as a teacher. These were those when I had felt trusted and appreciated by those to whom I was accountable. This didn’t mean that I was left to do what I liked, quite the reverse. Rather, the leader inspired me by an example of kindness, discrimination and deep knowledge of what I was doing, not how it looked on an excel spreadsheet. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these leaders emitted an aura of compassion and enlightenment.

Data, money and off-rolling

Data about individual outcomes can drive who is actually on-roll as a student. It also drives finance as schools are funded per pupil. There can be perverse incentives leading to the cynical removal of students from schools.

This is what real terms spending cuts have been since 2010:

20% fall in spending on each 6th former

8% fall in 16-18 spending in further education

88% of schools real terms spending cuts since 2015

Loss of £178,321 per year to secondary schools overall

Loss of £52,546 per year to primary schools overall

Let’s not forget though, that the average Primary and Sport Premium per school £16,000 since 2016. This money is ring-fenced and Sport England guidance is that yoga is a highly appropriate target for this funding.

Meanwhile, Ofsted found that more that 19,000 pupils who were in year 10 in 2016 had vanished from the school roll by the start of year 11 and GCSEs. In 2016/17 40 secondary students per day were permanently excluded, compared to 35 a day in the previous year. Students presenting with challenging behaviour consume a disproportionate amount of resource and negatively influence exam outcomes.

Data in itself is neither good nor bad, hostile or compassionate. All knowledge is power. It’s just a question of what use the knower puts the knowledge to… and humility about what we don’t know and need to find out.

Meanwhile, revisiting the sustained changes, I STILL couldn’t see an underlying thread to shed light on the issue of enlightenment. The question of the knower, the knowable and of knowledge. What were the values in it all? Where, if anywhere, was the Samadhi?

Comparisons are always helpful in clarifying thinking. I wondered would happen if I took something objective, like the PISA tests and compared England’s sustained changes with those of Finland, the top performing country in the PISA tests. We can all argue about the basis for these triennial international measures of the skills and knowledge of 15 year olds, started in 2001. There’s a compelling account for giving them attention in Lucy Crehan’s, ‘Cleverlands’. Finland started a very slow and steady programme of education reform in 1972 which resulted in it coming top in reading, third in scientific literacy and 4th in maths literacy in 2001, and staying consistently at the top in subsequent collections.

I recognise that there are challenges in comparing a country with a very small population to ours, but what is so striking about Finland’s PISA scores is the level of consistency of performance across schools, unmatched by any other country.

In the list of sustained change in Finland, I have excluded the crucial common key features of all top performing countries: paying teachers well, giving them high status and provision of access to high quality CPD. It felt more important to compare our changes with less obvious ones:

  • Shortest schools day and year in Europe and late start to ‘formal education’ at 7. Universal, play-based early years provision.
  • No appraisal, abolished inspection 1990s, key role of LAs and high local autonomy
  • No nationally published testing except for evaluation of national system-effectiveness, sample-based.
  • Grades on basic ed cert age 18-19 given by teachers, moderated by a national board.
  • National curriculum adjusted locally. Vocation curriculum embedded and linked to local industries. A significant role for Local Authorities.
  • Few private and no segregated schools except for carefully assessed SEND.

I realised that the key word binding together the English changes was accountability, or rather COERCION and for Finland, TRUST. How would these translate in to the yoga ethical precepts, the yamas and nyamas? These precepts are there to help us control the instinctive mind.

I’ll pick out two, with bearing on trust and coercion, based on Swami Satchidananda’s wonderfully contemporary explanation of the sutras. He makes constant referral to world systems of morality including Buddism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Taken together, these belief systems are perhaps ‘Universal values.’

Ahimsa – non violence, non-injury, COMPASSION. Satchindananda writes, ‘When the vow of ahimsa is established in someone, all enmity ceases in his or her presence because that person emits harmonious vibrations.’ Is it melodramatic of me to suggest that the situation in our schools is informed by hostility? Could we say that educational leadership emits harmonious vibrations? Is there is a lack of trust and a climate of fear in schools? If so, what can we as yoga teachers do about it?

Tapas – austerity and discipline. We all know how difficult it can sometimes be to get on the mat or meditation cushion. Our own practice, is in many ways a microcosm of our struggle to give a framework to our lives. Discipline is a central to what we can give our learners, whether it be to practice yoga at home, or organise their bag for the next day’s learning. Gandhi gave us a wonderful understanding of this. Our habits enact our values:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

Institutions and society need rules, routines and structures and processes; without them there is no ‘democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law or tolerance of individual belief systems.’ Habits of thinking start early in life and interact with the way the nervous system develops. The good news is that the parasympathetic nervous system is highly teachable. Are the values underlying the standard operating procedures of schools coercive, or do the values work because everyone understands and consents to them?

Now to turn to the question of

What young people are like in 2018?

Bad behaviour is not the first issue cited in teachers leaving the profession, but it’s a regular feature.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Is this the railing of a conservative politician, an infuriated parent of a teenager or an exhausted head of year 8? No, as many of you may know, it’s Socrates.

I’m going to suggest that:

  • We now understand much more about how young humans develop and can positively implement this knowledge.
  • That young people in the UK may be under more pressure than any generation since those who like my late father, walked through the gates of Maidstone barracks to fight for his country aged 17 in 1944.
  • That young people in the UK are increasing responsible and potentially committed to looking after their own well-being.”

The last part of this interesting presentation is going to be released next Tuesday – make sure you check back then!

Continue Reading

Shining the light of yoga on schools – Adapting and accommodating 21st century knowledge to ancient insight by Netia Prema Mayman

Netia Prema Mayman spoke at our recent Instil conference. She has kindly given us her presentation to share. We will break it into sections so you can absorb the most important parts in bits. Be sure to check back every week for the full presentation. Here is the start of it:

“The presentation will cover:

What schools are like in England in 2018, what VALUES may inform this and how we may have arrived at this point.

I’ll go on to look at what children themselves may actually be like.

I’m conscious of the fact that most of you are yoga teachers, and all people who believe powerfully in what yoga can offer young people. I won’t set out to prove what you already know. However, we can explore together the perspective that yoga offers us in schools and how we can, practically, communicate this to the schools we work with or in.

What are schools in England like in 2018 and what values underpin this?

Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of schools, announced in Birmingham in September 2017, ‘British values are not universal values.’ She said ‘Good education takes people on a journey of enlightenment. I got excited about this and wondered what the Ofsted version of ‘Samadhi’ roughly translated as enlightenment, might look like. First I checked out ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. Samadhi is the eighth limb of Raja Yoga (one of the 4 paths of yoga) and really the outcome of the preceding 7 limbs, ‘Just as the naturally pure crystal assumes shapes and colours of objects placed near it, so the yogi’s mind… becomes clear and balanced and attains the state devoid of differentiation between knower, knowable and knowledge. This culmination of meditation is Samadhi.’

I got more excited. The knower, the knowable and knowledge seemed pretty much central to what schools deal with. This feels a bit different to Ofsted’s stated British Values of ‘democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and tolerance of different belief systems’. Most schools have explicit written values over their own, but need to show also that they are teaching ‘British’ ones. A headteacher told me last week that she had no problem integrating British Values in her curriculum model, simply a problem with them being called ‘British’.

I wondered what ‘universal values’ might look like in Amanda’s next big speech. What might be recommended to lie beneath the actions, beliefs, utterances and moments of enlightenment of school staff and students.

So…I scanned her North East Summit speech in October this year, announcing a new inspection framework, for the word values. If you can find it please let me know… it seems that after only a year, she had decided that attending to universal values was not in her job description.

In the absence of a Chief HMI slamming down the tablets of stone, let’s explore how values may be implicit in English schools…”

We will be releasing the second part of this presentation next week. Join us then.

Continue Reading

Strategies for teaching yoga in schools – Part 3

The last lot of tips for teaching yoga in schools…

Tip Number 7:

Sometimes persisting with the pranayama practice can work like magic. It might be worth using some cues to positively reinforce the behaviour you are pleased with as soon as you hear some students begin to chat ‘All we want to hear is the sound of our breathing… excellent year 8… this practice is a challenge for many of the adults I work with, you are doing really well’.

Tip Number 8:

Where you see examples of really great effort, (or someone who demonstrates the sankalpa really well), if you have chance, you could write their names on the board to acknowledge that you’ve seen their good practice

Tip Number 9:

It’s a good idea to have the sankalpa (intention) written on the board and the questions written on the board to support students with a visual reference during their class.

Thank you to Fay Crowther from Ark Teacher Training for these tips!

Continue Reading

Strategies for teaching yoga in schools – Part 2

Welcome back for more tips on how to teach yoga in schools. Read on for more…

Tip number 4:

A good technique to use is to bring people back together just as their conversation peaks, so that they know that they have to discuss the question straight away, otherwise they might not get chance. You could use a countdown ‘coming back together and being ready to share your answers in 3…. Sitting down and facing this way in 2…. Showing focus until the end of the singing bowl…1 (and then ring the bowl)’ ‘All I can hear is the bowl… what wonderful focus year 8, that’s excellent practice…’

Tip number 5:

The sun salutations are a great way for children to get rid of some of their energy but be careful as sometimes children will have so much energy that it will raise the energy in the room too! If you find that the children are over-excited after the sun salutations, try moving on to holding poses for longer. This seems to support them to have more focus and attention.

Tip number 6:

Where students are not on task and it is affecting the concentration of others, try standing next to them initially and modelling exactly what you expect them to be doing- it can help their minds to get back on track.

More tips to follow tomorrow…

Continue Reading

Strategies for teaching yoga in schools

Over the next few days we will be releasing some tips on how to hold the energy in a yoga class of teens. Keep checking back for more strategies to help you teach to your best ability!

Tip Number 1:

Students really respond well to listening to the singing bowl to help focus. Students often respond well to a challenge or working/moving in an aspirational way e.g. ‘Who can show me focus by holding the pose for as long as they hear the bell? Remember, the best yogis will keep trying, even if they wobble or fall out… that’s part of the practice.’

Tip Number 2:

Keep reinforcing what you want to see, ‘I’m looking for everyone to be standing at the top of their mat, focus forward, listening to the bell, not talking so that we can all start together as a group…Wonderful Amin, thank you Jonathan… great this side of the room’ (you could even write some names on the board/make a note of the names and they could be the ‘star yogi’ for the week)

Tip Number 3:

It may be useful to have a very engaged student take your position to model the moves to the other students.

Check back tomorrow for more…

Continue Reading