Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all

At a time when the focus of education in the UK seems to be all about exams, outcomes and results, it might be healthy and almost revolutionary to quote Aristotle, who famously introduced the idea of educating the heart.

What do we mean by this?

The Dalai Lama has been outspoken about education in the last few years using exactly the same quote to bring in the idea of teaching conflict resolution in schools through teaching methods for internal and therefore external peace.

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Pre-exam yoga practise

Exam practise

Things to do before exams

1. Sleep well (follow steps below)
2. switch off any screens at least an hour before bed
3. don’t drink coffee or alcohol or eat sugar after supper ( even better, avoid them altogether if you can)
4. have a hot bath with lavender or chamomile essential oils before bed
5. massage yourself slowly with warm (pop it on the radiator) almond oil with lavender drops (failing that, both olive oil and sesame oil that you get from the food shop are fine)
6. have a chamomile/limegrass/valerian tea 1 hour before bed
7. eat a regular times and sleep at regular times, bed around 10 and up at around 6/7
8. make sure your room is cool and clean with fresh air and your bed is warm and clean
9. read something inspiring before bed for a few minutes
10. Ujjayi breath for 10 minutes in the evening.

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The Revolution is here!

Teaching young people yoga, sometimes I am aware of a clash between my values and the values of the school or the establishment I am teaching in.

I suggest to my students the ideas of collaboration vs competition, love vs fear, self care vs pushing the boundaries. Sometimes I have to be careful how I do this. Our whole society is built on fear of failure, of poverty, of loneliness and of illness (among other things) and so school emulates this and echoes these values. Yoga professes the opposite, if you have love, if you trust and believe and see others as your equal or even as yourself, all will be well with the world, in fact, all is well with the world.

The kids often come in hungry to prove something, a posture, a piece of clothing, a victory. Noisy, uncomfortable, rajasic. After the first relaxation, the noise has abated somewhat, but there is still this vibe of “look at me!”, the noisy ego and the fun, joyful child which emerges in me too!

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Inclusion in Schools

“Better than…”, “More gifted…”, “More flexible…”, “More friendly…”… do these terms sound like advertising?

There are worse labels though:

“Less able…”, “Less sociable…”, ADHD, Aspergers, dyspraxic, dyslexic…….

Apparently these endless labels “help” teachers and parents to differentiate learners in a class, categorising and measuring outcomes, people, products. They may however just oversimplify the diversity.

As OfSted looks at “inclusion”, and we take side glances at Finland’s non-streaming, all inclusive, successful and happy school system, I wonder how these categories really help, and how they may relate to yoga.

Are we not all looking to belong, to connect, to be part of a whole? Where does this longing come from? It comes from within, yoga says, it is your birthright, it is the truth, this connection, that you may feel on a forest walk or in the midst of a giggling fit with your best friend, or in a big group of friends, on a roller coaster, as you scream together. This is the truth of human existence.

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Embodied Truth – a value based education

What is a value based education?

If we want our children to access yoga in schools, they need to be inspired by shining yogis who embody the reasons to follow them and not simply fed yet another faddish piece of information, which is out of context.

It is my experience that a congruent practitioner who shares her/his insights and failings with integrity will have a far reaching and deep impact on the child for years to come where a non-practitioner would fall desperately short.

The vulnerability and deep searching, which is an intrinsic part of the teenage years seem to open to yoga in the most surprising way. Postures that might take an adult several years to master, will take a teen a few weeks, ideas and concepts that as an adult we rail against are lapped up as obvious truths. Meditation is an easy task for many teens, where the adult has layers and layers of emotions, memories and preconceptions which stop us from opening up to meditation and stillness.

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Stress busting techniques, not what you thought!

Stressed? Breathe!

Stressed? Watch your thoughts!

Stressed? Relax!

These directives do not work for most people in highly stressed states!

Mostly because the body is in fight or flight mode, and when we try to direct it toward relaxation, it has not got rid of the adrenaline that is coursing through the body. 

In short, the body needs to move!

This is why mindful yoga (or even mindless yoga) can really help against stress. In our teen classes at the moment, this is the week when GCSEs and A Levels start, we find ourselves, reaching out for the acro yoga, the partner yoga, the strong postures, involving quad flexing and glute flexing, which burn away the stress hormones fixed to these muscles ready for flight.

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Mindful teachers = mindful students?

Increasingly, schoolteachers come on the TeenYoga course. I was told by a teacher trainer once that a good teacher can teach anything.  I believe this is true.

Getting school teachers excited about yoga and practising themselves is the best way to inspire children to practise as a form of self care. (see Ingunn Hagen’s Review article published April 2014)

 The question is often asked, how do we get yoga into schools, to help kids overcome emotional and mental trauma, to support them through stress and unease and create a beautiful life for themselves? 

 Clearly it would make sense to train schoolteachers to deliver yoga and mindfulness to their students through the day.

 But what are we imparting if the teacher is not a practitioner?

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Coping with Exam stress

Here are five easy steps towards decreasing stress during exams:

1. Breathe! As you sti down to study, make sure you take 5 minutes to notice your breathing If you need stimulation, breathe deep and fast and if you ned calming down, make sure your outbreath is longer than your in breath.

2. Stretch!  Your shoulders and neck tend to get really stiff when you are studying, so simply, shrug your shoulders ten times and make sure they drop down really deep, then allow your neck to stretch to the right and to the left, count ten seconds on each side. Then use “eagle arms” to release shoulder blades.

3. Relax! Lie on your back on the floor (make sure its clean!), turn off your phone and tell everyone to lave you alone for ten minutes, put on some really soft, classical music and close your eyes, imagining relaxing each part of your body in turn. You can also check out yoga nidra programmes on this website:

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Mindfulness misunderstood

What makes you feel truly loved?

A loving present awareness.

When my son was little and grouchy, it took me a while to realise that all he needed was my loving presence. By that I mean, utterly present, not thinking about anything else, but completely there for him. Its not easy, when they are two years old, I got bored. I wanted to do anything but sit with him, sometimes. I know I am not alone. But when I remembered to be present with him, accepting, and the moments I loved it, immediately the crying would stop and the smiles and the gurgling would start.

Mindfulness as taught by the high masters is this non-judgmental loving awareness towards our own emotions and thoughts and by default also towards others. This is how it works for me. This is what we offer as yoga teachers – a loving presence to anything that comes up, this is what we teach. However, it seems to me that some schools are taking to mindfulness from the opposite angle, not about emotional health and well being but back to the never ending cycle of better learning, better behaviour, easier discipline.

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