I heard a story – an anthropologist went to study the songs of the Huichol Indians and found that they were almost all about rain. She asked the chief, “why is this?” The chief responded, “We sing about what we long for, what we miss and what we need. That is our yearning and our song. Why do you think people in the West just sing about love?”
In the UNICEF report card 11 (2011), the UK came 16th in a list of 29 developed countries in measures of well being.
Obesity is at an all time high, and self-harm is rising at an alarming rate.
The long awaited report from The Department of Health, Future in Mind, was published on the 20th March 2015 and looks at how we can promote, protect and improve young people’s resilience to stress and wellbeing generally.
As with many teachers, my perspective is at ground level. Every week I step into different classrooms in a wide variety of schools, varying from private catholic schools to inner city schools. I watch them flop onto their yoga mat, their safe space, where they can open up, relax and unwind as well as learn about their minds and their emotions.
30 years ago I was teaching languages to the same age group. I have noticed a massive difference. More self-harm, more anxiety, more obesity and lower self esteem. This is not just my perspective but something I share with the 100s of people who have come on the course I run, for teachers to introduce yoga in their classes. Why yoga? How does that help?
Over twenty years of research has proven beyond doubt that yoga is the science/exercise/belief system that addresses resilience to stress. Beyond that- the proof is in the sheer amount of people now enjoying yoga – over 25% of the UK population have enjoyed yoga at some point. There is a 10% increase year on year in the uptake of yoga (BWY research, 2010).
So – how can we incorporate yoga to fit the whole school and benefits learning and well being and actually, the baseline problem, which seems to be – love, to feel loved.
As the Huichol Indian so cleverly and humbly alluded, maybe what we yearn for is love – and it seems to me to be the one thing that might heal our broken system, our broken hearts and our broken children who are results, perhaps, of spiritual deprivation – where the material and physcial world has been overwhelmingly present, maybe our spiritual wealth has declined?
Dr Seldon is the outgoing head of Wellington College, knighted last year by the Queen for his services to education. Sir Anthony took his Yoga Teacher Training Course many years ago, which undoubtedly inspired him to introduce another dimension to his school, the “Happiness Project” and went on to inspire countless others. He will be speaking at the first ever International Instill conference 2015 on yoga, education and wellbeing this year in London, which will look at the interface between these three worlds; yoga, education and wellbeing.
It would be valid to ask, what has the school got to do with the mental health of the student? Is it not merely a place to learn your three Rs, the family being the place for love, spiritual enrichment, resilience and support?
And what about CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)? Their main role is to pick up young people who are suffering. However, their budget has been cut recently and also many academy schools are opting out of the use of CAMHS and are left dealing with and sometimes even diagnosing schizophrenic, bi-polar and depressed students.
In many expensive private schools as well as state comprehensives where I work, neglect is often tangible among the children. It is a tricky area to approach but often there are kids who have been left alone in the evenings as both parents work, or their single parent works, the x-box, the tv and social media are the new babysitters – the all consuming, pervasive, constant presence of these square robot friends and the ready meal.
In yoga as in Zen and Buddhist philosophy and other therapeutic approaches, the central tenet is to create a healing, loving space- silence, stillness, where there is time to digest experiences and emotions, so creating a resilient mind.