At the end of last year Floga combined forces with the Icarus Trust, a charity which offers support to families affected by addiction and mental health issues. Initially, the charity targeted home life; supporting the children, wives, husbands, etc. who needed it. However, more recently, the Icarus Trust began outreach within schools – providing workshops for students which focus on mental health and emotional wellbeing, in the hope of decreasing the risk of issues later on in life.
Having previously worked in a state school for a year, I have already witnessed firsthand the increasing stress and pressure children experience both at school and at home from a young age. I was (and still am) slightly dumbfounded by the sheer intensity of even primary school, something I never personally experienced too much as a child. The increasing work load, pressure on achieving certain results, lack of funding and added exams, are a large part of this. Add on top a difficult home life; bullying; friendship issues; puberty and all the other joys of growing up, it is no wonder that so many children and teenagers suffer from anxiety, anorexia and depression – to name but a few.
Whilst teaching in this particular school, I was predominantly aware of the lack of variety, particularly in the creative and expressive subjects. Children and teens respond with great enthusiasm to subjects and activities which encourage creative responses, imagination, and personal challenge. It brings a welcome break from solving math problems and trying to write the perfect essay. This became the foundation of Floga; to use two creative subjects, art and Yoga, as a way to provide kids with freedom of expression and a release from the intensity of school life. The Icarus Trust wholeheartedly supports this idea and is also working hard to provide children with the chance to experience something new; creating a fun, engaging space which nourishes their ability to deal with their ever increasing workload and responsibilities.
Since January, I have travelled to a handful of schools across the Northern part of England, providing Yoga workshops for both primary and secondary schools on behalf of the Icarus Trust. Each workshop has a specific theme (much like my regular classes) and focusses on an area which the school feels the children will benefit from most. The most popular topics currently are (unsurprisingly) ‘Stress’ and ‘Self-Confidence’, due to the impending exams most students are facing. Yoga is a fantastic way for kids to build awareness of any issues which they may be holding onto. I follow a similar pattern with each class. It begins with a discussion on the given topic, asking how they would personally deal with, or may be affected by, potential related problems. This then moves onto some breathing, guided meditation and of course some yoga asana as well. The students are encouraged to experiment with themselves in each pose or activity, in order to notice any change as the practice continues. As always, children bring some excellent points and arguments to the table and so there is rarely a dull moment!
Whilst these classes are always fun-filled, action-packed and continuously keep me on my toes, it is the response of the individual students which just melts my heart and keeps me smiling. I absolutely love it, when after a short moment of simply sitting and breathing, someone turns to me and says (slightly startled) “I already feel really relaxed!”. Just the simple art of breathing steadily, bringing stillness to the body and taking a moment for themselves outside of lessons, home and the playground, can work wonders.
Obviously not every single child responds with complete and utter enthusiasm! For some, it is seen as a girly activity, and a lot of the poses are greeted with giggles! But laughter never hurt anyone and, with a little patience (and some challenging postures for those who think Yoga is a soft option), Yoga is a fantastic means to discuss those more tricky topics in a relaxed environment. Indeed, most of the time, it is the child who realises things for themselves. They begin to trust that they have the power and the knowledge within them to make a difference to their own life.
We have had some truly excellent feedback from the schools we have partnered up with. Teachers have noticed that their classes are calmer, their marks have improved due to increased concentration and the students themselves remark upon things such as feeling relaxed, less angry and thrilled they have managed to get into crow pose for the first time!
It is honestly one of the most rewarding jobs for me. I loved working in a school but I felt so frustrated by the continuous shortcomings of the very systems which should be helping, supporting and furthering a child’s education. Teachers do a phenomenal job, but they are unable to sort out everything, they simply do not have the time or the proper funding. Yet with small initiatives and charities popping up everywhere, offering new creative outlets to an increasingly stressed and anxious younger generation, there is definitely help and hope on hand. Mental health is becoming less of a taboo topic, and extremely beneficial practices such as Yoga are becoming the norm. It is a positive step in the right direction and I, for one, am truly proud and inspired to be a part of it.