In an interview with Lucy Stone, we discussed a whole range of things around Yoga and mindfulness, it’s place in schools, the benefits for the children, but also at home and for teachers.
Lucy Stone is the founder of YOGADOO, YOGADOO is a company that has been going for around five years now. They provide specialist children’s yoga, mindfulness and meditation teachers to all educational settings, all the way from nurseries through to University, but mainly their work is in primary schools. They work in around 60 schools and have six teachers, including Lucy, working all around the Southwest, but predominantly, in the Bath and North East Somerset region.
BBC – Hey Duggie
Amazingly, Lucy has worked on Hey Duggie on CBeebies! “The BBC approached me to consult on, “Hey, Duggie, which if you have an under five-year old you’ve probably heard of, there’s basically an animated dog, voiced by, Pointless star Alexander Armstrong. I just basically had to write some scripts for him and write some production notes on the poses them to do a series of videos, all of which are on the TV show, YouTube and Facebook.” Lucy is now the advisor for the BBC on Yoga!!
We discussed how yoga can be delivered in Primary Schools and how Lucy’s company deliver it in a wide range of different ways, from breakfast and lunchtime clubs, holiday clubs all the way through to working regularly with small groups of children, whether that’s children that are, pupil premium or the the Sport and PE Premium grant.
What is Yoga?
Lucy described Yoga as “about you finding some time for yourself to learn more about your body, to learn how you’re unique and also what we were just saying is that yoga really is a mindful movement. So it’s thinking about every single millimetre of your body that you move, knowing that it might be different, from one day to the next, not expecting the same results, but also learning about your breath. And the word yoga means union, which is basically the connection of the body and the mind, but also the movement and the breath.”
There are not many other forms of exercise where you have that mental and physical connection. That is really important in this day and age, learning that bodies are all so different; not comparing and no ego is one of the foundation blocks of yoga. “For children to drop those two things at the door is, I think quite refreshing, quite different and sometimes takes some time to get used to. But once they get the hang of it, the benefits are huge. So that’s why I’m so passionate about teaching it.”
If I’m honest, it is not something that I’ve ever practiced or has been part of, of my life, but I can relate to it in terms of that differentiation and catering to different children’s needs within a physical education lesson. When I first started working back into primary schools, having worked in secondary schools for a few years, it was really obvious to see those children that were disengaged with PE, not necessarily that they didn’t like it. I believe that every child enjoys being active, but that it is a learned behaviour for them to not like being active, or dislike sweating or feeling hot. It was more so the lack of differentiations, that in their previous PE lessons there might be one game of football going on and you have children of massive ability differences, playing against once another.
What Age Groups?
I love this quote from Lucy “If you can stand, then you can do an element of, yoga.” There are clearly differences between a four-year old and a 14 year old in their development and attention span. But anyone can do yoga.
Even with tricky, slightly older classes, Lucy is a firm believer in everyone accessing it, finding it fun and making it engaging. “I worked with bath rugby foundation and we actually targeted some hard to reach groups. I’ll go in with a rugby coach. They’ll have half an hour of rugby training. Then we might do half an hour, even an hour of yoga and mindfulness. Because actually what we’re trying to do is, is to find ways to engage them in both the sporting capacity but also a controlled and mindful capacity. After six weeks of work, they really don’t want stop doing the yoga and the mindfulness. It’s always surprising, you always think they’d want the physical stuff, but actually they respond just as well to the Yoga and Mindfullness as well. They may not be having enough sleep. They might be gaming on their screens a lot or maybe they don’t have a great home life, I often just take the blankets and the cushions with me and just make it really comfortable for them for when they’re having their relaxation and you just, sometimes they fall asleep and they, sometimes I just completely Zen down and it’s just sometimes the rugby coach can’t believe what they’re seeing.”
Breaking Down Stereotypes
Breaking those stereotypes down can be tough, but it doesn’t take a huge amount of time. I had a similar thing with gymnastics and dance, but once you’ve got them, and I think any good teacher can teach anything and make it engaging. And the same sort of principles apply with the lesson if you’re teaching yoga, to if you’re teaching football. When I first started teaching gymnastics and dance, if it hadn’t been a part of the curriculum or gymnastics usually consisted of getting the equipment and frame it could be tricky, but once it is a part of their expectation, and I think this is the key, as soon as it becomes part of their routine and the children can see the benefits, you are onto a winner.
Lucy highlighted the key benefits as:
- Mental health benefits
- Coping techniques,
- Dealing with stress and anxiety
- Emotional management
- Building resilience
- Improving co-ordination, balance and strength
- Enhanced confidence
- Better flexibility
- Better concentration span
- Better SAT’s results and attainment.
Weave into the School Day
From the conversation we had, it is very clear that yoga and mindfulness does not have to be delivered in a whole lesson. Clearly it can and I think there is a place for Yoga lessons as part of the PE curriculum map, a few lessons during the year to give the children a taste. But it can easily be delivered in the classroom, 5 minutes at the start of the school, during lessons for a brain break, to help calm children down and get them ready for learning after lunch, the list goes on. “Basically it can be like a pace change, if you’ve just had playtime and there’s been a row and they’re full of food and they’ve got that energy and as an after lunch moment, you can just have, you know, just have a couple of minutes where you just do some quiet breathing and just try and bring the focus back into the room and back on learning, get their game face back on if you like for afternoon lessons.”
I asked Lucy on her views around restorative behaviour management and the studies of using this method in the states instead of detention and in some cases isolation. I was surprised by Lucy’s stance, but hearing her reasons, I completely get where she is coming from.
“Yeah. I have a mixed opinion on this one. People have asked me about that actually because I don’t think that we should be putting meditation, almost seeing it as a punishment, or even mentioning it in the same breath. So, if you say to a child, okay, you’ve done something wrong, you’ve either got to go in and have detention or you can go and meditate. I don’t know that that’s kind of like a similar thing. I think if you’ve done something wrong, then there should be potentially a punishment and a leveler. But then I think if you want to, you know, have time to think about what you’ve done and that should come afterwards. I don’t, I would never want a child to think I’m meditating because I’ve done something wrong. I think we should all be doing the meditation.”
It is a great point and there is going to need to be a huge shift in mindset if more people are going to meditate. Some schools we work in have dabbled, but none that I know who make it a part of their weekly routine and timetables. But I take the point. Perhaps the term meditation should be steered away from, but I like restorative practice, in fact our staff team use this as their strategy for behaviour management.
If meditation were a part of their lives already, perhaps it would have more of a proactive effect, rather than waiting for the event and then using it. I think restorative behaviour management practice is brilliant and I wish I used it earlier in my career, but I agree with Lucy that we want meditation to be seen as a positive thing and used to have positive effects.
What about teachers and parents?
Lucy is obviously very passionate about her subject and would recommend it everyone. But equally I am a convert as well, not to yoga, I probably should be doing yoga as well to help my flexibility. I will most likely pay for this in later life!
My downfall is that I used meditation when I feel stressed, rather than as a preventative measure. Lucy describes her journey and why it is important to use it regularly and now is as good a time as any to start.
“I recommend it to everybody. I was the same. So when I was a BBC journalist, that’s when I started getting panic attacks and feeling quite stressed because it was basically my dream job. I was actually feeling quite stressed doing it, so I couldn’t kind of remedy those two things. So, I learned meditation when I was stressed and then I stopped for a while and then again when I got stressed, I picked it up again and then I realized that actually that’s not the idea. The best way that I describe it is it’s a bit like an antihistamine. You take it like all the time and then that sort of stopped.
“So for me, now that I meditate the same as you, I meditate for like 20 minutes a day to 10 for me. Plus teaching it. But that’s 10 minutes twice a day for my own practice. So actually, my stress levels are greatly reduced. I’m not saying I never get stressed, but I’m a lot more resilient. I can distance myself, the way I react to different stuff. I would a hundred percent recommend to everyone, whether you’re a head teacher or hairdresser to meditate because for me and this is not a dramatic over exaggeration, it’s saved my mental health a hundred percent. It’s just helped me in every area of my life. It’s made me much happier. I also say this to people that I teach, it is the ripple effect of you being well will affect everyone around you, whether that’s your partner, your children, or if you’re a head teacher at school, your staff, your pupils. Everyone will feel the benefits.”
It is amazing to draw comparisons and benefits across different walks of life, children, teachers and parents. The benefits of incorporating and using yoga and meditation in the school day are clear and I would highly recommend you trying it, use it for brain breaks between lessons, or even in the middle of an intense lessons. Even if it is not yoga and meditation, a brain break of any exercise to get the endorphins going can have a huge effect.
But the point I want to end on is stress levels. From my experience, my quality of behaviour management coincides with my patience, happiness and stress levels. My behaviour management at the start of the term is amazing, I didn’t usually have to do any, I was full of beans, the lessons were well planned, fun and I enjoyed them. As soon as you start expecting children to behave that is when things start to unravel. It is the same at home, if I am stressed I am not as good my with daughters and I hate that person! I have less patience and I am not proactive.
I now meditate twice a day and I’m not saying it is the solution to this, but is has definitely helped, I’m sleeping better, and I have more energy as a result. If it is good enough for the best business minds in the world, then it is good enough for me.