YOGA AND HUMAN VALUES IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS
There are two main and simple reasons which make Yoga an excellent discipline to spread and convey Human Values: yoga involves the necessity of applying in one’s own life an ethic and moral code in order to preserve energies and direct inner growth. Moreover, the approach of yoga is “learning while doing”: in this way the message can be immediately understood thanks to our musculoskeletal system (the one with which we start to learn when we are little) which is directly involved in the activity, allowing all our being to take part to the experience. As a matter of fact, yoga considers the human being at 360°, which means it considers physical, emotional, energetic, mental aspects, paying attention not to overlook ethic and value-related aspects.
No particular performance is required from the children, only that they contribute to a calm and serene atmosphere. This atmosphere enables to reset, solve and let go of traumas or uncomfortable and unpleasant situations children might have experienced. This is exactly what is done during yoga classes with children. At the start of the lesson they are asked to close their eyes and let go possible problems or tensions they might be passing through and, immediately after, they are asked to think about something wonderful in their lives and to consider that they are wonderful too.
The project carried out in the elementary school of Leonardo da Vinci di Due Carrare (Padua) is made up of 4 lessons for each class, divided in 4 sessions of 1-hour per week. In the course of this 4 lessons a story was told: the story of the prince Siddhartha, a reinterpretation of the story of Herman Hesse.
In the first meeting with the classes, Siddhartha left the father to go in the forest, in order to become a Samana, meet many animals (yoga positions) and to learn from the Samanas (Govinda and Sambhu) how to listen to the heart and immobility. In the second meeting Siddhartha went to the city of Kurukshetra where he learnt many jobs, he met Vasudeva the boatman and he, from the river, learnt how to breathe and he also found the map of yoga. In the third meeting Siddhartha returned to the river and found the temple of Sathya, he learnt the OM and the concentration on the candle. In the fourth meeting Siddhartha decided to help a village struck from an earthquake in order to give back everything he had learnt and put into practice the teachings of his masters.
In every lesson there was first a warm-up, followed by a phase in which the the children would experience some yoga positions (animals, jobs, nature-related images, moment always loved by children). All the positions took inspiration from any of Siddhartha’s experiences, sometimes delivered through games (a revisited rock paper scissors, the forest, the book…). There was also a part dedicated to breathing and concentration, before concluding with a relax moment (also this activity turned out to be extremely appreciated by students).The children were always kept in circle and they have always listened to and followed the story during activities.
During story telling moments, we always referred to some virtues that might be of Siddharta or of any wise man he had met in his journey, such as courage, kindness, lovingness, inner joy, peace, strength, will to help others and much more. Children were always invited to make those virtues theirs, to feel and live as those virtues truly belonged to them.
After relaxation, the children would find in the middle of their circle a mandala, Tibetan bells and some tickets they could pick up. Those tickets reported some important quotes taken from either Hesse’s book or from great men’s sayings children could be inspired by.
Therefore, the technics used were: story telling, music listening, yoga positions, breathing, Saints’ or wise men’s words (quotations), silent sitting with attention to the breathing and concentration on the candle.
Listening and silence were always used to create a space in which we could become present and aware.
Teachers also actively took part to some of the classes, who also let themselves lead from and into the experience, deriving benefits from the relaxing effects of the practice, just like students.
It is important to mention that I was asked by some of the teachers to give a 1-hour talk to the 4th classes where I should talk about India, about my experience in this country, which was to be involved in the explanation of the Indo civilization. What the teachers were really interested in finding out, was how the people of India could live for ages in peace, without being touch by conflicts that were devastating Europe and the rest of the world. No doubts, a very interesting topic.
The children were generally very opened to the activities, they engaged with pleasure in the moments of tranquillity that were proposed. To the question “what is yoga?” at the start of the course many answered: calm, making up with friends, relaxing, chanting the OM, speaking with angels… At the end of each lesson when they were asked what was that they liked most, half of them would say “everything”, expressing some preferences to specific yoga positions or technics. Teachers, maybe realizing the significance of the experience, turned the last lesson of the 3rd classes in an “open lesson” for the parents as well. The majority of the parents took part enthusiastically, all their comments were positive and some of them at the end of the lesson even asked me which technics I use keep calm.
The experience, certainly challenging, has given its best results in metaphorically sowing some of the main concepts and principles that the culture of yoga brings and embraces, for what concerns both the unification of the being and the emergence of virtues and goodness in the youngest. This with the perspective in mind that these children might in a future approach this discipline in a more demanding way in case of need, and also that they might be inspired to live according to the values of Love, Peace, Non-Violence, Truth and Conscious Action. To always know where and how to find tools to face difficult moments that life might bring and overcome situations of stress, tensions, physical or mental discomfort or simply to live happily!
Mathematics and Phisics ’s Teacher, Yoga’s Teacher and Human Values Educator