by Cori Hilsgen
Students at All Saints Academy are using ‘Yoga Calm’ relaxation and self-control techniques to calm themselves and to reduce testing anxiety and stress. They are learning about self-discipline, respect and patience.
Marcia Allard teaches Yoga Calm classes to students at ASA. Allard started practicing yoga five years ago after hearing about and attending the first in a series of three weekend classes – ‘Yoga Calm Wellness I.’ She soon realized how beneficial it could be for children.
Yoga Calm uses a combination of basic breathing techniques, yoga poses and games to teach body awareness, self-regulation and social/emotional skills. It’s based on five wellness principles – strength, listening, stillness, grounding and community.
Several school districts in Minnesota, including the Minneapolis public schools, are incorporating Yoga Calm into their curriculum. Teachers, counselors and therapists are finding success with yoga to help students focus better in the classroom, manage emotions and behavior, and cope with stress.
When Allard first began volunteering to teach the classes, all three of her children were students at ASA. She offered the class as a fun activity for Catholic Schools Week in January 2011. It wasn’t long before Allard was teaching each class for 30 minutes every other week.
In 2012, Allard began teaching a class once each week for all grade levels, preschool through sixth grade. She also completed the requirements to be a Yoga Calm certified teacher. This year, she has been providing weekly, 20-30 minute sessions for each grade level at ASA. The time allotted depends on the grade level and the teacher’s scheduling preference.
Currently, Allard has a shoulder injury and is unable to demonstrate some of the yoga poses. She has been instructing only second-grade and older students.
“The younger ones don’t know the poses as well and tend to copy whatever I do,” Allard said. “The older students, however, know the poses and with a little extra prompting, can do the yoga even when I’m not doing it.”
Allard hopes to resume teaching kindergarten and first grade again in November. She teaches classes one day each week, both morning and afternoon.
ASA teachers appreciate Allard’s time and the principles the children are learning. Second-grade teacher Betty Pundsack said she makes use of the Yoga Calm teachings all day long. She said she can see the benefits of students knowing they have the discipline to calm themselves, especially for testing and after physical education. Students who are restless are able to use the breathing and relaxation techniques.
“As a staff, we are so grateful Marcia gives of her time to do this,” Pundsack said.
Music teacher Mary Schumann said the classes teach self-discipline and self-control which can be helpful in students’ daily lives.
Allard’s yoga sessions begin with a student leader striking a chime to get everyone’s attention, followed by simple breathing exercises to calm and bring attention inward, a brief warm-up, active yoga poses and/or games and ending with at least one relaxing pose followed by a short period of relaxation.
“Because children aren’t used to lying still with nothing to do, I often talk them through a short story or meditation as they relax,” she said.
This year Allard is incorporating a student playing a drum beat during the active segments instead of background music.
“The drum beat really seems to help them stay on task as we move from one pose to the next and hold each pose for a few beats,” Allard said.
She has also started, this year, to separate boys and girls in fifth and sixth grade after participating in a Yoga Calm class called “Boys, Coyotes and Other Wild Creatures.”
Allard said the extra focus on boys was inspired by statistics that show much higher rates for boys of discipline referrals, suspensions and special-education needs.
“At the class, I picked up new ideas for working with boys’ natural tendency to be active,” she said.
Allard works with a warrior archetype because she feels it aligns with boys’ natural love of competition, intense physical activity and weapons. She likes to include modern warrior stories and characters from movies such as “Star Wars,” and other super heroes and ninjas.
With this archetype, Allard teaches boys that warriors are protectors and not aggressors. She teaches besides being strong and courageous, warriors also need to exhibit self-discipline, self-control, respect and patience.
One of the games allows students to actually spar with swimming noodle “swords.” The game has rules requiring discipline, patience and other positive warrior qualities. Allard said it’s a year-long learning process.
“Of course, I will use these methods and others with girls as well, but I’m happy to have methods created specifically for boys,” Allard said.
ASA students are enjoying the calming classes. Second-grade students Joe Hess, Hannah Fremo, Kylie Smith and Mary Clare, all 7, recently commented during a yoga session.
“It helps you get the anger out of you and calm down,” Hess said. “It helps your muscles.”
“It helps you get relaxed, feels good on your body and it’s good for you,” Fremo said.
“It’s sometimes fun,” Smith said.
“It just feels relaxing when you do it,” Clare said.
Allard said she feels she is fortunate to have begun her career in wellness as a volunteer so she has been able to start gradually and prioritize her family as she needed to.
“In the future I see myself continuing to teach Yoga Calm and helping schools and kids’ clubs set up their own wellness programs,” Allard said. “This could include topics such as nutrition, experiencing the outdoors and nature, and environmental education. I hope healthy communities will be our reward for teaching our children to be physically, emotionally and socially competent.”
Allard has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and also in biology and French. She previously worked in nursing and has been a full-time mother for the past 15 years. Allard is married to Chad Kissela and has three children: Lauren, 15, Joel, 13, and Claire, 11.
This is Allard’s last year as an ASA parent, but it might not be her last year of teaching yoga at the school.
“Wouldn’t it be grand if our well-balanced children could, in the future, contribute to healthy political systems where people on opposing sides could respectfully disagree and find middle ground with practical solutions to problems,” Allard said.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.