Renowned yoga teacher, Loraine Rushton, reveals the profound difference yoga is making to our troubled youth.
When I asked Tom, a 15 year old student, what he liked best about his yoga class, he replied very deliberately, “The discipline of the class is what makes it.” One of the things lacking in today’s society are high standards and guidelines of discipline. It’s up to us as teachers, role models and parents to provide this. Isn’t it interesting that the classes we turn to for guidance are things such as yoga and martial arts, which are referred to as disciplines?
We have collapsed two very different things: developing the trait of being disciplined and disciplining poor behaviour. Maybe if we fostered the first we could alleviate the second. Yoga does this. I have seen it, schools have experienced it, teachers have witnessed it and parents have thanked me for it.
Here are some examples of how the discipline of yoga was used in place of traditional discipline.
AN END TO BULLYING
“Bullying has become virtually non existent at the school,” the principal replied when I asked him if he had seen any effect from the weekly yoga sessions run throughout the year for the entire Catholic high school. Whenever I’ve shared this story, most people think how great that the bullies stopped bullying, but that’s not what happened. It was the students who were being bullied that built a belief in themselves and an inner strength and confidence that resulted in them no longer allowing bullying to ever happen to them again.
Traditionally, we would look at how to discipline the bully, but what yoga provided was a direct elimination of the problem for no longer letting it be allowed.
MEDITATION V DETENTION
Early one morning I received a call from a local boys high school asking if I’d be interested in teaching them meditation. What transpired was a progressive teacher who believed in the power of the mind to change behaviour and wanted to trial a meditation class instead of detention. The boys chose whether to go to detention or sit in meditation. So, rather than a punishment, they had the opportunity to quiet and train their minds. The result was that the boys left calm, relaxed and rejuvenated. The true testament of the impact the class had was that students continued to come for the practice of meditation even after they were no longer required to as part of their detention. The class became increasingly popular with the teachers as well as the older years suffering from stress and anxiety.
YOGA IN JUVENILE DETENTION CENTRES
Should we be building discipline in those who are being disciplined? It’s becoming clear that the disciplining of poor behaviour is not enough.
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, 55% of juvenile detainees reported a prior episode of detention, 79% of juvenile detainees progressed to adult corrections and 49% of those progressed to adult imprisonment.
One institution in Victoria for teen boys has decided to take a different approach. Initiating a yoga program has become increasingly popular and a highlight for many of the boys, who have found a place of peace and calm within themselves for the first time.
The best way to understand the significant impact yoga is having on our troubled youth is to hear from one of them. Nineteen year old Kayla expresses what the classes are doing for her, “Before learning yoga, if I got angry, I would hurt someone. So not only is my life saved, but their life is saved from me.”
Yoga Journal: NOV/DEC 2015 – Issue 47
Visit Loraine's website Zenergyoga
DOES THE MIND control the body or the body control the mind? From a yoga therapy perspective, the most effective way to impact the mind is through the breath and body. When dealing with cognitive issues, we look to the relationship between the gut and the brain, knowing that by targeting the gut and intestines, we can target the brain. Interestingly, science is also looking to this exact same link, as Dr Cryan noted at his recent talk for the Integrative Medicine Research Lecture Series at NIH, “Research shows that altering bacteria in the gut through specific diets may help to treat stress-related and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and hyperactivity.”
Why this is so important is because of what is happening across Australia. According to Beyond Blue, around one in seven children, between 0-12 years old, will experience a mental health condition during childhood, approximately one in 35 Australians aged 4-17 experience a depressive disorder and given that half of all mental health conditions in adulthood begin before the age of 14, it is critical that we start practices to prevent this in early childhood.
ADD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are also on the rise, by a staggering 25 percent in the last 30 years. The Australian Medical Association reports that one in 68 children are impacted by ASD and four times as many boys as girls. According to the Social Care Foundation Australia, “Almost 230,000 Australians have been diagnosed with ASD,” which it believes, “is a crazy large number for a disability that was once considered rare.”
The question is, can diet have an impact and how can yoga therapy help? Nutrition does play a big role for children with cognitive issues, because if we can change their gut, we can impact the brain. Master Oki, who brought meridian-based yoga therapy to the West, believed that nutrition is the basis of all therapy for children up to the age of seven. He explained that yoga gives clear guidelines of nutrition. The modern diet and its high concentration of stimulating foods is not the path to health. What leads to gut health is following a whole food diet and that is where we focus for cognitive problems.
Andzej Gospodarczyk of Ryoho Therapy agrees, “Nutrition plays a big role for children. With cognitive problems in children, change their gut.” He further explains, “Change the bacteria in your guts and you change the structural integrity of your digestive system, stabilise and nurture it in a stable way.”
If food plays a role in over-stimulating children and affects how they act, it stands to reason that if we feed children calm, non-stimulating, nurturing food, this balancing effect will flow on to their moods and behaviour. Take this one step further and introduce food that helps to rebuild gut flora and then you get lasting change.
Nutrition is essential, but including specific yoga therapy corrective exercises and breathing techniques brings results faster. When we work with children on this wholistic level, we see profound effects. Over the last 20 years, I have seen children respond instantly to the yoga exercises, becoming calm, settled and focused. A special-needs teacher once commented how surprised he was that there were never any emotional outbursts, temper tantrums or behavioural problems during yoga. This is not an isolated incident, hundreds of children’s yoga teachers are experiencing the same result in Australian classrooms and yoga studios world-wide. Recently a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s shared how quiet his mind had become by the end of his first yoga class. “I’ve never felt this relaxed, ever,” he exclaimed.
Movement makes a huge impact, because it stabilises and burns out any excess stimulation or tension. But we cannot put the stimulation back in again or the effect from the yoga will be temporary. Yoga therapy gives children the opportunity of feeling better physically, mentally and emotionally through the physical movement. It allows them to experience calm, often for the first time.
Yoga therapy movements to choose will be those that target gut health, bring back function to the large intestine and relax the upper body. This results in children feeling more stable and calm. Quite simply, if we strengthen the lower body, bring stability and security inside, the brain calms down. Accuracy is key, which is why meridian-based yoga therapy works so well. It isolates the part of the body that is not functioning well and directs our attention through movement and breath to bring back function.
Breathing exercises are the final key ingredient when designing a strategy for children with mental health issues, ADD or ASD. In yoga we use the breath to create calm, focused minds and for children and teens the impact is immediate. The moment breathing exercises were introduced into a classroom of children at a special needs school with intellectual disabilities, autism and ADD, a moment of peace filled the room.
The release 7-year-old Tom experienced was instant; tears streamed down his face as he breathed out all the pent-up emotion he had been carrying and was unable to process or release verbally. This was a turning point for Tom, who had previously been sent out of the yoga class for disruptive behaviour.
The impact was so evident, that Tom’s foster mum called the school to ask what new therapy had been introduced. When she found out it was yoga, she wanted to keep it going at home and contacted me. Her words resonated, “I wish I’d known about this years ago.”
Yoga Journal: April 2018 – Issue 66
So I decided to design my own website! I realised that most authentic businesses have one. I consider myself to be an authentic business but at the time of writing I only have a Facebook and Instagram account. So I've taken on the challenge.
My goals for this website: