Kleinberg Primary School in the ganglands of Ocean View is learning a brand new approach: mindfulness through yoga
School principal Zafrulah Oppelt says the yoga, offered by yoga teacher Sanae Sawada, is making a great difference in the lives of his pupils.
Called Light Kids Yoga, this is suited to busy, full classrooms, and does not involve the physical postures of yoga, but instead focuses on the calming aspect of it.
The children learning this, live among radical violence and crime, says Mr Oppelt.
He says violence is the primary example they are shown by the adults in their midst; and it has made its way into the school grounds. Differences are now settled this way, he says.
“I grew up in this community. I live here, I know what these kids live among. And unless we act now to show them another way, they will never learn how to resolve things peacefully, or respect differences,” he said.
Mr Oppelt’s response is to be pro-active, and to foster prevention at all costs. His open-door policy is introducing a variety of NGOs to the pupils. There are reading, school feeding, maths and literacy programmes and, most recently, an affiliation with an NGO which deals with the prevention of drug use.
Drugs are a fact of life in Ocean View, he says.
And among all of this, there is now a mindfulness programme where Sanae Sawada takes the children (and their teachers) through a 20-minute relaxation exercise to teach them how to relax and de-stress; how be mindful of, and respectful of, themselves, their classmates and their environment.
“We are offering the children the opportunity to learn about self-care, and by so doing, also improve classroom management,” Sanae says. Many of the classes have more than 40 children. Teaching children how to self-regulate, how to learn to understand, respect and work more smoothly with one another, helps the whole learning environment, Ms Sawada says.
On Thursday May 16, the children at Kleinberg Primary School shared their yoga classes with a group of visitors from the University of Western Cape.
Diane Cooper, of the University of Western Cape School of Public Health, brought colleagues Ntobeka Nywagi, Nomfundo Cishe and Rinko Kinoshita with her to observe the sessions.
Ms Cooper said the UWC group was particularly interested in intervention research with schools, and they were looking at how they could incorporate the Light Kids Yoga into their programmes.
With the group were teachers who are keen to learn the process and apply it in their own schools, Katherine Morgan, Sanchia Varley and writer and director Andrew Worsdale of Muizenberg, also visited to observe and learn.
Ms Varley said the change in energy and attention was palpable, and Nomfundu Cishe said it was remarkable to see how needed that process was in the lives of children who face such incredible stress each day.
Ms Sawada has been teaching weekly yoga to children for 5 years, at St James Primary School in Kalk Bay. June 21 is International Yoga Day, and both participating primary schools are planning a celebration of their yoga practice.
“Between the two schools, over 700 pupils participated in weekly yoga lessons during Term 1,” Ms Sawada said.
Kay McCormick is a teacher at St James Primary School. She said that many of the children live with a lot of stress, and she describes the yoga as a wonderful gift to the children.
“Sanae is showing them how to find their centre, their balance and their confidence, and they are developing their own resources not to be swept into turbulence,” she said.
Yoga at schools appears to be experiencing an upward trend. Elizabeth Beer of Lotus Productions is doing similar work with a different form of yoga, which also emphasises mindfulness and breath work, in 18 schools across the peninsula.
Ms Beer has been the co-ordinator of the iMediate Africa Peace Initiative for the past 6 years, working extensively in the Western Cape. She described taking yoga into schools as important work, and crucial.