“If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
The boy huddled under the art table in the fetal position and wailed. Snot bubbled out of his nose and tears streamed down his face as he chanted over and over, “I’m so embarrassed.” The other children stared, and some tried to offer helpful suggestions. I knelt down and tried every technique I knew to try to calm my seven-year-old student. The original problem had already been resolved, but he couldn’t stop crying because he was humiliated by the fact that he had started. I encouraged him to breathe, and for the millionth time that week, I wished yoga were taught in schools.
The oldest of five kids, childcare came naturally to me, and I have worked in a variety of educational situations. I’ve dealt daily with these sorts of breakdowns. Once, in the teachers lounge, there was a discussion about what electives should be offered, and I joked that we needed anger management. I have several students who get so angry that they become violent or tense up and freeze, completely possessed by fury. When we ask them to calm down, they say that they can’t, and you can see they have physically lost control. One boy proceeded to mindlessly snap crayons into pieces as he cried for ten minutes. I was finally able to get out of him that another kid had called him fat.
I know children are still developing strategies to deal with their emotions. As a kid, I both witnessed and threw some epic fits, which included throwing everything from sandwiches to chairs. Still, I can’t help but believe modern culture has trickled down to a school level and made for even more stressful childhoods.
More than one child has stepped outside my classroom to take a phone call from a busy parent needing immediate information. This is a disturbing trend.
As a teacher, there is a constant stress to get more and more out of my students. They feel the pressure as every inch of their day becomes scheduled and the bar is constantly being raised. As we attempt to eradicate bullying with more rules and regulations, students are constantly being punished without being taught how to cope with interpersonal conflicts.
The question has to be asked: Are our students smarter, more enriched, and better, or are they just freaking out?
To and from work, I began listening to Eckhart Tolle’s audiobooks. The experience was like having a lecture and a lab class. I could see so much needless suffering being played out in my students. Watching their raw emotions can be painful and frustrating. Currently, the only tools I have to help them change their behavior consist of a system of rules, rewards, and punishments. When they aren’t rewarded for their behavior, they fall apart and beg to know why they didn’t win a coveted prize (usually some worthless piece of paper or plastic trinket). Every day is a new battle as they test the limits and compete against each other.
They stomp on their milk cartons, throw paper airplanes, and tease each other mercilessly. Then, when they get in trouble or they push someone over the edge, the looks on their faces amaze me. They look so shocked, hurt, and confused by the results of their actions. The rules didn’t change. They are the same rules many of them have been told over and over again. Yet, their impulses override their knowledge.
I’m afraid that, despite our sophistication, we do not outgrow this problem.
True, we don’t succumb to the urge to lob Goldfish crackers across the table, but we give into other activities we know we shouldn’t. We text when we drive. We shove a little on our way into a crowded yoga class. We have that bag of chips, third drink, cigarette, or giant latte. We skip exercise and spend money we don’t have.
The most interesting part of this impulse acting is how wronged we feel when the consequences we anticipated show up. We get angry with the policeman who finally catches us. We bemoan the state of our health. We whine about how tired or hungover or generally crappy we feel. We prefer to act like victims even when we know logically that we made so many choices along the way.
So, how do we align our emotional side with our logical side? How do we get all our passion and energy working together for a higher purpose? We must get over fear—the fear that something better may not be coming. We give into impulses when we are feeling frustrated and bored. Those feelings of futility come from a lack of faith in our life vision. We settle for feeling good now even though we know the bill is coming, and it’s going to hurt.
Yoga, meditation, and affirmations are skills we can use to help us create space between a situation and our reaction. The more I practice, the more I am convinced that these skills are the most important lessons we can help others cultivate. If we want to change our behavior and invite new things into our lives, we must stop the constant chatter of thought and the constant drive for stimulation. Embracing emptiness can be deeply uncomfortable at first. We want the drama of our emotions, even though they are painful, just so we can avoid being still. Peace takes practice. Practice requires us to be gentle with ourselves as we grow.
So why wait until someone is an adult to begin a practice? Like the Yoga for the People’s mission statement outlines, access to community and practice shouldn’t be reserved for the wealthy or physically gifted. I truly believe that yoga is for every body—young or old, sick or well, male or female. We may believe that children’s problems are trivial, but the only difference between an adult’s fit and a child’s fit is perspective. There are so many wonderful resources, from picture books to asana action figures, to teach children the principles of yoga.
Imagine a child who is given these resources and understanding early on. I’d love to teach children how to examine their emotions and detach from the concept of “mine.” But, please, don’t shove this on top of an already overloaded, insane schedule.
We must learn to let some things go to make space for transformation.
And don’t even get me started on school nutrition. I’ll leave that to the teacher who blogged about eating cafeteria food for a year and had to stop for health reasons (an illness related to nonperishable nacho cheese). Start caring for the whole child, and an elaborate reward/punishment system will no longer be as necessary.
So much of our conversations about education and life in general are about getting better faster and measuring that growth. Maybe we need a little less conventional success. Maybe we need to ease up on the rules and expectations. Maybe we all need more time to breath and bend.
Danielle Orner is a writer, actress, motivational speaker, yogi, vegan, cancer survivor, and amputee. Diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen, she spent a decade getting scans, surgeries, and chemotherapy treatments. Three years ago, she decided to take an active role in her health researching anti-cancer lifestyles. Currently, she is cancer-free. She doesn’t wait for the six-month scan to tell her she can start living. She’s too busy making impossible things possible. To learn more about Danielle, follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.