Article by Cindy Fanikos, St. John's Preparatory School
From the July/August 2018 Net Assets magazine
I’ve been practicing yoga for 18 years. In 2000, I moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, to work for the University of Virginia. I loved running outside, surrounded by the beauty of the campus, but I soon found the hills took a toll on my back, already weakened by scoliosis. I was also experiencing homesickness and realized I needed a way to better integrate into the community.
It was there, in the university’s fitness center, that I attended my first yoga class. It was full of men and women of all ages, including faculty, staff and students. With the encouraging words of the yoga instructor, I was able to push aside any reservations that are natural for someone new to yoga, and I learned to make my yoga mat my home.
When I moved back to the Boston area, one of the first things I did was find a yoga class. To this day in each class, I lay down not just my mat, but also my fears, insecurities and challenges. I know that I am not alone. In each class, I share my practice and my imperfect journey with others. Just like life, every day on the mat is different. One day my balance sequence is empty of wobbles, and the next day I can barely keep from falling. These experiences are constant reminders of the qualities that yoga brings: humility, honesty and compassion.
A year ago at St. John’s Prep, we were discussing new intramural opportunities through our new wellness center. We discussed yoga’s physical and mental benefits, including helping to combat anxiety and teaching mindfulness. We also wanted to build a greater connection between students and the faculty and staff who teach yoga. With the school’s support, I now offer a weekly yoga class to all grades.
Teaching yoga at St. John’s has been amazing. A steadfast group of sixth-graders shows up each week, immediately takes off their socks, and dives right in to try anything and everything. Their lack of inhibition is inspiring. They have even created their own sun salutation sequences that they taught to their classmates.
I also worked with the JV basketball team last winter. They had more inhibition, especially about taking off their socks, but they were willing to try and were never afraid to fall. They quickly learned how yoga could improve their flexibility and their game.
Most students’ favorite part is savasana, a resting pose that asks for complete relaxation of the body and mind. As soon as they come in, they ask for savasana. If they had their way, they would have 60 minutes of it. For those last five minutes when we do savasana, they get to lie down, put aside everything in their lives and focus inward. It validates that kids need this peaceful time as much as we adults do.
I am now in the depths of completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training. I should be a graduate by the time this is published. Every week is different. Anatomy took up two solid weekends and reminded me why I majored in business rather than science. But it helped teach me the poses and their benefits to the body. Another weekend we spent just on our voices, helping me battle my public speaking challenges. It has been an incredible experience and enabled me to dive deeper into my yoga practice physically, mentally and spiritually.
Teaching yoga has been a blessing. The students are teaching me more about my yoga practice and myself. Their curiosity, lack of inhibition and sheer determination are contagious. Best of all is the fun and smiles they bring to each pose. As I tell them, if you can smile in a pose, you are a master yogi! Once again, my mat has helped me find my community, my home.
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