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Yoga class in school teaches students calm

Yoga instructor Haris Lender, right, directs Melrose Elementary School fourth-graders, from left, Queen McGraddy, Shimyra Lavine, and Ashlynn Bryant and their classmates, during their weekly class.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Yoga instructor Haris Lender, right, directs Melrose Elementary School fourth-graders, from left, Queen McGraddy, Shimyra Lavine, and Ashlynn Bryant and their classmates, during their weekly class.

ST. PETERSBURG

Nine-year old bodies stretch and scrunch into warrior stances, then morph into shapes of other characters or objects. The fourth-graders hold the poses for only a few seconds before quickly contouring into the next.

Teacher Haris Lender reads a story aloud, pausing to let the kids fill in the blanks with the names of historical African-American figures.

"She told her about a famous boxer who would not become a warrior in the Army," Lender reads, "but was the greatest boxer ever, and he said: 'I float like a butterfly and sting like a BEE and my name is …' "

"Muhammad Ali!" the kids call out.

They remain in their warrior poses. In this classroom at Melrose Elementary, the main lesson is yoga.

• • •

A magnet school that exposes students to multimedia studies, Melrose now regularly features yoga.

Jaye Anne Terry, coordinator of the Journeys in Journalism program at the school, introduced yoga last year.

Lender's yoga is directed at children and "provides them wonderful techniques for calming themselves, for finding a quiet place within," Terry says.

Lender, who owns Kidding Around Yoga, has been a yoga instructor for 11 years and is donating her time for the weekly 40-minute classes.

"It feels good to teach yoga to kids who didn't even know what yoga is, and now they have the opportunity to experience it," Lender said.

Each class is made up of eight to 10 students who participate in meditation exercises, engage in yoga poses and play games. Then the students take a trip to their "secret gardens." They stretch out on their backs on the floor, piano music playing softly, the air scented with lavender.

"Peace begins with me," the children murmur to themselves, touching thumbs to fingers in time with each word.

"Secret garden helps you get the bad things out of your mind," says fourth-grader Mahogany McKeever. When you open your eyes, "you have good thoughts."

• • •

The yoga at Melrose began with a few fourth-graders, handpicked by their teachers to go to yoga during their physical education class.

"Most of the students loved it, and wanted more, so Lender volunteered to offer the class on a weekly basis," said Terry.

The students are taking more from the class than just breathing techniques or muscle-strengthening poses, said assistant principal Kurt Wyne.

They are learning how to manage their stress levels, he said. "When the kids leave class, they seem to be more centered, more in control," Wyne said.

Lender also has been training Melrose teachers in yoga techniques. Fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Petures uses it in her class, leading stress relief exercises before a test and the triangle pose while teaching geometry.

Before one recent yoga class, Petures saw one student hit another with a water bottle. She thought about withholding yoga as a consequence, but then she realized, "That student really needed yoga today."

Students agreed: yoga is calming.

"I'm happier than when I came in," fourth-grader Lazarus Whipple said at the end of a yoga class.

"If we're having a problem, (yoga) can make all bad things go away," said fourth-grader Ashlynn Bryant.

Symone Brown is a freshman at Lakewood High and a member of the staff of tb-two*, the Times' weekly newspaper for high school students.

Yoga class in school teaches students calm 05/31/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 4:24pm]
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