Breathe deeply and stretch: yoga students find help for de-stressing and testing

Rebecca Dietz says those in her class ‘are always up for the next challenge.’ In the background are Lillian Whynott, left, and Macy Brown

Being an eighth-grader is demanding.

Lillian Koster recognizes that she needs need to take care of herself amid the grind of homework, tests and sports. She and classmate Lilly Wert say the middle school’s new yoga and mindfulness class is helping.

“You feel more relaxed afterward,” Lilly said.

For Weston Moelker, it’s deadlines at school that brought him to try a little downward-dogging.

Madeline Muth, left, and Molly Fredrickson in an eagle pose

“I didn’t know that much about it, but I thought it would help with stress,” he said.

Wil Bennett said he couldn’t touch his toes when he started the class. “I was always like, very tight,” he explained. “The poses are sometimes kind of hard, but now I’m more flexible.”

He even used some recently-gained breathing skills during a recent test in another subject. “I got a good grade, so …” he said, with a shrug and a grin.

More Options for Students

The trimester elective for eighth-graders meets twice a week for 12 weeks. The class has been such a popular choice that it is offered in four sessions.

In addition to learning what a yoga practice entails and how to safely do poses, teacher Rebecca Dietz said students also will create their own five-pose sequence and develop their own mindfulness and holistic breathing practice.

“It’s very cool watching them go through their own sequences, because this has all been new to so many of them,” Dietz said.

Principal Anthony Morey said a “climate and culture” survey of students two years ago prompted teachers to recommend a wider variety of elective offerings. A switch last year to a trimester calendar created new slots in the schedule for more exploratory experiences.

Claire Weaver, left, and Presleigh Buck do some group core work

In addition to the yoga class, other new electives include an art offering that includes printmaking, design and drawing; net games such as tennis and pickleball; and sports officiating.

“Clearly we know that some students want to have a different health and wellness experience,” Morey said. “Our school improvement efforts have been responsive to student voice and feedback.

“It’s really neat to see our young people carrying their yoga mats in the hallways. We like the message that sends: that what matters most is that you are taking care of your body and your mind.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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