seated breath

Can Yoga Prevent Bullying?

By Dorothy Fizzell, SOYA, IYTA, ERYT500, Early Childhood Educator

Bullying among children and teens is a serious issue. In the past, we used to say, “Oh, that’s just kids being kids”, or “It’s just part of growing up”, or “I was bullied and I’m just fine”.

There is growing recognition that bullying is not a “rite of passage” that children must endure because they are different in some way. The key to creating a bully-free environment is to make the environment a safe place for everyone.

What is bullying?  According to Olweus, 1991, an expert in bullying research, “a person is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more persons.”    There are different types of bullying, with cyberbullying being the newest type using technology.  It has been shown that the reasons children are bullied are the same reasons that people are biased, racist, and intolerant of diversity.

A study on bullying by the University of British Columbia based on 490 students, 50% male, 50% female in grades 8-10 in a BC city in the winter of 1999 showed:

64% had been bullied at school;

13% bullied other students regularly, once or more a week;

72% observed bullying at school at least once in a while.

Source: Centre for Youth Social Development UBC Faculty of Education

There are three ‘players’ in the bullying cycle – the bully, the victim and the bystanders.  It is the bystanders who have the most power to stop bullying, and if they know what is fair and unfair, and can take some action, bullying will often stop.  Bullies tend to lack empathy, like to have power over the victim, and attention from the bystanders.  Victims tend to lack self-esteem and are often not able to stand up for themselves.

An expert in anti-diversity education, Louise Derman-Sparks has developed four anti-bias goals for creating a safe, bully-free environment for all children.  These goals correlate with each of these ‘players’ in the bullying cycle.

Using Yoga to Help Prevent Bullying with the four Anti-Bias Goals

1. To enable children to develop a strong sense of self, which helps them feel good, but not superior, about self-identity. (victim) 

Yoga Technique:  Breathing -This is My Life

Repeat loudly with the movement and breath, “This Is My Life! Mine To Enjoy! And I Feel Great!!”

dorothy5

This (inhale arms in front)                                                                                                      Is (inhale a bit more)          dorothy1

 

 

 

 

Dorothy4My  (inhale arms up)                                                                                                                Life (exhale and fold)
Dorothy2

 

 

 

 

 

seated breath2. To enable children to feel comfortable with one another and with differences, which helps them develop empathy with others. (bully) 

Yoga Technique:  Partner Twist -Feeling another’s heart/breath

Sit back to back, cross-legged, reach around with right hand to touch partner’s thigh, left hand on own right knee, lift & twist, breathe.

dorothy63. To enable children to think critically and seriously about how they and others feel when encountering inequities, which helps them differentiate between fair and unfair treatment. (bystanders) 

Yoga Technique:  Balance -Tree

Root left foot into ground, keep left hip long, turn right knee to side and place foot on ankle, calf or thigh; raise hands above head and focus on balance.

4. To enable children to stand up for themselves and for others when facing unfairness and bias, which helps them take action. (bystanders) 

Yoga Technique: Grounding -Mountain & Sun Breath

Feet evenly placed under hips, toes forward, lift up through legs, back long, lift ribs, shoulders back, chin parallel to floor; hands up and inhale arms above head, turn hands, exhale hands down.

Dorothy4Dorothy3Introducing yoga to children can help increase confidence and self-esteem ( the victim); it can assist with developing empathy and compassion for others (the bully), and it can allow children the time, focus and permission to develop problem-solving skills and to feel sure enough in making decisions to take action against biased behaviour (the bystanders).

These four yoga techniques can help with each of the four anti-bias goals, allowing environments to be safe for all children, so differences can be celebrated.  Yoga teachers can be creative in using other yoga asana and breathing techniques to fit into these anti-bias goals.

Creating a safe, positive environment for everyone decreases the opportunities for bullying to take place, and yoga is one tool to use to accomplish this.

Dorothy Fizzell is a lead trainer for the SOYA 200hr yoga teacher training in the Vancouver area.

Vrksasana

Vrksasana or the Tree Pose

Balance – The Art of Being Present: 

Submitted by Cindy Szekely, of Intuit Yoga, Mackenzie, BC. Cindy is a SOYA Lead Trainer for the SOYA Teacher Training program. 

Vrksasana and other balance poses help to build focus and increase our ability to concentrate.  This requires the ability to stay in the present moment, not allowing the mind to run wild with thoughts of “Will this pose ever end?” or “oh here I go, I’m going to do a face plant.”  The next time you are in a yoga class and find yourself moving into a balance pose notice if you feel positive or if you are filled with some sort of anxiety.  Once in the pose notice your thoughts and what happens when the mind wanders. Chances are once your mind starts to wander you will no longer be able to balance.  Focus has been lost and the present moment eludes you.

So how then can you work on being fully present in your balance poses?  Listen to the cues directing you to find an external focal point on the floor or wall.  Remember, not a person or anything that moves.  Then take a moment to find your breath.  It truly is a valuable tool.  As a yoga teacher I have found it’s really common for students to hold their breath during balance poses.  Somehow, holding the breath helps you to feel you will make it through to the end of the poses without falling out. Just the opposite is true.  Find your breath, then find a slow steady rhythm, focus on the inhale and exhale and see what happens during your balance poses.  Once you find your breath you may be able to ground more fully, and find a place of ease and stability in that is in the present moment.

Vrksasana/Tree Pose

VrksasanaHow To:

Standing tall in tadasana.   Shift your weight slightly onto the left foot, keeping the inner foot firm to the floor, and bend your right knee. Externally rotate the right knee and draw your right foot up and place the sole against the spot on your left leg, it may be the ankle, calf, inner thigh depending on your range of motion.

Rest your hands on the top rim of your pelvis. Make sure the pelvis is in a neutral position, with the top rim parallel to the floor.

Bring your hands together at the heart in Anjali mudra.   Gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you on the floor about 4 or 5 feet away.  Breathe, be present, and just notice how your balance pose feels.

Stay for as long as you are comfortable. Step back to Tadasana with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time with the legs reverse.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles, and spine
  • Stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders
  • Improves sense of balance
  • Builds focus, concentration

Contraindications and Cautions:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Low blood pressure
  • High blood pressure: Don’t raise arms overhead

Modifications and Props

  • Support yourself with at the wall if you feel unsteady in this pose