Breathe in deep. Exhale slowly. Repeat… feel the calm.

Since October, breathing exercises and Yoga have been helping a handful of Roosevelt Elementary students understand the power they have over their bodies, their impulses and their anxiety – all of which translates into a more positive experience in the classroom.

While they can’t be in the classroom or meet for YOGA currently due to COVID-19, they are still benefitting from what they’ve learned and participating through YouTube yoga videos to help them stay healthy and cope with any COVID-19 anxiety.

The Brain Body Connection Yoga Program, organized through the Human Service Agency and supported by a grant from the Watertown Area Community Foundation, began to help kids who had some issues that kept them from the classroom. The Watertown School District was also very supportive of the effort which Living Yoga provided the space for and its members also supported wholeheartedly. “The idea behind it was getting kids to learn some things that could help them stay in the classroom… help them understand how the brain controls every part of the body,” said Stephanie Traversie, licensed mental health therapist and clinical health coordinator at Human Service Agency. These particular children have dealt with a lot of trauma, emotional and behavioral dysregulation which led to extensive time out of the classroom.

“We saw a very good change not only in how the kids responded to yoga but also how they were responding to each other,” said Traversie.  “Before yoga they were very impulsive. Yoga helped them stop and think before ‘moving.’ It was very helpful,” Traversie explained. “These children had a lot of struggles initially. We got to see that improve and we also got to see the camaraderie among them build.”

“One day one of the girls came in after something happened on the bus,” began Christina Planteen, yoga instructor. “She was crying and very upset. The girl next to her reminded her to take deep breaths to calm down.

“When you take a nice deep breath in and lengthen your exhale, your body calms down,” Planteen continued. “I think that so often we live in a world where everything is happening too fast. We often make quick decisions and operate out of an anxious state instead of a calm state.”

For example, with COVID-19 it is so stressful even for parents working with kids on their schoolwork, she spoke from experience. “When that happened to me, I removed myself from the situation. I went to bathroom, took five deep breaths and cleared my head. When I came back I was a different person.”

Both Traversie and Planteen consider the pilot program a success and plan to grow the program and its impact.  

One way it’s grown already is expanding the activity to include parents and other family members. Now, even though yoga is at home, some of the kids have helped that effort. “I know of a family where the mom is doing YouTube yoga with her daughter,” Traversie said. “There is another little guy teaching his siblings.”

Yoga isn’t everybody’s activity of choice, Planteen admits. “Whether you choose yoga or not, you need to move your body. If you don’t care for Yoga, walk or do a different activity,” she encourages. “We also need to give ourselves permission to realize this is a really hard time and we can’t always make everything perfect and happy.

When I came here six years ago, I started noticing an issue with childhood depression, Traversie said. The issue seems to reach younger children each year. Teaching children to gain strength over their mind and body is a huge start, she said. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of that. “We want the program to grow so kids can understand how much power they have within themselves,” Traversie said.

We all have that power.

“We hold too much tension in our bodies and sometimes we don’t even realize we’re holding it… and our breath,” Planteen said. Start out simple. “Slow down. Take a deep breath.”

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