Stephanie Gater: Yoga as an Educational Tool

I’m Stephanie Gater; I’m from Australia and came to live in Guatemala four months ago to work as JUSTA‘s Chacaya Program Director. Chacaya is a small remote village on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. The nearest neighbor to the village is the international Mystical Yoga Farm (MYF) where I live and work from. MYF and JUSTA are working to connect Chacaya to the offerings at the Yoga Farm. Here are some of my thoughts on a recent Chacaya student Yoga Day at MYF:

I often wonder how individuals, communities and our natural environment would benefit from integrating yoga and meditation into our classrooms. If, at a young age, we can cultivate the art of mindful living, remain present with our life experiences, manage the fluxes of emotion as they arise, and develop a strong understanding of our connectedness with nature and one another. I continue to wonder how it would be if our education systems emphasized developing creativity, understanding and compassion alongside subjects like math and science.

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Fortunately, living at the Mystical Yoga Farm and directing JUSTA Collective’s Chacaya Middle School program, has provided an opportunity to experiment with such ideas. On a sunny Saturday in a space nestled in the trees overlooking Lake Atitlan, we invited Chacaya students for a morning of yoga.

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To start, yoga instructor, Lyssa, introduced the class through song, explaining how singing acts as a way to practice the breath whilst nurturing our bodies with the vibrations we make. Seizing an opportunity to combine music, yoga and language, we sang together in Spanish and English, to the beat of a drum.

I watched the children as they walked the path through the yoga farm, full of excitement, energy and wonder, and transform into little tranquil beings. A remarkable thing to see.

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We then began a series of poses that eased these first-time yoga students into the practice, developing body awareness and healthy movement. As the class progressed we saw their confidence grow, soon playing around with new positions. It seemed as though we were now in a room full of contortionists.

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The school director, secretary and physical education teacher also joined our class. Front row, giggling at their lack of flexibility. Mariano, the School Director, was incredibly grateful for the valuable lessons that were provided in class, and to all the students for their enthusiasm. It was certainly encouraging to have their full support.

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I was astonished by how open and receptive the students were to new concepts and ideas. I was certain after the mention of ‘vibrations and energy’ we would be met with a wave of laughter and incredulous looks. Instead, they listened attentively and pondered. As the class came to an end, no instruction was needed as to what was coming next. Intuitively, everyone moved into a seated position, eyes closed, ready to breathe into ohm… And just like that, twenty-two lively students between the ages of 12 – 14, laid down, quietly, peacefully into Svasana, and let the sound of the Tibetan singing bowl enter their meditation.

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With thanks – I am in deep appreciation of the Mystical Yoga Farm for their enthusiasm and support in wanting to wholeheartedly be apart of the Chacaya Community and for always opening their doors to the school. To the lovely Lyssa Morris for teaching the students – her class was a complete work of art and to Loren Wheeler for the music accompaniment. To JUSTA for making this opportunity possible, and of course, to the children and teachers of Chacaya for always being so open to alternate forms of education.