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Sarnicola

From left, Anthony DeWolf, Lia Bartolotta and Mary Kate Vitale meditate in one of Megan Vitale’s KAY classes.

Yoga and meditation continue to be very popular methods of exercising, coping with stress and relaxing for adults in the United States, and educators are beginning to realize these same benefits can help children cope with the stress of school, home dysfunction and peer pressure. I was able to find two programs that are providing this instruction to Auburn students.

Megan Vitale teaches yoga to children as part of a grant-funded after-school program at the Booker T. Washington Community Center, Casey Park and Genesee Street elementary schools, and Auburn High and Junior High schools. She has earned a 200-hour yoga teacher certification and is also a certified licensee of Kidding Around Yoga.

She described KAY as a complete, age-appropriate yoga practice that involves breathing instruction, relaxation and stretching and strengthening poses in a fun-filled setting. “I used to work at Sky Yoga in Auburn,” she said, “teaching private yoga classes to school-age children. I was drawn to KAY because it is music-based.”

The KAY website (kiddingaroundyoga.com) lists many benefits of yoga for kids, including improved posture and strength, better concentration and reduced stress. Megan explained her philosophy as a KAY instructor: “I like to teach in a fun, joyful way, and I explain what we’re doing at a level the children understand. My job is to expose kids to all aspects of yoga, and show them that yoga also involves meditation and proper breathing.”

The other program I found was for eighth-graders at Auburn Junior High School, which is co-taught by librarian Marcella Didio and health teacher Kristi Newton. I contacted Kristi, and she invited me to one of the yoga class sessions. When I arrived, the students were in the library practicing yoga along with an online video on a large-screen TV.

Kristi told me that yoga is one component of a 20-week health curriculum. She and Marcella were able to purchase mats, straps, flameless candles and other supplies with funds from a 2017 grant from the Auburn Education Foundation. In a summary of their grant proposal, the two teachers wrote, “Anti-bullying, health and wellness and character education are common themes in American schools today, all focusing on educating the whole child, mind, body and spirit. Yoga, by nature, supports this learning.”

Kristi told me, “Our goal is to expose the students to the benefits of yoga as part of a curriculum that includes exercise, mental health education and stress management.” She can speak authoritatively about these benefits because yoga helped her cope with the stress caused by the unexpected death of a close family member several years ago. Marcella has been practicing yoga for more than 10 years. The two received further training about yoga instruction through a program offered by the University of Rochester.

As affirmation of the success of the program, two students shared their impressions. Abby Carr told me, “Health class is fun. I like doing yoga. I get excited knowing it’s a yoga day in school. Yoga makes me feel good about myself and helps to relieve stress.” Rose Fennessy said, “Yoga helps me to relax at the end of the day, especially if there was a test. Like today.”

Leaning about these two programs was encouraging to me, because I have been meditating for that past couple of years, and I started attending yoga classes at the YMCA a few months ago. I know the benefits of both disciplines firsthand, and I am glad that they are now being offered to children at an age-appropriate level.

Namaste.

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Joe Sarnicola is retired from the Auburn Enlarged City School District. He can be reached at joesarnicola@yahoo.com.

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