When Beth Daugherty instructed her first Intro to Yoga course at Chattanooga's Washington Alternative Learning Center last October, many of the students were less than cooperative, she remembers.
Some of the kids hung out in the back, goofing off, while others struggled to settle down.
By the time the semester ended in December, however, that same restless bunch — now tripled in size — had become active participants, fully concentrating on their poses and well on their way to finding inner peace.
"The last class was so quiet you could just hear them breathing," Daugherty said of the group of roughly 20 students who ultimately opted to take the class. "Just to see them lie there, calm, relaxed — to me, that was a great moment."
The pilot program was born out of a partnership between Yoga East Studio on East Brainerd Road and the Chattanooga-based Gandhi Global Center for Peace, with the goal of teaching students how to use mindfulness techniques to bring calmness into their lives, especially during stressful situations.
The ability to ease negative emotions like anger is especially beneficial to those enrolled at the alternative school off of Jersey Pike, where the student body is made up of sixth- to 12th-graders who have been suspended or expelled from their previous schools.
"They're incredibly talented and so smart and so creative, but they've just made bad decisions. Everybody does," Missy Crutchfield, co-founder of Gandhi Global Center for Peace, which has been partnering with the school to provide such opportunities for the last five years said. "[We want] to get the kids to think about actions and consequences on a deeper level and how they can 'be the change' in the world by starting with their life."
While helping the students build stronger bodies and minds, the yoga sessions also help them build their self-esteem by giving the kids something they feel good about, Daugherty said. The instructors further that journey toward self-acceptance by treating each student with respect and compassion as they practice each pose.
"You don't know what the situation has been in their life," said Crutchfield, who is in yoga teacher training at Yoga East and instructed the students alongside Daugherty. "Some of these kids just don't hear a lot of positive comments or uplifting remarks, so we want to give them that acknowledgment because then they will share it — it's contagious."
With the inaugural course a success, Daugherty will again assume her master teacher role at Washington Alternative School later this semester, though she is already taking steps to replicate the program in other local schools, such as Orchard Knob Middle School.
While each session is about helping the students, Yoga East Studio owner Jennifer Dixon said the expanding program is also beneficial for its volunteers. In addition to the ability to give back to the community, partnering with schools and other nonprofits provides the studio's yoga teachers-in-training with an opportunity to perfect their instruction style as they accrue enough hours to earn their teaching certificate.
So far, those partnerships have led to an after-school yoga program at Snow Hill Elementary School, which started in November, and an all-girls course at Lookout Valley Middle/High School for those in junior high.
"We're always looking for partnerships," Dixon said. "Hopefully as the word spreads, we will be able to get into more schools."
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.