Camelot KAPS Discovers Yoga Helpful to Staff – and Students

 In Camelot Blog

What started out as a weekly yoga class for staff at Camelot KAPS in Philadelphia has turned into a very useful tool for students.

Every Thursday morning at 7:15 some members of the staff gather to stretch, hold strenuous poses and do the deep breathing exercises that comprise yoga. (The idea came from Ms. Alley, a therapist.)

“A lot of our staff had never been exposed to yoga, particularly men on our staff who grew up as athletes and didn’t know what to expect,” said Executive Director Carolyn Abele. “They suddenly found that it’s a very physical way to set yourself up for a positive day. It built camaraderie among the staff.”

KAPS is an early educational therapeutic and behavioral model for young students who have significant difficulties with appropriate behavior.

“We chose Thursday for the class because our data shows that Tuesdays and Thursdays have our highest number of behaviors by students,” Abele said. “Students can physically and mentally take it out of the staff.  Although we are trained to do this work, it’s sometimes challenging to see a student constantly repeat the same behaviors and have the same conversation.”

But here’s the really neat part. As much as a staff member may need to take five minutes to do some deep breathing, having a student do it with him works even better.

“The kids are now involved,” Abele said. “Our therapists and some staff will hold a tree pose challenge, like who can hold a tree pose for the longest period of time. This comes into play especially after recess when everyone is coming in and some have the wiggles or they’re coming in from the gym and trying to get focused again so we engage them in a calm physical way and that makes yoga more appealing to them. Or we can do these silly yoga positions and ask the kids how it feels when your body is like that. We’re just trying to get them to understand the mind-body connection.”

Yoga in some cases can diffuse a difficult situation. For example, a student gets angry. His fists are clenched, her face might be crunched up, his heart is beating really hard because his mind is upset and the body is getting tight.

“Our students can make that connection with how their emotions are and how their body feels and they can use calm poses and breathing to be the opposite,” Abele said.

One school in Colorado recently began canceling after-school detentions and instead of having the kids do yoga. And the school is measuring the effect on students. Educators will be watching the data from that experiment. But Camelot KAPS is already seeing the effects first-hand. And the great part is staff members don’t have to be experienced yoga instructors to use this alternative method.

“If you can get the basics down you have the ingredients for something that’s worthwhile because not every technique we try works,” said Abele. “This stuff is not hard to learn. We have kids in pre-K doing these moves. It also helps kids with spacing and body control, which is relevant in talking to students about boundaries. It’s basically about getting into a pose, which you can watch someone do and then imitate. Even if you’re not getting the pose perfect, getting even halfway there is great for our kids.”

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