An Introduction to Research on Yoga in Education (RYE)
By Rachael Jefferson-Buchanan, B.Ed (Hons), MA Lecturer in PE, Dance & Primary Professional Practice at Bath Spa University.
Published in ‘Physical Education Matters (PEA UK, summer 2006)
Yoga is a physical activity that frequently conjures up images of lycra- clad fanatics tying themselves in knots whilst chanting “Ommmmm” – hardly a relevant activity for school children or their teachers! Be prepared to cast aside such stereotypes and open your mind as to the value of teaching yoga techniques to all children within the school environment, as you are taken on a journey through the archives and philosophical context of “Research on Yoga in Education” (RYE).
Contextual Background to RYE
Micheline Flak (PhD) successfully introduced yoga techniques into the French national education system nearly thirty years ago. Flak is now president of RYE, an association created in 1978 that specialises in teaching yoga techniques to educators, giving opportunities for them to explore and experience theory alongside classroom practice to improve pupils’ learning, memory, attention and self-esteem. In France, RYE has become synonymous with advanced teaching techniques, since it corresponds with the latest educational research and practices. Subsequently, RYE has developed into an international phenomenon, with centres in Europe, South America and the USA.
Six Practical Aims of RYE
Yoga is the Sanskrit word for ‘union’, and its aim is a balanced harmony of the physical needs, emotions and desires. Although the intellectual is clearly predominant within our Western education system, the close interdependence of mind and body is focused upon through RYE techniques. The result is the art of balanced living and improved health, because vital energies are better managed. The Patanjali Scale is an essential reference guide in this process, and six of its fundamental elements are utilised by RYE: living together (yama), cleaning the ‘house’ i.e. body and mind (niyama), straightening the spine (asana), breathing (pranayama), relaxation (pratyahara), and concentration (dharana).
The Patanjali Scale and School Objectives
The six steps of the Patanjali Scale provide a clear theoretical framework through which RYE has formulated its school objectives. Yama promotes living in peace, observing moral rules and learning to live as part of a group, as well as respecting and listening to oneself and others. Niyama aims to eliminate toxins and negativity by maintaining the health of the body and mind, and promoting positive thoughts, self-image, and good humour. The third step, asana, emphasises the importance of correct posture to prevent back pain, to discover our bodies and control movements effectively, to develop the imagination and identify with people and objects, as well as to learn to rest, be still and be active. Pranayama is about educating the breath so that an awareness of nasal breathing is achieved. Control of the breath can lead to purification, inner confidence, and an enhanced ability to resolve conflicts and monitor aggression. Pratyahara focuses on learning to relax; periods of silence and structured rest are deemed essential in order to revitalise a person, and plant the seeds of calmness and confidence. The final Patanjali step is dharana, which results in heightened concentration and learning abilities. The visual memory and other senses are developed, and ways of using the mental capacity are nurtured to enrich thinking, understanding and imagining.
Examples of Exercises and Techniques learned during RYE Training
RYE training is a two-year diploma course, and the learning of a wide range of exercises and techniques originating from the six steps within the Patanjali Scale is an integral component. Some brief examples are outlined below for the reader’s interest. Yama: simple exercises might include the hand squeeze, whereby everyone sits in a circle holding hands and one person sends a ‘message’ around the circle via a hand squeeze which is passed onto the next person in the same way until it returns to the start. Niyama: rotate the ankles clockwise and then anticlockwise three times. Flex the feet downwards three times and then repeat upwards three times. This process can be repeated with the wrists, elbows, shoulders and eyes. Asana: align the spine against a wall and breathe out whilst sliding the back down the wall until the knees are at right angles. Whilst breathing in, slide the back up the wall to stand erect once more. Pranayama: develop alternate nostril breathing by imagining a triangle and breathing in through the left nostril, out through the right, back in through the right and finish breathing out through the left. Repeat this process three times. Pratyahara: a visualisation exercise in which pupils close their eyes and travel out to sea on an imaginary ship into a storm, until the storm eventually subsides and the waves begin to settle as the ship pulls into harbour with smiling, waving people greeting the crew . Dharana: gradually work through all of the five senses by asking pupils to close their eyes and listen to the different sounds being played (e.g. bell, shaker). Repeat this exercise with them touching objects of different textures (e.g. sandpaper, feather), and then offer them a range of aromatherapy oils to smell, and various food samples to taste.
Many people believe that today’s children are here to teach us about the society in which we live. Our society is too stressful, violent and fast-paced. How can stressed, overworked teachers ever hope to meet National Curriculum demands and achieve their learning objectives when their pupils are equally stressed, agitated, aggressive, overly emotional, and mentally exhausted? Through its philosophy and practices that are rooted in ancient yogic tradition RYE techniques help teachers to redress the balance between their pupils’ bodies and minds, simultaneously imparting the joy of learning and living.
Flak, M & de Coulon, J. 1985. Des Enfants qui Réussissent. Le Yoga dans L’Education. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.
Flak, M. A Dream Come True. Yoga at School. Yoga Exercises for the Classroom. Paris: RYE France.
Yoga in Education – Are we missing out?
Article written by Kathy North (experienced Primary school teacher and Yoga teacher), with grateful thanks to Micheline Flak, Jacques de Coulon and Nuria Sanguinetti RYE Uruguay. Published in Spectrum winter 2005
This summer in Venice saw an amazing gathering of 108 people from all over the world attending a conference run by EURYE (European Union of Research on Yoga in Education). The seminar happens every 2 years and the title of this year’s was “Creativity – The Source of Self Expression”. The venue was perfect, just a ten minute boat ride from St. Mark’s square on a quiet island. There was an extraordinary mix of people of all ages and from Montevideo to Montreal, from Greece to Chile. We counted fourteen different nationalities. There were just six of us there from the U.K.
We were there to learn more about the techniques developed in schools by an astonishing, dynamic, French teacher of English who is also a Yogi – Micheline Flak began in the 1970’s to introduce Yoga into her school and in February 1978 she set up RYE. It has since grown into a global organisation.
The techniques of RYE are simple, straight forward and adaptable. They are suitable for use by teachers from pre-school to university and they are great fun. They also work. The French and Italian Education departments have formally acknowledged their effectiveness in schools. The origins of the techniques developed by Micheline Flak are based on philosophy, which has been around for millennia namely Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and dates back to a time when mankind knew more intuitively what aids learning.
Yoga aims to make all aspects of the self harmoniously united: mind, body and emotions – these three need to interact cooperatively but cannot do so, unless this union is achieved. Until this happens there is a continuous waste of energy. Lack of concentration is one of the many teaching problems today, and both children and adults suffer from this inability to fix the mind on one subject. Concentration may be defined as immobility of thought. The five senses, through which we are in contact with the outside world, assist the power of concentration.
Yoga techniques help to develop the power of concentration, like a muscle, by exercising it. If sufficient concentration can be developed the brain can pass from the emission of beta waves, associated with the everyday wakeful state and conscious attention, to the emission of alpha waves, associated with passive awareness, a relaxed state of mind and greater receptivity to the learning process. This is when optimum learning can take place. Visualisations can be very useful for the presentation or revision of certain topics. They also foster creativity (in a written work, for example) and memory. A mental trip to a vegetable garden exploring the senses of different fruits and vegetables, will motivate them to write and to learn the vocabulary of this topic. It is during pauses between phases of deep attention, that the brain fixes knowledge just acquired .It has been scientifically proved that it is important to have pauses in learning sessions. When we stop talking to our students and presenting them with information, the brain continues to analyse the content of the given material. It is necessary to teach young people that to intersperse periods of work with periods of rest is the most efficient way to process information. Short relaxation, presented in different ways during a learning session, helps the brain to digest information.
The RYE (Research on Yoga in Education) approach is not to insert a yoga class into the timetable but to intersperse short and simple techniques throughout the school day, which will improve the attitude towards work. Using yoga in the classroom will definitely affect how one teaches and what is learnt. “Quality in education” should include the capacity of coping with change. Yoga enhances the ability to deal with change, creating new possibilities in the classroom.
As of July 2005 we have a branch of RYE in the U.K. The first RYE teacher training in the UK starts in January 2006, and runs over two years. It is aimed at schoolteachers, yoga teachers and anyone working with children. The first year focuses on general techniques of yoga in school, and consists of four weekends. In the second year the emphasis shifts to techniques of relaxation. By the end of the second year, students must complete a written report and a residential week at the International RYE seminar. The training will be primarily run by Micheline Flak in London, with guest tutors.
Yoga for the Classroom: RYE comes to the UK
By Mark Singleton Iyengar Teacher (Cambridge 2002) PH.D. (and) on the history of Modern Yoga(Cambridge 2007)
Yoga for children is not new to Britain, with after-school clubs and classes gaining popularity in recent years as parents realise its wide- ranging benefits. What is new to this country, however, is the method of Research on Yoga in Education (RYE), an international non-profit making organisation which blends the standard school curriculum with exercises on concentration, attention and relaxation, drawn mainly from traditional yoga. Unlike the more usual yoga clubs, in the RYE system children practice specially adapted yoga techniques within their own classroom, as an integral part of each lesson. The exercises are woven into the learning process itself, helping children to stay alert, relaxed and receptive throughout the day, and significantly reducing stress levels for both teachers and pupils.
RYE is the brainchild of the Paris-based English teacher Micheline Flak, who in 1979 started to experiment with the effects that yoga exercises had on her classroom environment. The results were startling enough to convince her that yoga was a valuable and necessary tool for education. Since then Flak has developed an impressive array of methods for managing the energies of pupils and teachers alike, and for preventing the kind of stress that is becoming increasingly synonymous with the teaching profession in this country. The newly established RYE UK benefits from a quarter of a century’s continuous research and experimentation on classroom yoga methods. With branches throughout Europe, and as far away as Uruguay, RYE has already proved itself an effective and reliable resource for teachers in widely different settings. The recent founding of the UK branch offers British teachers the chance to draw from this extremely wide and well-established pool of experience.
RYE is dedicated to adjusting and adapting the techniques of the yoga tradition in order to improve the mutual well-being of child and teacher, and to foster learning and creativity. Although rooted in the ancient Indian legacy of yoga—the final goal of which is release from suffering and the attainment of a supreme state of well-being—Micheline Flak and the teachers she trains have re-molded the methods of this wisdom tradition to fit the needs of today’s classroom. The exercises that they teach can help to significantly improve attention and memory in children, and to nurture confidence and creativity. But it’s not only about children doing yoga. RYE also encourages teachers to experience the benefits of yoga for themselves, both to familiarise themselves with the techniques they will be teaching, and to get a real firsthand taste of the spirit of the practice. The teacher training’s run by RYE are therefore experiential and hands-on, and trainees learn a wide range of practical methods which can enrich their own lives as well as those of their pupils.