Tag Archives: Kids

Judge Ruling If Yoga Is Tied To Religious Practice, Allowed In Public Schools

Remember my mention of conflict over secular yoga in the classroom? While I can’t speak to whether or not the yoga used with these students has religious roots, I can identify with the observation by teachers that students were calmer and using breathing exercises on their own during tests. Regardless of whether people support the use of yoga when identified as yoga, there is a clear need for quiet reflection, stillness, stretching, and breathing in the classroom. Kindergarteners should not report feeling stressed. Neither should the fourth and fifth graders in my room. Obviously this points to even larger systematic concerns in how we’re teaching our kids in high-pressure environments, but at least the non-religious elements of yoga help to alleviate some of the stress.

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Yoga & Christianity: An Unexpected Controversy

This week I was startled by the revelation that some people feel yoga challenges Christianity. As someone who has taken classes in all kinds of studios, this thought had never occurred to me. Even with Yoga’s Buddhist and Hindu roots, I have never once heard talk of God in a yoga class.

Instead, I have found deep spaces of quiet to reflect on who I am and connect with myself, both mentally and physically. While yoga is becoming more and more a part of who I am, its influence is through quieting the mind into a space of mindfulness, not through guiding me to surrender any of my core beliefs.

So why does it matter to me that some Christians are bothered by yoga?

The answer is simple. I want to teach yoga in my classroom, but I teach some deeply religious children with families sensitive to anything that might challenge their beliefs. It has already been suggested that I keep the word yoga out of what we’re doing. To me, it’s more important that I give my students a physical outlet for their stress than any sort of label. Still, I cannot help but feel bothered that this is the case. Yoga is powerful and I want to share it with my students in a way that helps to dispel misconceptions.

The little yoga that we’ve done this year has calmed them. Our contests of who can hold tree the longest provide quiet moments of concentration that connect my students with both their minds and bodies. Our breathing and visualization exercises have given them the strength to overcome anxiety in both social and academic situations. Multiple times in the past couple years, I have caught my students using our brain break techniques on their own to relax their minds. Jesus or Buddha has had nothing to do with it.

A friend came and talked to me after school today. She is deeply religious and I knew she would be able to help me understand. I told her how I wanted to do more yoga with the kids but was just beginning to understand what I was up against. She admitted she once felt the same way but then attended a yoga retreat with a minister friend and realized it was a way to connect with herself and her beliefs, not a call for change. Another childhood friend teaches “holy yoga” for free at her church. Clearly both can exist together, but people who do not know are still afraid.

Sometimes I go to a church downtown that honors all faiths. It does not ask you to leave your beliefs at the door, but rather invites Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists to see how their faiths intertwine and share so many common ideas. This concept puzzles some of my devoutly Christian friends. They cannot understand how Christians can acknowledge multiple paths to God, but the world is full of different faiths. That’s not going to change. We might as well try to understand our differences and find some common ground.

But here’s the real irony, all this religious strife aside, teaching yoga has nothing to do with religion for me. It’s simply the act of connecting body and mind to create a healthier self. The kids respond well to it. Never have I once tried to influence their beliefs. I don’t want to change them, I just want to give them a way to manage the stress in their lives and improve their physical fitness.

For the time being, I plan to continue my endeavor under a different name, but I want to reach the point where yoga mats are welcome in my room. Public schools in many parts of the country have already embraced yoga for kids. I want the same for my students. I leave you with two incredible clips that show how yoga is changing lives for at-risk youth around the country. While the second clip is low quality, looking into the eyes of homeless young people and hearing them talk about how yoga gives them the heat to survive the cold is life changing.

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My Weekend Project: Querying a Graphic Novel on Behalf of an 11 Year-Old

For fun, I offered to query a book created by a student in my classroom about his struggles with anger management and ADHD. Thought I’d give you a sneak peak because I believe this book belongs in the hands of kids everywhere:

Dear Agent,

I discovered your agency while researching representation for my own writing. However, I am querying on behalf of my 11 year-old student. For his fifth grade project, he wrote and illustrated a 1,663 word graphic novel about coping with ADHD and anger management.

The book chronicles his real challenges in overcoming anger and focusing in school despite his difficulties with impulse control. Each page is illustrated with examples from his own life in how he went from a kid who punched someone for calling his brother gay to a kid who learned to take deep breaths and get help from an adult instead. The story is centered around the premise of becoming your own superhero and includes humor, such as his love for shouting out the words “hot dogs” in class.

My student’s family gave me permission to query on his behalf. I have been his teacher for two years and watched him transform from a student who transferred because he was getting in fights to a kid who diligently created this book to help others like him. His life story is truly remarkable, with a band of young relatives joining forces to raise him in the absence of his biological parents. If you are interested, I will leave it to his family to share more details, but rest assured it is a story that would melt any heart and give real credibility to the obstacles he has overcome to become his own superhero.

As a fourth and fifth grade teacher, I can vouch that this book would fill a real niche in education, particularly for students who struggle with similar challenges. At my school, this book has become famous, with students beyond my doors asking if they can borrow it for just ten minutes. I am certain that teachers and families alike would love to share this book with any kid who has ever felt angry. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider his submission. This is a multiple submission.


Olivia O’Bryon


"You ever get so angry you just want to punch a wall?"

“You ever get so angry you just want to punch the wall?”

"Of course you have, we all get mad sometimes."

“Of course you have, we all get mad sometimes.”

"I got really mad. My hands got hot."

“I got really mad. My hands got hot.”

Each chapter is organized by idea, my favorite is chapter three, "The Last Straw."

Each chapter is organized by idea, my favorite is chapter three, “The Last Straw,” but the chapter “Results” is also pretty darn awesome.

"People like to play with me more."

The best result: “People like to play with me more.”

After all, you are your own superhero now. Go out and show everyone your powers!

“After all, you are your own superhero now. Go out and show everybody your new powers!”

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Week 21: A Week of Somedays & Giving

The past two weeks my goal has been simple. Write less, relax more. The result, however, was unexpected. Sure, it was nice to relax, but time actually passed faster, not slower after work. Without my routine of an hour or so of writing each night, time melted together into one big blob each evening. I felt restless and a little less happy. Proof enough I need to write.

In the midst of this whole experiment, life has been full of moments. The detailed death of funky monkey, one of my more imaginative student’s gigantic stuffed animals. The stunned looked on innocent faces after a terrible accident. The child who brought a thermos of coffee to school for his ADHD and sat like a little old man with his Japanese zen cup looking out the window to drink it. Tumultuous political discourse. Plumbing failures and late night communal with nature.

Maybe that’s the plus side of slowing down. More time to notice the details, pleasant and otherwise, that will someday add texture to my writing. More time to laugh at the craziness. I’m just not good at slowing down. I fight it. Time disappears and feels somehow wasted.

At least the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success was part of this downtime. I have it playing on loop in my car. I’m determined I need to hear it more than once. It resonates. It reminded me to live without judgment, (have you tried this? I had to laugh at the irony of watching someone litter out their window as these words played for the second time…).

My favorite principle, however, is about giving. Give to everyone you meet, whether it be a blessing, a compliment, or something material. I don’t know why I love this one so much, but I do. I give to my students everyday and this is one of those things that fuels my being. The idea of consciously giving to everyone I meet is exhilarating. Reminds me of a fellow blogger who blesses all the other cars along the morning commute.

Not sure what I’m giving you today, other than a rambling mess of words about life, but you are giving me a gift by reading them. I’m beginning to realize giving and receiving are really the same thing. Thank you.

On second thought, I know what I’ll give you. My favorite music videos of the morning. The first for its message that home is about people, the second because the kids will make you smile:

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Right Action & Overwhelming Goodness

My sister orchestrated a coat drive at her school over the holidays to benefit my students. I didn’t ask her to, it was part of her “right action” project. On Sunday night, two huge bins of jackets were loaded into the back of my car. Each included a carefully drawn flyer reminding others of the importance of right action. I felt mighty proud of my kid sister.

Yesterday, I got a thank you letter in the mail to give to our student council. Our food drive, organized by the kids in December, contributed nearly 2,000 meals. The first load alone weighed more than 300 lbs.

Today a parent set up a schedule to work in my classroom. She plans to spend an hour in my room four days a week working with a student who is special to her, my very own Maniac Magee. Her husband is scheduled to volunteer a couple days a week too, on his days off. They do not even have a kid in my class. They also spend significant time at my school in other rooms, art and their own children’s. They are just that kind.

Last week, a good friend came in on her hard-earned day off to talk to my class about being a journalist and going to grad school. This month my dad plans to volunteer as well. My mom sent healthy snacks for the kids in December and was so excited by their gratitude she just ordered more…

Sometimes when my job feels like a lot to carry, I am blown away by how others are willing to share the load. I am most humbled when this help comes out of nowhere. Just when it seems like I could not possibly ask for anything more, someone else reaches out and makes a difference, reinvigorating my dedication to my work and my faith in people.

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Don’t Have Children.

That’s what a woman at Costco said to me today. It was one of those lines that stick with you for the rest of the afternoon. Not because I plan to listen to her. Heck, I surround myself with 30 kids five days a week. I like them.

But, I also wonder how it will be different when they are my own. Right now I know 15 pregnant women. Of course, Facebook helps increase this total, but at least 6 of them I see regularly. Babies are everywhere I look. I guess that’s what happens when you’re almost 30. Eventually it will be my turn too, life willing.

This particular woman had two little ones under the age of 3. One in her cart, the other in grandma’s. “Please don’t touch the flowers, please don’t touch the flowers, STOP IT!!!” She lost her cool. As she shouted at the youngest, I realized what I must sound like when I lose my self-control at work. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I get really frustrated too. She turned to me, after aisles and aisles of keeping the same pace, and told me not to have children.

I felt for this poor woman. I could tell she was tightly wound and looking for perfection. A lot like me some of the time. I knew exactly what she felt like without even being a mom. I could imagine all the pressure. I could feel her stress in trying to maintain control. I could even see the exhaustion on her face.

I suppose in the beginning most parents have moments where they might say something similar to a perfect stranger, I just like to think I never will. I guess I have to actually have kids first to figure that out. Until then, I’m going to keep working on remaining calm in my classroom. I’m grateful to that woman for the reminder of what it looks like from the outside. I hope she finds some calm this weekend too.

Proof I'm not always rainbows and gingerbread houses either... But, at least I have a sense of humor about it!

Proof I’m not always rainbows and gingerbread houses either… At least I have a sense of humor about it.

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