It would be easy for the controlled chaos of Soldotna High School’s hallways to seep into Lisa Wells’ yoga class.
As the final class period of the day starts, students hustle to classrooms, finish up their hallway chats for the day or start getting ready for their after school activities. Their backpacks are full of books and their schedules are full of assignments, sports and more.
Cody Little, a junior, is familiar with the bustle of high school and, up until the ring of the bell, was hustling to different classrooms and leaving notes to let his teachers know he’d be spending his Focus on Learning period with Wells’ practicing yoga.
But, with the ring of the bell, the controlled chaos is left at the door. Everyone’s shoes are off and on a yoga mat.
“It’s a nice calm place where I can catch a breath and relax,” Little said. “It helps refill my energy. Everybody here is really nice and open about themselves.”
Little said Wells’ yoga classes are his first foray into yoga, a physical, mental and spiritual practice that promotes health and relaxation.
Wells’ class is offered to students during the final period of the day, known as an FOL, or Focus on Learning. Teachers throughout the school offer a different experience for students, giving them a chance to receive extra help with their classes or explore something new.
“I try and give the kids a good, well rounded chance to breath and be centered,” said Wells, who teaches yoga at several local studios when she’s not working full time as a paraprofessional at the high school. “It’s a chance for the kids to drop in and be more self-aware for a while.”
Wells said she sees changes in all of the students who end up on the mat.
“I can see the kids that come quite often become more flexible, more confident in the poses. Mentally and emotionally, I’ve had students come up to me after one class and say this is the calmest they’ve felt in a long time,” Wells said.
While class time may be short, just a little over 20 minutes, Wells is able to guide the students through several poses. Some days are harder than others, though. Wells said it all depends on the energy of the room.
“Lately we’ve been doing a lot of restorative and recovery classes so she’s been showing me how to open up lungs and airways” Junior Wyatt Denna, whose been consistently going to Wells’ class for over a year.
“I have a practice,” he said. “When it’s football or basketball season, I’ll come here and stretch out and get ready for practice as a way to prepare myself and get in the mindset before you go off onto the loud football field and start hitting kids.”
For the past few weeks, though, Denna has been feeling sick and taking the classes a little slower than usual, but both Wells and the school nurse Tracy Silta said that as long as the students are in the room, they can go through their yoga practice in whatever way their bodies and minds need.
“Sometimes I’ll just say ‘Come on we’re going to yoga’ and I’ll tell them they don’t even have to do yoga,” Silta. “I just want you to sit in here, relax and hopefully it plants the seed.”
Silta said that she’ll send student athletes to yoga in order to stretch, as well as students who come to her office with anxiety or depression. She said that the yoga class offers a chance to work on breathing techniques and turn off a whirring mind, if only for 20 minutes.
“It helps my mind go blank,” said student Zoey Stauss. “It’s very relaxing and helped with the anxiety and depression problems that I have. It let me work with my breathing technique and really helps me relax and open up my body, my chest.”
On Friday, some students were twisting and turning into a warrior pose while others were lying with their eyes closed, taking deep breaths.
“High school kids have so much going on in their lives,” Wells said. “It’s a great chance to reset. Yoga helps them connect fully, mind and body, to their innerself.”
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org