Yoga and Mindfulness Need Their Own Classroom

It seems as though each year the conversation surrounding mental health becomes less stigmatized and more prevalent. This increasingly common subject has specifically infiltrated schools, many of which have expanded their mental health resources and staff. LHS provides many professionals such as social workers and psychologists to aid students in need. In addition to meeting individually with students, guidance staff occasionally send out mental health surveys to the student body and hold assemblies to discuss mental health issues; topics such as anxiety, depression, drug abuse, and self-harm are also taught in Health classes. North Middle School even added a Wellness Room to its building, adorned with “calming colors…dim lights, comfortable furniture, sensory tools, and mindfulness activities such as coloring books and games,” according to the Lynbrook Schools website, to create a safe space for overwhelmed students.

Clearly, the Lynbrook School District prioritizes the mental wellbeing of its students. Though the resources enumerated above are comforting and certainly of benefit to Lynbrook students, there is one glaring pitfall in LHS’s mental health toolbox: the lack of a yoga and Mindfulness classroom. These classes can be extremely significant in one’s daily practice of meditation or simply a place for students to relax, which is needed amid the chaos of a stressful school day. However, without a proper space to do yoga and mindfulness exercises, this serenity cannot be achieved, completely nullifying the potential positive benefits of having these courses in the physical education curriculum.

Yoga and Mindfulness classes currently take place on the gymnasium stage. This has been their location since the inception of the program in 2010, and throughout this time, students, staff, and administrators alike have recognized the space’s disadvantages.

The first, and most obvious, issue is the proximity to the gymnasium. Separated by merely a thin, movable wall, the stage and the gymnasium are practically one continuous room. This means that when gym classes play volleyball, basketball, or soccer – almost always listening to music over the speakers as they do so – yoga and Mindfulness classes must also hear the music and the other noises of general physical education students. 

 “The current space isn’t ideal,” said Principal Joseph Rainis. “There’s noise from the gym, and sometimes it’s hard to meditate.”

Whether it be a “go team!” cheer, the FitnessGram pacer test, the sound of bouncing basketballs, or Post Malone pumping through the speakers, there is no escaping the hubbub of the gym while on the stage. This environment is exactly the opposite of the calm energy that yoga and Mindfulness students seek to find in their exercise. It is almost impossible to get through a 30-minute meditation without being brought back to harsh reality by screaming students, just a few feet over. 

“With so much work and stress during the school day, it is easy for students to look past their mental health,” said senior Mia Tetelman. “Yoga is the only period of the day that allows students to just focus on their body and mind, but it is hard to be effective without a quiet space to focus in.”

School psychologist Deborah Mann shared that the LHS support staff have seen a significant increase in the number of students seeking help this year. “The pandemic has been traumatic for everyone,” Mann said. “Every person’s life was impacted in one way or another. It was a prolonged period of isolation and upheaval of a pre-established routine.” 

Returning to in-person instruction, the pressure to maintain one’s grades, and the ongoing unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic are also major factors contributing to the rising rates of anxiety, Mann explained. “Yoga and mindfulness are just two of many ways to help students cope with stress,” she added.

Mindfulness teacher Deborah DeBetta has led the LHS Mindfulness program since 2015. She explained that the social, emotional, and physical rewards of yoga and mindfulness extend into almost every facet of one’s life. “Yoga and mindfulness are so important for mental health,” DeBetta said. “The key benefits are emotional regulation, attention development, empathy, and self awareness. When we can tune into ourselves, we can tune into others, and our practice infiltrates all of our relationships.”

DeBetta shared that it has been difficult to work on the gym stage, as the noise prevents students from fully immersing themselves into meditation. “In today’s day and age, media and technology are designed to distract us,” she said. “Now, when we are trying to meditate, we have another distraction: the gym.”

With the expansion of the LHS building, there is new opportunity for a yoga/Mindfulness space. The Alice Bresnihan wing is already home to new music, art, and academic classes – when will it be yoga’s turn? Although Rainis said there is “currently no space in the building” for a yoga/Mindfulness classroom, he explained that some rooms, such as the former band room, are now being used as storage space. Perhaps, the solution is at LHS’s fingertips: by creating a yoga/Mindfulness class in the former band room, and finding storage space elsewhere, LHS could benefit its students tremendously.