On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, after school lets out for the day and classrooms fall dark and silent, Draper Elementary teachers shed their dress clothes — and daily cares — for tights and t-shirts and head to the gymnasium. For 30 minutes, they sweat, stretch and breathe to the soothing voice of yoga instructor Stephanie Williams who volunteers her time each week to provide these teachers a little time for themselves.
“I love yoga,” she says, “I love teaching yoga.” The 32-year-old hatched the yoga-on-the-go idea over Christmas break with her mother, Draper Elementary Principal Christy Waddell. Williams was looking for a professional outlet that she could squeeze into her busy days as the stay-at-home mom of two young children, and Waddell was looking for a way to squeeze time for yoga into her workday. “I was dealing with some stress-oriented health problems and my doctor recommended yoga, and I thought, ‘Well, my daughter would love that,’” Waddell says.
Yoga offers people more than a retreat from their busy lives. The 3,000-year-old practice enhances personal fitness, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular and respiratory health. Studies have shown it can ease stress, chronic pain, anxiety and depression and promote recovery from injury and addiction. Yoga has even been shown to improve focus and reduce employee burnout — and it doesn’t matter if you’re practicing the cobra pose in a school gymnasium, a studio, or ashram in India.
In fact, bringing yoga to the workplace makes it more convenient and harder for people to make excuses to not give it a try, says Williams, who has been doing yoga since she was 12 and is working toward her certification as an instructor. “It can be daunting to get started. You have to find a yoga studio and the right class, and face the newness of it all alone. But here, everyone can come with their friends and colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere where we can set the pace based on everyone’s comfort level.”
Since December, each class has drawn between 10-20 educators who say it’s helped them feel more mentally balanced and energized. “Even though today was on the stressful side it gave me a chance to relax and do something for myself,” remarked second-grade teacher Madison Ellingson after a yoga session. “I was able to leave [school] and actually get stuff done rather than being wrapped up in the day.”
Said first-grade teacher Tawna Glover in an email of thanks to Waddell, “It really helped my back. I woke up with no pain today.”
What Waddell didn’t expect, however, is how much yoga would contribute to the overall climate of the school. Everyone just seems more relaxed and school seems to function more harmoniously. “We’re like a little family here,” Waddell says.