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Students finding balance, strength in yoga class

Picture an elective high school physical education class in your mind and it probably involves a lot of boys getting exercise and letting off steam by playing some competitive sport. But that’s far from  what you get if you visit the wrestling gym at Burnsville High School during the first and last hours of the day.

Lori VanderWoude is in her sixth year of teaching “Yoga, Pilates and Fitness” to BHS students who are looking for something different than action-packed competition. Instead, her students — mostly girls, but more than a handful of boys, too — experience dimmed lights, quiet background music, and time learning how to relax through movement.

Practicing yoga three days a week with pilates and cardio exercises the other two, VanderWoude says the skills students learn will help them stay healthy and deal with the stresses they have in their lives.

“It’s a fitness class, but we do talk about relaxing, breathing and dealing with stress. We talk about using deep breathing and other techniques to help stay relaxed and focus if you’re getting ready for a test,” VanderWoude said. “I’ve had kids tell me that it works. It’s great that they can take what they learn here and use it in their lives.”

Senior Kelly Keenan echoed those sentiments as she explained why she registered for the class.

“It gets me active and motivated,” Kelly said. “And school stresses me out and this is great stress relief.”

On Fridays, VanderWoude has introduced an extended period of deep relaxation time. It’s hard to imagine, but at those times, her class has 30-plus teenagers who are completely still, quiet and unplugged. She says she wasn’t sure it would work, but once students learned how, they are thriving on that down time

VanderWoude says the class was developed as a way to appeal to students who weren’t interested in the more competitive classes. Plus, she says, it’s something everyone can do.

“From athletes to students with special needs,” VanderWoude said, “this is a great option for a wide range of students.”

Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 08:39