Mar 8, 2009

yoga and school education

It is exam time in India: over 15 million children are taking X and XII exams. These are 'Board exams', conducted by the country's biggest examination agency. Board exams are external exams and as such cause a lot of anxiety to students. In fact, a number of students even commit suicide when they find the going very tough or when their results are not upto their expectations. This is serious but not enough education reforms have taken place, partly because educationists do not know how to get the enormity of effort required. Competition coupled with parental, teacher and peer pressure makes the things worse. In all, school education is quite tough in India and it puts a huge emotional and physical burden on young boys and girls.

In a recent discussion on a TV channel, an educationist advised students to practice simple pranayama to deal with exam stress as well as to improve concentration. Her comments looked apt, and we put them below, of course based on memory and not verbatim:

I have been a counselor in a good number of schools and have been posed with these problems and questions – My child cannot sit for studies even for half an hour at a stretch. How can I improve my concentration as my mind wanders here and there whenever I sit down to study? I feel nervous and cannot concentrate at all when the exams approach. I get ache in my abdomen before exams. I always fear, I will fail. I nearly tremble in the first few minutes of examination…
It has been proved empirically that simple pranayama done everyday helps remove most of such stress related problems. Better still, it permanently cures problems of poor concentration and difficulty in memorizing things.
Interestingly, when I first told pupils to practice pranayama, they thought I was joking. For them, and also their parents, pranayama was to be done in old age and was more of a spiritual practice. Then we discovered a way around: I stopped taking yoga classes, which I had been doing as an extra activity. a Parent Teacher Meeting, our Physical Training teacher told parents about a set of breathing exercises interspersed with meditation which had been adopted a reputed US business school. With some material on the internet, he could convince them that it indeed worked great on pupils of all age. Parents agreed to try it out, and the children too showed interest (perhaps goaded by their parents). Nothing of it was a lie but it was packaged in a different form by someone who was not known to be a yoga enthusiast. The trick worked and slowly the teacher, always in consultation with me, corrected students' postures and converted the exercises into pranayama the way it should be done. It did a lot of good to the students. Only after around six moths did we tell the parents that what their children had been doing was pranayama.
That was fifteen years ago. Now there is a lot of interest in yoga in schools and elsewhere. In fact, it has become a fashion to tell that you do yoga. But students tend to do yoga asanas and pranayama like other exercises - fast and for fun. This is not the way it should be done.
For exam related problems, do about 12 anulom vilom and do meditation for one minute at a time. Repeat it twice a day, once after getting up in the morning and the second time before taking evening snacks... Do some sort of prayers before sitting for studies... Do simple asanas and anulom vilom daily - make it a habit so that you do not have to do them specially during exam time... The asanas for boys and girls of teen age are: Surya Namaskar, Tadasana, Padahastasana, Paschimottana, Ushtrasana, Shalabhasana and Dhanurasana...

Our comments on what the lady said would follow.