Hollie Hellman’s Sunrise Yoga and Mindfulness program at Eleanor Rush School helping students start the day
By Stephen Finn
There are some students at Eleanor Rush Intermediate School who seem a little more centered than their peers. This could be due to a before-school club the likes of which have been steadily growing in popularity in schools throughout the country. Eleanor Rush is one of many schools bringing yoga into the classroom, and the results have been quite enlightening.
Hollie Hellman has been a reading specialist at the school for nine years. Three years ago, she completed the 200 Hour Baptiste Yoga Certification with the Yoga Alliance and decided to bring what she learned while training to be an instructor to the students of Eleanor Rush. This became the Sunrise Yoga and Mindfulness program.
Throughout the school year, Hellman works with different age groups, beginning with fifth graders in the fall, fourth in the winter and third in the spring. A few of her students from the first year of the program who are now in middle school have come to visit her saying they miss her yoga classes.
“Kids have written me letters saying this was something that they really needed,” said Hellman.
The club begins at 7:40 a.m. and runs until the beginning of the school day. This way the students are able to start their day in a good place mentally. They monitor their emotions throughout each session and record how they are feeling at the beginning, middle and end.
“A lot of times in the morning we hear a lot of words like ‘angry’, ‘frustrated’ or ‘nervous.’ By the end they use words like ‘happy’, ‘proud’ and ‘calm.’ One child said she felt like she had let something go,” said Hellman.
The mental benefits the students get from these yoga sessions are just as important as the physical. Part of each session involves the children repeating a mantra phrase that begins with “I am so…” Then each child fills in the blank with what they are feeling about themselves. Hellman loves to hear words like “proud” and “smart” and encourages the children to carry that mantra with them throughout the day.
The practices the children pick up during their time in Sunrise Yoga don’t stop when they leave school.
“We talk with them about how they can take what they learn home, and a lot of them do go home and practice the moves we teach them,” said Hellman.
Students have found the breathing exercises they learn especially helpful. A number of them have told Hellman they use them at night before they go to bed.
“It helps them transition from whatever they were doing before bed to being able to lay still and sleep,” said Hellman.
She hopes that after leaving her program the students can continue to benefit from what they learned.
“I hope that I am showing them that they have all the tools inside themselves to accomplish anything. They can use it before a test, breathing and recognizing how hard they worked to get there. The yoga is one thing, I really want them to leave with the confidence to do anything,” said Hellman.
Teachers and staff at the school have noticed a difference in their students who take yoga in the morning and some are even interested in getting in on it themselves. Hellman has volunteered to lead a yoga lesson for staff during their next professional development day.
Hellman also runs Barefoot Adventures, a program outside of the school for both children and adults who share an interest in yoga or would like to learn. For more information, visit her website at barefootadventuresexperience.com