Imagine a school where children begin the day with yoga and meditation to develop healthy minds and bodies. Imagine awareness and calm developing and young minds becoming more receptive to learning. Imagine students experiencing their connection to nature and all beings through developing consciousness. Imagine studying subjects through themes that integrate science, history, English and other subjects so children can think interconnectedly and see the big picture. Imagine the school being democratically run by the teachers and students so everybody has a voice and recognises that strength is our ability to listen to others and be true to ourselves. Imagine all this in a small school of no more than 100 students where everybody has the chance to grow, and discover what it means to “be yourself” in a warm, nurturing, human scale environment.
Well such a school is being set up in a small town in the North of England called Hebden Bridge. It will be housed in a beautiful 19th century building that was formerly a church but has now become a cultural centre.
Our teachers are all professionals who have worked in mainstream education but have grown tired of schools that stunt development instead of enriching it. We have created an integrated curriculum stepping outside the confines of our own subjects to become genuinely holistic. Yoga and meditation are integrated into this curriculum to support and develop mental, physical and emotional health. This enables each child and member of staff to expand and deepen self-awareness, learning about themselves and learning to connect with their reason, sensitivity and instincts. Since both teachers and students practice together it creates a common area of endeavour and discovery. It also enhances the teacher-student relationship as both parties are sensitive to each others’ time and space to think, reflect and express themselves. It allows both parties to conduct teaching and learning in the present, their minds meeting in the here and now.
How did all this begin?
Well I am a teacher with 30 years of experience principally in English and foreign languages. I am also a Yoga and Meditation teacher and a Shiatsu therapist. Most of my yoga and shiatsu study took place in Italy. I could not speak Italian to begin with, but found that the more I was in touch with my body and breathing, and the more focussed my mind, the more I was able to discern what was being said. I discovered that I did not just hear through my ears but through my body and feeling the vibration of another’s voice. The better the quality of my Yoga practice became, the better my understanding of Italian.
In those days I was teaching English at a bank and asked if I could introduce yoga and meditation exercises. They agreed, and soon found it was a way of disconnecting from whatever they had been doing before they came to class and made their minds clearer and more relaxed. We did this for one year with great results. Then in Rome I became part of a school called Lingua Viva which studied the creative application of yoga principles to language learning and communication
Here we worked on a variety of ways of embodying learning and using breathing to improve acquisition of languages as well as communication. We did not need pictures in books or videos as the text book became the self! The students learnt very well. They learnt English and simultaneously more about themselves, felt healthier and more connected. The language was already in them; it just needed to find a way to come out.
From this a seed was sown for a school. It has taken a long time to get here. I had to get the right qualifications, get experience working in an English Secondary school, get experience setting up a school, lose my attachment to a regular good salary, and find the right town for this school to exist. Then find a team with whom to do this.
I put an advertisement in the local paper with a link to a blog containing ten principles on which the school would be based. Amongst them are:
- Yoga and meditation are integrated into the curriculum to support and develop mental, physical, and spiritual health; self-awareness and the capacity for learning.
- Classes have no more than 20 students.
- The natural world forms an extension of the classroom.
- A peaceful inclusive environment is created, where everybody may develop their uniqueness in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
I asked people to get in touch if they were interested in setting up such a school. I received countless emails from teachers, parents, artists, therapists and well-wishers. We set up a website to showcase our project and proceeded to advertise for teachers and trustees. Some truly excellent people have come forward and now form the nucleus of our team. Our trustee meetings and staff meetings begin with a short meditation and we have all seen how this allows communication to flow and creativity to flourish.
Everything is developing wonderfully; parents and children are showing growing interest in our school. However our big hurdle is finance. The government will not support a small school such as ours. They say we need to have at least 120 students per year group to qualify for state support while our maximum is 100 children in the whole school. We hope one day the government sees the value of what we are offering and agrees to fund it. In the mean time we have to try and fund it as best as we can which means inevitably asking for fees and looking for external funding too. We are looking for Sponsors who will contribute to bursaries for our students to study, and Patrons who endorse us and contribute in a variety of ways to school life. Our first Patron is George Monbiot a British writer, known for his environmental and political activism.
Our world needs new ways of learning to deal with the problems we face today. Our school offers a paradigm-changing, stress-free, learning environment where children and teachers can learn to live in harmony with themselves, with others and with nature. If you want to find out more about us or get involved please contact us with the details below
Anil Sarna is a Spanish and Italian teacher, yoga and meditation instructor and shiatsu therapist. He has been involved in international educational projects for more than 15 years supporting a nomad school in the Sahara desert, starting up a primary school for 300 children near Rishikesh in India and now setting up an alternative secondary school in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.
This article has been taken from the 2nd issue of Amrita Yoga Magazine released in 2016. If you are interested in buying this magazine, you can do so from here!