Yoga and Mindfulness, Key to Coping with Life

Yoga and Mindfulness, Key to Coping with Life                                                             March 2022

by Mary Anne Skill, VHS 1975

Matt Phillips dims the lights, puts on soft music and begins softly reading. On the floor, 28 students relax on their yoga mats, listening to the guided meditation that offers them ways to connect with their emotions and how these emotions affect the body. You can feel the tension leaving the students and the room. This is the Yoga and Mindfulness class, and over 80 students take it to help them cope with the pressures of school and life.

Yoga and Mindfulness was started six years ago by Grace Lee, now on maternity leave, and is currently taught by Matt Phillips. Grace is a Yoga teacher and taught a gentler yoga class. Matt is an athlete, and his yoga concentrates on core strength and balance. Guest yoga teachers are regularly invited to lead the class so the students get to experience all the different types of yoga techniques available and find something that works for them. Following the meditation, the students all bring out their journals and start writing in response to today’s prompt: Who are your three favourite people and why? Matt says this question encourages the students to acknowledge and appreciate the support in their lives. While the students write, Matt answers questions about the course and his involvement.

“The class was started as a way of teaching students about coping mechanisms to get them through the day and to deal with emotions. It’s about being in the ‘now’. With technology and social media, it’s so easy to dwell in the past or worry about the future. The class teaches skills to cope with feelings and emotion, learning to recognize stressors in your life and learning to manage your reactions to them. We teach breathing techniques for energy, sleep, relaxing. Yoga and Mindfulness helps the students to balance the mind and body, so they can be the best they can be. This class offers a safe, welcoming place to sort yourself out when you’re stressed out. It offers structured and guided coping skills, and the yoga helps to release tension. The class teaches you to control your day, rather than your day controlling you.”

Matt points out some of the life-long skills that the class promotes, of strength, flexibility both in body and mind, learning to be still and focused within yourself, working towards inner peace and healthy channelling of emotions.

Scarlett is in grade 12 and is taking the class for a second time. “I took the class in grade 10 and now again in grade 12. The class helps me with difficult times, it breaks up the day and helps me to focus on myself. I always leave in a good mood, with a clear mind and thoughts, and physically refreshed.” Coral is in grade 9 and this is her first time taking the class. “I’m new to Victoria, and Vic High, plus I’m in the Honours program. The class helps me to relax and focus. It helps with the anxiety and stress of being new to everything. It keeps me in the moment.”

During the recent pandemic, Vic High kept the class going as much as possible with online meetings and classes, handouts and offering any help needed. “It wasn’t ideal, but it was what was available when in-person classes were cancelled. But the students kept connected with us, they stayed with the class and participated from home.”  Matt notes that the class helps him to connect with the students and allows him to help them more. And he freely admits that he does the class and finds his own mental health is better. He actively encourages teachers and staff to join in when possible as the lessons taught can benefit everyone.

The class is held every day from 9-11:45am. Students can come and go depending on their commitments, but most are there for the whole class. All grades from 9 – 12 are mixed in a class as the content is individually focused. “You’re not competing with anyone. Each person is on their own individual journey, dealing with their own issues. This class teaches them to help themselves, and to deal with their issues in positive ways.” The students can take the class more than once, and many do as they find it helps them in their schoolwork and social life. “It’s given me such positive ways of dealing with stress and life, and I’m taking it again to help me focus in my final year” says Scarlett. “I’ll definitely keep doing this after I graduate, but I’ll miss the class, and the peace that’s here.”