Exhale to Excel

Teaching the next generation to relax and breathe

Dear Parents,

Your child or children are grappling with stress, anxiety, frustration, grief and anger, and they lack the tools to navigate these emotions. How do I know? Because I’ve developed the Exhale To Excel yoga program taught in Birmingham area schools, and this is the feedback I’ve received from students when asked about their motivation to join.

I won’t claim surprise at the responses from these fourth to eighth graders, particularly those openly expressing anger, stating, “I have anger issues,” or “I joined yoga to help me manage my anger.” I’m not astonished — I vividly remember being their age and wrestling with similar emotions, without the necessary coping mechanisms.

Some might question, “Why are children stressed, anxious, frustrated, grieving or angry when everything is provided for them?” Others may suggest that these children should be more grateful for their worry-free lives. I beg to differ. I empathize because I recall my own childhood anger, stemming from various sources such as my parents’ emotional absence, my mother’s preoccupation with appearances more than my well-being and my father’s struggles with drug use. Additionally, I endured abuse between fourth and eighth grades, further fueling my anger without a proper outlet for release.

After a decade of personal growth, healing and becoming a yoga therapist, I established the Exhale to Excel program. Its purpose is to guide children in processing and releasing their emotions in a healthy manner. When emotions linger in the body, they disrupt the nervous system, leading to various disorders like anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Children without adaptive coping skills resort to maladaptive ones, exacerbating the dysregulation in their bodies and minds. This program aims to instill adaptive coping skills, fostering self-regulation of their nervous systems. This looks like yoga kriyas — which are organ cleansing techniques — and asana, which is mindful movement, specifically sun salutation, which supports moving the energy of the emotions through the body . . . not to mention the games that support the students with learning to concentrate and focus in a fun and exciting way.

To my surprise, the children's most popular request has been lying in a restorative pose, like shavasana, with eye pillows, while they listen to the tones and feel the vibrations of the sound bowls.

It brings me joy when I hear them express feelings of peace, calmness and relaxation after a class, or when they express a desire for daily yoga, stating, “I could stay in here all day.” Witnessing their nervous systems undergo positive regulation is rewarding, and I eagerly anticipate continuing to witness these children exhale and excel in all aspects of life.

PS: Parents, your children experience stress, anger, grief and sadness, mirroring your own emotions. They observe and model your coping mechanisms. Without adaptive skills or guidance in co- and self-regulation, they risk experiencing disorders and resorting to maladaptive coping behaviors. I’ve heard teachers and parents joke that they’d like their own yoga class at school — and I believe we all need to exhale to excel. We are all souls living a human experience which includes stress, obligations and more. Learning to BREATHE and to be here now is something we owe ourselves and the next generation. 

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