Southern Regional Extended School Year Students Say ‘Namaste’

By Juliet Kaszas-Hoch | Aug 07, 2019
Photo by: Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

Stafford Township — The potential benefits of yoga are many: focus, flexibility, strength, healthy circulation and digestion, reduction of anxiety and fatigue, improvement in mood, awareness of body. The breath moves in; the breath moves out.

Last month, in a room off the gym in Southern Regional High School’s 11/12 building, students in the district’s Special Education Extended School Year program followed yoga teacher Colleen Yerves’ cues as she guided them through a series of poses. As she does in her classes at Hot or Not Yoga in Manahawkin, she prompted the students to be aware of their breath, and she encouraged them, in her calm yet spirited manner, through downward dog, boat, cat and cow, and more.

“We love you, Miss Colleen!” one of the students exclaimed after shavasana, the resting pose at the end of a yoga session.

Some of the group then discussed favorite postures, and what each likes most about yoga. “You’re here, but you’re elsewhere,” said Emma Johnson, 14. Life is hectic, she added, and yoga “is very calming.” It also helps her back feel better. She particularly likes downward dog as well as any upward stretches.

Bryce Stetson, 14, settled on tree pose as his favored posture, and he agreed with Johnson on the tranquil effect of yoga. “It makes me calm,” he remarked.

“You get to relax,” Michael Gambino, 18, concurred. He enjoys yoga because it helps him to stretch and build strength. He also really likes shavasana.

James Flanagan, 14, meanwhile, said he prefers listening to rock music over yoga, but he’s willing to keep giving it a try.

“Is yoga easy or hard?” Justice Sellick, 19, asked Yerves. “That’s a good question,” Yerves responded. The students thought about this for a while before heading out to get ready for a Bike Rodeo at Bayview Park in Brant Beach, on Long Beach Island.

Eric Fierro, a special education teacher at Southern Regional, stayed behind for a bit. As he explained, this is the second summer that Yerves has volunteered to teach yoga once a week to the ESY students, and he thinks it’s an incredibly valuable addition to the program, which runs Monday through Thursday from July 1 to Aug. 12. Students are enrolled if their IEP (individual education program) includes this summer program.

According to Fierro, they’ve had great participation, particularly for something that is a new experience for most of the 27 students as well as for many of the staff – four teachers and 16 para-professionals – who take part in the yoga classes alongside the young adults.

He spoke about the various mental and physical profits of yoga, and Yerves noted that she has seen in the students an increase in concentration, balance and more as the weeks have passed. Everyone is breathing together and moving together, she said. “It’s a really cool thing.”

“This takes a special instructor, with patience,” Fierro said, noting how great Yerves is with the group. Yerves, for her part, loves teaching, and wishes she could work with the students throughout the entire year.

And the students, it seems, would be happy to say “namaste” – a Sanskrit greeting – every season.

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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