How often does a good idea become a foundational program? Honestly, it is more common than you may think. Teachers at IMS are often given the opportunity to share what they love through our Electives program, our yearly Intersession week, and after school programs. One recent idea that has just begun to gain traction across all ages at IMS is our yoga and meditation program. Run by Fifth Grade Science and History Teacher Nicole Dreyfus, this program has become hugely popular among both faculty and students. In the interest of sharing more about this program, Nicole answered a few questions for us.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York by my mother. I went to Packer Collegiate Institute and the Berkeley Carroll schools from K-12, and then to Bard College. A few years after graduating Bard, I completed my Masters of Science in Education from Bank Street College of Education. I have taught in New York City, San Francisco and Oakland, Costa Rica, and Lakeville, CT. I’ve taught pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, third, fourth, and fifth grade, and ran an after-school program for several years. I love jogging, hiking, camping, yoga, meditation, writing children’s books, making art, anything spooky, reading, and, of course, teaching.

When did you first get into yoga?

I first became interested in yoga my senior year in high school when I was taking acting classes at the Herbert Berghof studio in New York City. The course load required a kinesthetic activity, and I thought yoga sounded like the easiest option. The Kundalini yoga class I took ended up being A LOT more challenging than I had imagined, but it also changed my life. I couldn’t believe how into I got. And, as a somewhat troubled New York City teen, my friends and family were shocked by the positive impact yoga had on my life. I lost about 20 pounds in 3 months just from doing yoga, stopped engaging in unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors, and starting taking better care of my whole life. Immediately after college, I enrolled in a year-long Kundalini Yoga teacher training course and became certified as a teacher in the discipline. In July and August of 2015 I was fortunate enough to spend a month in Rishikesh, India (the birthplace of yoga and “yoga capital of the world,” as well as the location of the Beatles’ Ashram in which they wrote 48 songs!) to be trained and certified as a Hatha yoga, pranayama and meditation instructor.

What does the IMS Mindfulness program offer students?

At this point, the IMS Mindfulness program offers day and boarding students from Pre-K to grade 9 four opportunities each week to participate in a class that combines yoga, meditation, and pranayama (breathing exercises). There are two Lower School classes that meet for an hour each week. Although we practice traditional yoga postures in the traditional sequence, we do so in a developmentally appropriate manner; playing games like “partner yoga,” “musical asanas,” and “Yogi Says.” Kids are also encouraged to invent and name their own yoga poses, which the whole class then practices. Class always closes with an increasingly longer meditation period that focuses on following or counting one’s exhalations. We are currently doing two minutes of silent meditation, although the yogis are demanding MORE!

Upper Campus students have the option to sign up for yoga at “The Shack” every Sunday afternoon. The shack by the ponds has maintained some of its woodsy feel, but I have gutted, bleached, painted, decorated, and furnished it to serve as a contemplative practice space. In the colder weather, we use the antique wood-burning stove to make the room cozy. Sunday yoga classes are longer with a more challenging physical workout. Every other Thursday, seven students and faculty/staff members are formally invited to do an evening class in the music room. They have the option to attend or not. I remove all the furniture from the room, set up the mats, candles, and incense for a relaxing set specifically designed to enhance mood while relaxing the mind and body and easing stress. These yoga sessions complement another component of the IMS wellness program: the Fireside Talks with Mrs. Frankenbach and Ms. Duncan, which also meet on Thursday evenings. Overall, the program offers members of our community something new to learn and practice that is healthy and makes them feel good.

What is the goal of the program?

The goals of this program are simply to introduce IMS students and staff to yoga, meditation, yogic philosophy, and various breathing exercises. What I hope for above all is simply that a seed is planted; an interest is sparked. If a lifelong love of these practices is instilled, that’s fantastic. Besides simply being exposed to the practice, I hope that students will reap the numerous benefits. Although the traditional primary purpose of ALL yoga postures is simply to prepare the body for long periods of sitting meditation, the postures have various benefits of their own, including better balance, increased stamina, toning, strengthening, pushing through challenges, releasing stress and tension, and increasing flexibility. Additionally, some poses are especially good for things like aiding digestion, improving circulation, calming the mind, improving concentration, and working specific parts of the body, like the back, hips, knees, and shoulders.  

There are also countless articles about the benefits of a regular meditation practice, and many schools in the United States and abroad are implementing meditation programs into their curriculum. Personally, I find that meditation is like a break or breather in my busy days. It’s a time to turn off the ringer, hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign, and just rest my mind and body. I’m always delighted when even my youngest students state that they feel the same way: it makes them feel “so relaxed and happy.” Watching the Lower Campus kids sit quietly in meditation is a powerful sight. For students and adults struggling with anxiety, stress, anger, and other powerful emotions and psychological states, a daily five to twenty-minute meditation practice of simply counting breaths, repeating a mantra, or using other techniques can have tremendous benefits in reducing the whir of negativity that can seem all-consuming and inescapable. As someone who has struggled with ADD, learning challenges, anxiety, and depression at various times in my life, yoga and meditation have been like a rock for me. A stable, consistent base when things start feeling crazy. Many students and adults I have met and worked with dislike admitting that they too struggle with these feelings, but I think we all do to some extent, and the best practice to help ourselves and one another is to admit it and be proactive!

What do you personally hope that students gain from it?

I hope students enjoy it, because although it can be physically difficult, it can also be a lot of fun and feel really good. Ideally, I hope they learn to love it and become lifetime practitioners and spread the word. I hope that what they learn through the program helps direct them so that they lead happy, healthy, and positive lives. I hope it teaches them that not everything has to be competitive and that one doesn’t have to be “perfect” or “the best” in order to be happy and a good person. Asanas and cool leggings are only a mere fraction of it. So, I hope that the students will discover that who they are is good enough.