(KPIX 5) — A former Bay Area teacher who discovered yoga as a way to overcome stress is now getting students to practice yoga to perform better in school.

During her teaching career, Katherine Ghannam saw her students struggling with schoolwork and other daily stresses. She knew her students needed help, a way to cope with all of life’s difficulties. It was a familiar feeling for Ghannam, one she experienced herself as a first-year teacher.

The avid swimmer was surprised by the calming effect yoga seemed to have in her life. Ghannam thought yoga could work for her students as well. So eight years ago she stopped teaching 8th grade English and writing, and formed the non-profit called Headstand.

Headstand’s goal is to bring special, child-friendly yoga programs into Bay Area classrooms to help at-risk kids. Four Bay Area elementary schools are currently using Headstand’s full-time yoga teachers. Classes generally meet once a week.

Ghannam says in the program’s eight years, Headstand instructors have taught yoga to 10,000 children.

“It has tremendous power to relieve our students of stress while simultaneously helping them uncover their own gifts,” said Ghannam. “And empower them to use those gifts in the world.”

For 8th grader Paula Capulin, the practice of yoga is a great way to get a break from hitting the books. She says she is a yoga believer.

“Yoga is a good way for me to prepare and get ready for the harder classes,” said Capulin.

Headstand Program Director Shyla Batliwalla says the yoga classes work because Ghannam customizes the experience for kids, even using popular childhood games, and rhymes to make the activity feel more familiar and age appropriate.

“So we will do musical yoga mats and we will do hokey pokey, heads shoulders knees and toes. Things that are just like common childhood games but have a mindfulness edge when they are taught,” explained Batliwalla.

As for Ghannam, having some fun with it all is a definite plus. But seeing the kids relax and feel better about themselves and their school work is the best outcome she could have ever hoped for.

“When a student is able to come into the present moment, find peace and stillness, “said Ghannam. “I am really moved by that experience.”



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