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Midvale Journal

The Power of Yoga: How Yoga Is Changing the Face of Physical Education at Hillcrest High School

Jun 10, 2016 08:43AM ● By Sarah Almond

Fifty Hillcrest High School students lay in ‘Resting Pose’ to begin their yoga practice. This is the first year yoga has been offered as a physical education elective at Hillcrest.

By Sarah Almond  |  [email protected]

When I first heard Hillcrest High School was offering yoga class as a physical education (PE) elective to students, I figured it was probably just another PE class where students took a recess-like break to goof around and expel energy. I thought there was no way high school students would take the silence, meditation, and mindfulness of yoga seriously.

I was wrong. 

As I entered the dance room at Hillcrest High School to join the students in their biweekly yoga practice, I was welcomed by a dimly lit room, tranquil music and the smiling face of instructor Vanessa Snopek. We exchanged greetings and she excused herself to unlock the yoga mat room for the 50-some students enrolled in sixth-period yoga. 

Teens quietly began trickling in, routinely placing their Lululemon yoga mats in a parallel formation and effortlessly taking what’s known in yoga terms as the “resting pose,” or lying in a full relaxation pose on your back. 

“Welcome to your yoga practice,” Snopek said in a calm voice after each student had taken his or her resting pose. “Today we’re going to start with some meditation and stretching and then move into some more challenging acro-yoga. Remember that this practice is all about you and finding freedom in the movement of your body.” 

The serenity and peace that flowed through the dance room during those first few minutes of yoga practice made me completely forget that I was simply a visitor at a local high school. 

If just moments of this experience had such an impact on me, I thought, then it is no wonder why so many Hillcrest students are eager to practice yoga, and are dedicated to making the most out of it. 

“I teach meditation, so we do a lot of that,” Snopek said, when explaining the foundation of her yoga class. “We also incorporate different lessons so the kids can kind of get outside of the real world and the school environment and really tap into what’s going on inside their mind and body.” 

In early 2015, Snopek, the school’s PE teacher, approached the Hillcrest administration with the idea of establishing a yoga class for students to choose as an elective. The administration jumped on the opportunity to branch out.  

“I wanted to do something where I could help people, and teaching yoga has been a total blessing for me because I get to teach kids and we work through everyday stuff like fear and self-confidence,” Snopek said. 

At the beginning of the semester, Snopek teaches students Ashtanga yoga, an ancient, regimented form of yoga. As the semester progresses, students learn different branches of Ashtanga yoga, like karma, which is the practice of selfless acts of service, to bhakti, or devotion, to meditation and more.  

“I’ve taken this class twice,” said senior Annie Bunker, a member of Hillcrest’s state champion drill team. “I love it because in high school things can be pretty stressful with classes and stuff, and being a senior, this is the one class I can come to and relax and breathe and not think about schoolwork — I’m thinking about myself.” 

Like Bunker, several of Hillcrest’s athletes participate in and reap the benefits of yoga class. 

“Annie and I are both on the drill team here,” said senior Bayley Johnson, “and before performances or competitions, we’ll find each other and just take a few minutes to meditate together because we’ve done it in class and we know it works and helps us relax and calm our nerves. I’ve never meditated before coming to this class.” 

One of Snopek’s goals when starting Hillcrest’s yoga class was to encourage the practice of meditation. To do this, she created a “personal practice and meditation journal,” which each student is to complete on his or her own time. This activity requires students to meditate for a minimum of five minutes either in the morning or before bed and to personally practice yoga for 10 to 15 minutes each day.

“A lot of the students have reported amazing feedback from this class,” Snopek said. “I’ve had students come out of last semester’s class telling me that they had gotten off their anxiety medication or that their anxiety had decreased; their sleep had improved because they did meditation before bed. I’ve had kids tell me they have suffered from depression for many years and they actually feel like they’ve found out who they are.” 

With such positive feedback and the renewed sense of peace and perspective that each student gains as a result of yoga, Snopek is confident the elective will remain an option for years to come.