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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest teachers recharge through yoga for healthy change in body, mind, spirit

Feb 11, 2021 02:09PM ● By Julie Slama

Staff and faculty at Hillcrest High use Friday mornings to practice yoga and refocus in what was been a “hard exhausting year,” according to instructor Chelsea Divine. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

While Hillcrest students may appreciate an extra hour of sleep before jumping to assignments and consulting with faculty on Fridays, many of their teachers and staff are taking an hour to focus on re-energizing themselves with morning yoga.

Physical education teacher and drill coach Chelsea Divine began offering the free yoga classes to faculty and staff at 8 a.m. Fridays, typically an hour before many of them get online to converse with students.

“When we went to a four-day in-person schedule, I thought this may be a fantastic idea for faculty and staff to decompress, meditate and recharge,” Divine said. “It’s been a hard, exhausting year for many of us in education.”

Divine, who has been teaching yoga at the school for three years, decided to get her certification, Yoga Fit. Part of the training requires her to offer free classes in a community setting.

“It was kind of a no-brainer to me that I wanted to do it for the teachers and staff here at Hillcrest. I incorporate different breathing exercises, then we do our yoga poses and we do meditation at the end. I try to leave the class with a message of some sort. It’s just a really good time for teachers to decompress and take their mind off of things for one hour in the week,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed teaching it, and I’m really grateful that I get to.”

So are most of the 20-25 faculty members who regularly show up. 

Teacher-librarian Suzanne Riches said she looks forward to 8 a.m. Fridays to exercise and stretch with her colleagues and “watch the sun come up over the mountains” in the new fieldhouse’s upstairs room that has one side all windows.

“It’s been really great—a great time to get together with faculty that I don’t see every day and just a peaceful, relaxing time to stretch,” she said.

Riches has never taken yoga before, but she tries to never miss the class.

“It’s been pretty stressful in school, with a lot of uncertainty on how to handle things. Some of us are tired and stressed so this class sounded really nice, it was free, and Chelsea is a great yoga instructor,” she said. “It’s a really relaxing way to start the morning and it gives me a lot of strength. I’ve even done some stretching at home.”

Riches also appreciates connecting with faculty in a different way—and has even extended the relationships to offer post-workout hot chocolate and hot cider in the library.

“I haven’t known Chelsea in this way nor some of the other faculty. It’s been good for me as a librarian to connect to them and talk to them,” she said.

Divine said that administrators, counselors, custodians, coaches and others have joined teachers.

“It seems like every role in the building, there has been somebody that’s represented that,” she said, adding that everyone is at different levels in their abilities—just like in her student classes. “I try to be mindful of that and in some of my classes, I call them, ‘yoga calm days,’ where it’s more peaceful music and more about just slow moving. And then I have my yoga days where we kind of pump up the energy and play fun music and kind of get more of a workout and that’s fun too.”

When (and if, some educators say) school days resume to five in-person days per week, Divine hopes to move up the time before classes start, but continue to offer staff and faculty yoga.

“I think it’s really important that we get this opportunity to do yoga, because I think as educators, we kind of carry a lot of stress inside, whether it’s worry about our students, worry about our class content, worry about this or that,” she said.

Divine, who had taken yoga classes, but had never taught it, was asked to teach it in 2018. As part of her preparation for her student classes, she turned to Jan Whittaker who taught it at Bountiful High before she became an assistant director at the Utah High School Activities Association.

“I gave her hints of what to do to make it successful, teaching strategies, curriculum and handouts,” Whittaker said. “But it primarily lends itself to students who want to participate and how students like the aspects of mind, body and spirit. They set goals to be strong, flexible, have balance control in their body through their mind. I used it with a lot of athletes to relax and meditate—to find that positive, quiet place in their minds.”

Divine began practicing it herself after one of her drill team members died as a result from a car accident.

“Yoga is sacred and special to me. I went through a pretty traumatic event a couple years ago and that was really hard for me for a long time. I just got stuck in this sadness. So, yoga has allowed me to work through that. It’s been like therapy for me in a lot of ways and so I have seen the effects that it can have in a positive way. For me, it’s about your personal progress and your personal journey. I have seen a mental and physical transformation and I have grown so much because of it,” she said. “I just want to give that to other people too.”

That message is part of what she gives to faculty each morning as they leave.

“I hope that they walk away just being reminded how important they are,” Divine said. “And how much of a difference they are making in the lives of their students.”