What’s the difference between mindfulness and yoga? Mindfulness is a form of meditation that cultivates a sense of awareness, whereas yoga is the art of connecting the mind and body physically. Tanya Farmer, a passionate yoga teacher who’s been at SA Hudson Yards for almost four years, is focused on helping scholars see the benefits of practicing both. We sat down with Tanya to understand her philosophy, the benefits of her class, and how the program is impacting the school community and SA’s ability to develop the whole child.
During Covid, Ms. Farmer started hosting family yoga nights on Zoom!
How did you uncover the benefits of yoga and mindfulness?
I was invited to a free yoga class, and after my first 90-minute session I was hooked. I felt so calm and focused, and realized all the benefits yoga could offer. It made me a better communicator because I felt so much more grounded. I also learned the power of mindfulness practices and how paying attention to my breath for 5 minutes can relax my body and mind.
How do mindfulness and yoga work at SA?
Grades K-2 learn mindfulness practices and how to bring awareness to all of their experiences. Grades 3-4 get yoga twice a week, working with partners on poses and breathing exercises. At SA-HY I see middle schoolers in Yoga Club every day where the yoga is more vigorous — they just learned how to headstand!
The MS Yoga Club offers a more vigorous and challenging practice.
How are scholars using what they learn in your class elsewhere?
All my kids use the breathing exercises outside of school, especially the younger ones who are learning to be mindful at home. I practice alternate nostril breathing with them, which is used to regulate the left and right hemispheres of the brain — we call this “test-taking breath” and the kids will do a couple rounds of this before an exam. I also teach them to find an anchor spot, anywhere in the body they can feel their breath, so it can be as simple as placing a hand on the belly, heart, or mouth. Finding that spot can take them out of whatever it is that’s happening in their head. Through this, they’re learning self-regulation. It truly makes a difference, because they can do these exercises anywhere.
The practice of mindful breathing teaches self-regulation.
How do you decide when to teach mindfulness versus yoga?
When I first started teaching my only training was in vinyasa and ashtanga, which are more dynamic and athletic styles of yoga. I soon realized my kids love the meditation aspect, so I got certified in yoga nidra and yin yoga, slower meditative practices. Now I have a larger toolkit to pull from based on what the kids need. I’m able to practice my own mindfulness by figuring out what will be most beneficial to them and responding to that.
Grade 3 scholars transform into bananas during class time!
How do you get the community involved in these practices?
Since Covid, our families are looking for connections, so I started hosting family yoga nights on Zoom, which have continued into this year. Most recently, SEL Specialist Marlie Greenblatt and I started a mindfulness morning show that’s played at SA-HY every Monday. Homerooms login over Zoom for five minutes of mindfulness that ends with a fun fact, poem, or quote. It’s really beautiful because as a community we can pause and practice mindfulness together.
Recently, Ms. Greenblatt and Ms. Farmer began hosting “The Mindful Monday Morning Show.”
What is your overall philosophy on yoga and mindfulness?
Yoga is for everybody, whether they want to gain flexibility, strength, a sense of peace, reduce stress, or have fun! By learning to be fully present in the moment, yoga and mindfulness remind us that we are more than just the mind — we have a body and a heart. While we can use our minds for constructive and practical things, our minds also need to rest. When we learn to watch our mind we can step out of our negative thoughts and habits which is a powerful place to be.
Grade 1 scholars practice mindful breathing in the classroom.