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500 OMs

500 OMs

by sheryl nonnenberg sheryl nonnenberg
Cultivate Relationships | Personal Story

At the high school where I work as a librarian, there is a class period each Tuesday morning called Espacio. The intent is for the students to have a quiet, reflective time to pray, meditate or listen to inspirational speakers. Faculty members have spoken about significant trials in their lives or about their particular religious beliefs and there was even a “beatbox” artist who shared his talents.

When the organizer of Espacio heard that I practiced yoga, he invited me to introduce the students to this ancient practice. Now, it is important to understand the parameters of Espacio: there are about 500 students and faculty who attend the session in a crowded assembly room where everyone is seated. These are hardly ideal conditions for conducting a yoga class. But I decided to take on the challenge, because I felt that these students, who are very active in academics and sports, and whose lives are very tightly scheduled, needed the benefits of yoga – and I knew there must be a way to provide them with the experience.

So, I planned a thirty minute class, to include meditation and breathing, simple seated poses to relieve neck and shoulder tension, followed by some standing poses.  The students are seated in close proximity, so flowing poses were out.  As the students filed into the room, they were filled with energy. They had just returned from Thanksgiving vacation and sitting still was probably the last thing on their agendas. But, as I introduced myself and gave a short background on the history and benefits of yoga, they listened politely.

I took a deep breath and led them through quiet meditation time. To my amazement the room grew perfectly still; their bodies became relaxed and they followed each and every cue with nary a giggle. As we stood and began to do the arm poses, there was nervous laughter, as many realized that yoga is not necessarily easy. Then came the part of the session that had me most worried; a colleague who also practices yoga encouraged me to lead the group in chanting OM. He offered to give a brief background as to the meaning and reason for chanting and then did a demonstration. I thought sure the room would explode into laughter; but I was to be surprised again.

As I led the chant three times, the deep, rich, melodious sound of five hundred people all chanting the sacred sound resonated through the building, and the entire campus. As we ended and sat in silent meditation, my intuition that this could be a transforming experience for these young people was confirmed. After the class, many students stopped to say how much they had enjoyed the session. Several asked questions about where they could go to take yoga classes. And, perhaps most surprisingly, several wrote emails to the principal praising the benefits of the brief session, and asked if it could be repeated.  It was proof positive that yoga, even when practiced in the most unlikely of settings, touches a deep need for a quiet, calming, spiritual connection.