Yureka Yoga: Teaching Students Successful Behaviors through Yoga
Maria Macnab originally grew up in the country on a wheat farm in Wasco, Oregon. She went to undergraduate school at University of Oregon and completed a B.A. in Psychology, then moved to Portland, Oregon, where she first worked in a preschool setting, and, after a year, as a counselor for socially & emotionally challenged teenagers. Afterward, she landed at the Department of Human Services as a Child Protective Service Worker and after three years of social work, she was burnt out.
In 2005, she moved to Chicago to pursue a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She’d taken yoga at a local gym already back in Portland and continued at a gym in Chicago. Upon a recommendation, she checked out Tejas Yoga Studio. After just one class, she knew she’d found her teachers and a traditional yoga studio. After graduating from Erikson Institute, she started her teaching career in the Chicago public school system. Two things were in the back of her mind: she wanted to bring organic school gardening to urban students and she wanted to incorporate yoga into the school. Maria observed students who were dysregulated – they were disconnected from their bodies, had developed unhealthy eating habits and negative behaviors that interfered with learning and relationships. Yoga and diet change on a personal level had transformed her life, so she started thinking about the benefits that children might gain from the practice. This was the beginning of her journey to start her own business teaching yoga and mindfulness to kids – Yureka Yoga.
So, where did you start?
First, I made the decision to take my first teacher training – for adults. I did that for a full year, every Saturday, just learning and practicing yoga while working as a CPS teacher. After completing my certification, I pursued a children’s specialty certification and a children’s therapeutic certification through Global Family Yoga with Mira Binzen.
I started integrating what I was learning into school classes. It began as 30-minute yoga classes with preschool and kindergarten students, then developed into a full 60-minute special period for all of kindergarten and first grade. In addition, I taught children’s group classes after school. I found my purpose. It was a fulfilling experience to see my students develop body awareness, self-control, and tools for handling difficult emotions. That’s when I decided to launch my own business teaching children’s yoga. So, this past last year, I’ve been working on building up a clientele and launched my business – Yureka Yoga: Children’s Yoga, The Practice of Self-discovery.
So you still work as a teacher now?
Yes, I still work full-time as a CPS teacher plus teach yoga after school and on weekends. So, I have a very full schedule trying to fit everything in plus maintaining a strong yoga self-practice.
Can you give an example of benefits for kids?
This year, I had a particularly challenging group of 6-7 year olds that were presenting dysregulation, impulsivity, poor body awareness, difficult peer relationships, and inattention. I started a daily 15 minute mindfulness yoga group as a form of social/emotional behavioral intervention plus 60+ minutes of group yoga each week. I taught them breathing exercises for clearing and calming the mind, yoga postures for regulation, tools to bring awareness into their body, and strategies to handle negative thoughts and behaviors. It took a lot of patience, time, and consistency. Parent and teacher involvement were a critical component of this intervention. Over time, they began to learn that, when they were out of control, they could use yoga and mindfulness strategies to calm down and recenter. So, I’ve seen that the practice of yoga helps these students become more successful.
That’s wonderful. Do you also work with students with particular social/emotional or physical challenges?
Yes, I’ve worked with students who have autism, ADHD, Sensory Intergration Disorder, anxiety, and depression. Children who have specific social/emotional or developmental concerns benefit greatly from yoga. A common characteristic among most of these children is the lack of awareness of and connection to their bodies. With ongoing yoga practice, the changes I’ve observed are increased self-confidence, self-awareness of where their body is in space and through each posture, a sense of calmness, and increased strength and stamina. These particular students are the ones who really feel the benefits of the practice because they live in a state of imbalance most of the time. Yoga helps to regulate their nervous system.
So, your business is then separate from your work in the school day?
Yes, my current full-time position is the Director of Early Childhood programs at a CPS school. I’m in charge of the kindergarten and first grade programs, which means I’m a supervisor at one of the school’s buildings. In addition to being the Director, I teach yoga, English as a Second Language, and literacy and social-emotional development interventions.
For my business, Yureka Yoga, I teach yoga classes to children ages 5-17 and split the group classes into ages: 4-7, 8-12, and 13-17. I hold classes 2 times per week in our after school program for the two younger groups and had a teenage series at Tejas Yoga Studio in May. When I’m not teaching group classes, I work with one soccer league and teach yoga for young athletes, for at risk youth at a charter school, and teach individual student and family privates.
Wow, you’re so busy! How do you handle doing it all and still have a life?
I think that’s the biggest barrier to being an entrepreneur with two jobs is the balance. So, I have to be very strategic to make sure to get in my own self practice every morning. I take yoga classes myself plus do cardio or run. I also started sharing DoTERRA essential oils and incorporate that into yoga business. It’s quite overwhelming at times.
What does the future hold for Yureka Yoga?
I would like to be able to build up enough clientele and hold enough group classes so that my company is my full-time job. I’d like to go into schools and get teachers and students to experience the benefits of yoga practice. I’d like to teach teachers how to give 10 minute yoga breaks – essentially “brain breaks” during the school day and teach staff how to incorporate yoga into the classroom. I’d still like to develop after-school programs and work with private clients. I see Yureka Yoga transforming one child, family and school at time. I want to live in a community that is healthy and happy, and I believe the science and practice of yoga can support the next generation of children.
Why is your work important, from a social sustainability perspective?
Because we’re living in a community and a society where, every year, more children are presenting severe social/emotional and health problems. Children are dealing with high levels of stress, anxiety, violence, poor nutrition and pressure from all parts of society. So, for me, in order to address a small part of the community that I live in, I believe yoga can transform and support children and families from all backgrounds. My experience as a social worker, public school teacher combined with my education and training gives me a unique opportunity to try and tackle the problems that we are facing.
You’re on a mission.
Yes, my mission is to provide an integrative and holistic approach to children’s health and well-being through the science of yoga.
Do you see that Yureka Yoga could be a profitable full-time business?
Absolutely. I think people are slowly starting to turn to alternative approaches to health and wellness. Yoga is one method. If I could get people to see and feel the benefits of incorporating simple techniques based on the science of yoga, then I know this will be a successful full-time business. There’s just has a lot to do before that happens.