Breathe Education: Harnessing the power of yoga to help Preston's students and teachers alike
In 2012, Sarah Smith-Sergeant was burned out. The stresses of her job as a teacher were becoming too much and, in the end, she experienced a nervous breakdown.
Despite more widespread recognition of the importance of mental wellbeing, teacher stress levels are still off the charts: according to the National Foundation for Educational Research, teachers are more likely to suffer job-related stress than any other professional.
The situation for students is similarly dire: only one in four students who require help with their mental help is able to access relevant services.
That’s where Breathe Education comes in.
Since 2012, Sarah has embraced the physical and mental benefits of yoga, starting out by practicing postures in her living room each morning to going on to completing her 200-hour Ashtanga Vinyasa training in 2017 and becoming a full-time yoga teacher in 2019.
She calls it the best investment she has made in her life and now, through Breathe, she is helping others invest, too.
“Breathe Education came from my own experience and it just made sense to take yoga into schools and classrooms, not only for students but for teachers as well,” says Sarah, with Breathe offering a wide range of courses and tailor-made sessions. “I’ve always had a passion for education and working with young people.
“Mindfulness allows people to pay attention to the present, to examine their emotions, and to chose how to react,” adds Sarah, who started Breathe in the summer of 2019. “Getting on the mat and doing postures with the body is only a small part of what yoga is; it’s about starting to get more in-tune with your body and your breath, which is really powerful.
“It can give people more self-regulation and the power to be in control: giving children the apparatus to cope needs to be taught.”
With two decades’ experience in education in both the UK and Australia, Sarah says she has seen levels of stress and anxiety amongst students and teachers alike rise year-on-year. And yet the vast majority of schools don’t allow people the chance to take a moment to ‘tune-in’, as Sarah calls it, and develop that invaluable emotional maturity.
“Tapping into emotional maturity is huge for building resilience: situations are tough, school is tough, people have targets and things they need to achieve, which can be stressful,” explains Sarah, 44. “Learning how to deal with that and control how you react in situations over which you don’t have much control is a life skill that people can learn, develop, and carry though to adulthood.
“Mindfulness is most effective when delivered by people who recognise the importance of it themselves, so through Breathe teachers can use the same tools as the children to cope with stress and anxiety because yoga is accessible to everybody,” continues Sarah, who lives in Fulwood. “And people can take part on their own and in a non-competitive way, which is a huge thing for a lot of people.”
As well as Breathe’s work in classrooms and in one-on-one sessions, the organisation also has a series of YouTube videos for children to practice at home, whilst Sarah - on a mission to use the power of introspection and mindfulness wherever she can - is also currently training to become a children’s yoga therapist, a practice which combines both yoga and psychology to help individuals heal from trauma or medical conditions.
“Seeing a Breathe session in action is really rewarding,” she says. “Younger groups love it and, while there might be giggles at the beginning with teenagers, that opportunity to stop and take a moment really resonates with the older groups as well.
“When kids are taking things like breathing exercises on board, they’re gaining subtle skills they can use throughout the day,” adds Sarah. “They’re appreciating the need to take the time to be present.”