An Abu Dhabi school principal is going the extra mile to connect with the institute’s mothers and help them unwind through free yoga sessions.
By organising the ‘Wellbeing Yoga Sessions’, Emma Shanahan, principal, Aspen Heights British School, is aiming to craft a space that fosters the well-being of students, families and the entire school community.
“I am not the sort of principal who shuts herself inside her office,” Shanahan said. “I want to be in sync with the children, families and staff because I need to know what’s going on. If I can’t gauge what’s going on, then we wouldn’t know how to develop. Therefore, I need to know what people are thinking.”
Holding the yoga session with the school’s mums, she says, is part of her core purpose: Teaching.
Following the pandemic and the slow return to normalcy, Shanahan said she realised the renewed importance of social interactions and the need to dedicate time for oneself. That was one of the main motivations behind organising the sessions.
“I have always embraced exercise as a support for my physical and mental health, and during lockdown, practising yoga became a daily activity,” she said. “After several 30-day yoga challenges with an online yoga community, I decided to explore yoga practice more deeply and commenced my 200-hour yoga teacher training.”
Since completing the training in September 2021, Shanahan said she has enjoyed sharing the benefits of yoga with friends and family.
“I was excited to extend this to our Aspen community, and the Mazaraa farm is a perfect location for getting back to nature. Yoga enables us all to feel safe, grounded and strong, and practising together connects and strengthens our community,” she said.
What further lifted spirits and transformed the morning into a powerful self-care ritual is the coffee break after the sessions.
“Mothers chatted with one another and with me. A mum had a brilliant idea that we should form a book group of parenting where we could all read and chat about it in the next meeting,” Shanahan said. “It’s an ever-evolving, supportive and inclusive initiative. It ultimately aims to support our children because families feel connected to the school and can help shape some of the school activities. Then, this will benefit the children as well. Everybody has missed that feeling of ‘belonging’ during Covid, so we are mindful of that.”
Some beginner yogis expressed discomfort, as they were not familiar with yoga poses but were still keen to sign up for the sessions. Shanahan then assured the 20 mothers who had signed up that it was a beginner’s class.
“There were no headstands or handstands,” she said. “I feel yoga is for everybody. It’s about breathing and moving and matching your physical body with the mind. It’s a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines.”
The sessions, Shanahan added, are meant to serve as an antidote for stress. “The pandemic has served as a reminder that life as we know it is susceptible to massive disruption,” she said. “So, these sessions helped us explore our deep connection with nature and each other.”
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During Ramadan, the head teacher intends to hold sessions over Zoom so that mothers can continue practising from the comfort of their own homes.
“There are peaceful studios in school, but inside the institution’s premises, families require a PCR test as per current guidelines,” Shanahan said. “I didn’t want that to be a hindrance for people coming, so we decided to do it outside and we’ll do it outdoors for as long as possible.”