It was while directing a middle school play in Albany that Ann Biese happened upon her true calling. “It was a really squirrely group,” recalls the international yoga instructor and teacher trainer for schools on the North Shore. “Out of desperation, I started having them sit quietly and just breathe with me.” That simple measure produced increasingly focused and engaged students,” says Biese. Before long, the kids were asking for time to meditate.
In 2009, Biese moved to the North Shore, where she became a certified yoga instructor. The following year, she met Lisa Flynn, founder of Childlight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms—a meeting that put her on the path she treads now—the lead tweens and teens teacher trainer for Childlight Yoga. “I believe so firmly in it,” says Biese of the power of yoga to help children in myriad ways—from focusing to combating anxiety.
With intentional breathing and gentle stretching exercises, Biese gives kids permission to take a time-out—something she learned, while substitute teaching, they desperately need. In that position, she noticed how kids would come into class feeling frazzled and seeking her attention because she was “somebody different.” In response, she would have them stand in front of their desks and drop their torsos to let their heads and shoulders hang down, asking that they try to “change up their energy.” After a few guided breaths, they would return to their seats. Biese would then ask: “How is everybody feeling now?” Invariably, she was answered with a resounding “Better!”
“It was like magic,” recalls Biese, who now works on several fronts to share the benefits of mindful breathing and moving. She has taught yoga in Pentucket High School in West Newbury and in Newburyport High School. With two kids of her own in the school system, she has even had kids show up to practice yoga on her front lawn. Biese volunteers in the Emmaus homeless shelter in Haverhill, where she guides children through breathing exercises and simple yoga poses. One day, a young girl asked if she could be shown something to do before taking an exam to help reduce anxiety. Biese remembers thinking at the time, “This is working for these kids.”
At Riverside Yoga in Newburyport on Sunday nights she still instructs young people she first met years ago, as fifth graders. (A few parents have told her that they notice a difference in their kids when they are not doing yoga.) She has also taught teachers during Faculty Day at Newburyport High School, and has worked with the Governor’s Academy volleyball team and Yoga for Kids at area art camps. Of it all, she muses, “I almost can’t keep up with the demand!”
It was the contagiousness of it that led Biese to seek an opportunity with Go Give Yoga for an international experience. In 2014, she set out to conduct “seva work,” which means “selfless service,” and ended up working with orphans in Haiti. “Once again, it didn’t matter—the socioeconomics, the circumstances—the children were breathing and happy.”
Why do kids respond so favorably to Biese’s instruction? “I think it is the idea that you can just take a breath,” she says, noting that movement is crucial to the experience. “To just sit and breathe in a chair doesn’t work. There needs to be movement in that chair.” A simple forward bend can make all the difference. It doesn’t need to be physically demanding. “Some of my most successful classes have been restorative, where they just have their legs up the wall or they are just doing “Cat/Cow” and “Child’s Pose” and then resting with a few breaths”—simple instructions to inhale, exhale, and round the shoulders.
Noting the teen years as particularly stressful, Biese believes the beneficial effects are exceptionally vivid at this stage in life, when social and peer pressures are at an all-time high. She will often recommend the book Buddha’s Brain by Dr. Rick Hanson to that age group, in an effort to help them understand how the workings of their brain affect their behavior. “If you give kids a little bit of understanding about themselves they learn that to just take a breath can help.”
Riverside Yoga + Massage
?1 Titcomb St., Newburyport