“Yoga has been transformational for me, so I want to share it with others. I want people to benefit from it,” says Maggie Christensen, owner of Homegrown Yoga in downtown Versailles, Kentucky. From the time Ms. Christensen was a kid, yoga has been a part of her life. Her father practiced it, and the instructors at Jane’s School of Dance, where Maggie spent much of her childhood, incorporated yoga into their cross-training for dancers. She explains that yoga is a wonderful way to care for her body and physical well-being. In addition, it helps her process grief, anxiety, and emotions. In fact, yoga has played a significant role in Maggie’s healing process since losing her mother in 2014. Through that experience, her passion for yoga grew even deeper, and Maggie knew she wanted to pursue it professionally. In 2015, she moved to Pawleys Island, which is a small, coastal town in South Carolina, to be trained as a yoga instructor. Maggie learned firsthand how a smaller town, populated with families and people in the retirement phase of life, can support a yoga studio. She considered that one day in the future she may be able to open her own business. That day came sooner than expected. After Maggie received her certification, she opened her own studio, Homegrown Yoga, in her hometown of Versailles.
Maggie’s passion for this practice, its benefits, and the community it creates is palpable. She truly desires for anyone and everyone to experience the exercise, breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, and more that yoga offers. With this mindset and with her own personal experience of practicing yoga at a young age, Maggie began to wonder, “In what ways can we get yoga into the schools...?” Since Ms. Christensen was a student in Woodford County Public Schools and graduated from Woodford County High School in 2010, the school system is dear to her heart. As part of her brainstorming process, she reached out to Melody Hamilton, who is a Physical Education teacher at WCHS and who had been Maggie’s P.E. teacher in middle school. The two began the conversation of how yoga could be incorporated into the schools. Mrs. Hamilton was thrilled with the idea. Melody strives to teach her students about fitness for a lifetime, and she knew that yoga would bring so many benefits that students could incorporate in any life stage.
At a luncheon sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, Superintendent Scott Hawkins was presenting on the school district for the community members present. Maggie took this opportunity to approach him with her idea. She shared with him that she maintains a mission for her business to integrate with the community. Maggie expressed that serving the schools was one major way she envisioned carrying out this mission. She voiced her thoughts about bringing yoga into the schools and asked, “Is this even something we could do?” Liking her idea, Mr. Hawkins pointed Maggie to the Curriculum & Instruction office for WCPS. She began meeting with the Chief Academic Officer at the time, Jimmy Brehm, to develop a program for students to learn and experience yoga.
While Maggie was happy to volunteer to come into the schools to teach yoga to Woodford students, she still had a studio to manage, so her time was limited. It was quickly determined that more yoga teachers would be needed. Maggie suggested an idea that had been on her mind for a while, “What if the high school students could become certified yoga teachers?”
To train high school students to teach yoga would not only benefit the high schoolers themselves, but it would also create more teachers who could bring yoga to students of all ages. The juniors and seniors in the certification class could work in the elementary schools to teach yoga and mindfulness practices to Woodford’s younger students. Ms. Christensen, Mrs. Hamilton, and Mr. Brehm obtained approval for the certification of high school students from both the school district and Yoga Alliance, which is an association that represents the yoga community.
With the program set up in this manner, it became a win-win-win situation: high school students would receive the unique opportunity to become certified yoga instructors; elementary students and teachers would benefit from the self-regulation practices; Homegrown Yoga would form a deep partnership with the schools and further integrate with the community. Since its conception, the yoga program has been a mutually beneficial partnership.
At first blush, one may wonder how yoga fits into the classroom. According to the WCPS Curriculum & Instruction office, “Educational research continues to emphasize the importance of social-emotional education. Yoga is a safe and proven way to promote mind-body awareness, self-regulation, and physical fitness, which are all elements known to lead to increased academic achievement.” For younger students, especially, it is important for them to develop tools to refocus, relax, and regulate their behaviors and emotions. Yoga is a wonderful method for kids to slow down and take control of how they are reacting to what is happening around them.
Secondary students have benefited from the presence of yoga and mindfulness just as much as the primary students. Laine Call, a senior at WCHS, is currently taking Mrs. Hamilton’s Yoga & Fitness class. She expresses that she wanted to focus on caring for her mind, body, and whole self this year. Laine is grateful for the opportunity to practice yoga during the school day, and she appreciates that Woodford prioritizes students’ well-being and encourages them to engage in mindfulness. Bella Addams, a 2019 WCHS graduate who is in the process of obtaining her certification, says, “Yoga helps students healthfully deal with issues.”
Finally, the students who become certified yoga teachers through this partnership gain invaluable experience. Being a yoga teacher will help them enhance skills such as public speaking, motivating others, and managing a group of people, just to name a few. Once students are certified, they will always be yoga teachers and can go on to teach classes throughout their college years and into adulthood. In fact, one participant of the program explains how her encounter with yoga in high school has impacted her career goals. Leah Wash, a 2019 WCHS graduate and certified yoga teacher, says, “I didn’t know much about yoga, but I was interested in taking the class.” Leah liked that pursuing the yoga certification would be a much different experience than her core content classes; she was eager for something new. Leah could not have anticipated then the impact this opportunity would have on her life. She explains, “I plan to open my own yoga studio one day. I’m getting my business degree right now. It’s going to be so much fun to own my own studio.”
It is truly remarkable that Leah, knowing only the bare minimum of yoga, signed up for an opportunity offered by her high school and it has changed her future. Leah says, “Maggie is my biggest inspiration to open my own business.”
Thank you, Maggie, for taking your passion for yoga and connection to WCPS and combining them to create learning experiences for countless Woodford County students to come.
Thank you, Mrs. Hamilton, for believing in the importance of this partnership. You have helped make this program possible for Woodford County students.
Thank you to school leaders for your continued support of this outstanding program.