Functional Yoga program incorporated into PE classes

Walzer: ‘When one's body hurts, it becomes much more interesting’

Audrey Walzer, who has been teaching forms of movement (gymnastics, dance, yoga, ice skating, etc.) for 50 years, was recently hired as the yoga instructor at Oak Park High School following the PE Department’s unanimous decision to incorporate yoga into the curriculum.

“The yoga program launched in January. We now have a monthly yoga PE class as well as a separate one provided to staff,” PE coach Kathryn Klamecki said. “Yoga is a great form of exercise and provides an outlet to help reduce stress and anxiety.”

The yoga class will not be a unit, but rather a monthly instructionilized routine. With experience in yoga training and a background in kinesiology, body biomechanics and anatomy, Walzer educates people about their bodies and minds. The program, called “functional yoga,” focuses on balancing and healing the body, rather than simply posing in aerobic configurations, according to Walzer.

“Through understanding simple body biomechanics, functional core-supportive breathing and mindful awareness [people] can mitigate the computer and driving that takes a toll on all of us, enjoy the sports and the activities they love without pain and prevent painful conditions like plantar fasciitis and carpal tunnel syndrome,” Walzer said.

By transferring her knowledge to the younger generation, Walzer hopes to teach them simple techniques used to relieve the negative effects of texting, computer use and heavy backpacks.

“I am not very into yoga personally, but even I can admit [that] I have been paying more attention to … bent knees and posture … [more] than I used to. If I notice I am slouching, I immediately change that,” sophomore Megan Kashman said.

Walzer began ice skating and dancing lessons when she was 4-years-old, later involving herself in the realm of gymnastics. As a young athlete, Walzer sustained many injuries, particularly to her back and neck. Then, she found yoga in her late twenties.

“So many people think they can’t do yoga because they aren’t flexible, but extreme flexibility without enough balancing strength was what lead to many of my injuries,” Walzer said. “At 62, I stay healthy with daily yoga practice, weekly running, swimming for cardio, dancing and hiking for fun … [It’s] important to have fun with these strong, healthy bodies we are cultivating.”

Walzer understands why people might not be interested in yoga if they perceive it in the way it is presented on social media.

“[As seen online,] bending one’s body into a pretzel feels like the realm of Cirque du Soleil, not everyday life, but when one’s body hurts, it becomes much more interesting. My fondest hope in working with OPHS students is that they might learn about their bodies the way my adult students wish they had when they were younger,” Walzer said.

Following the first yoga session on Jan. 13, Walzer instructed students to observe and record others’ posture and supply her a fun fact about bodies in general.

“[I hope] to turn their natural curiosity towards this amazing vehicle which will house them for their whole lives, through the highest and lowest moments,” Walzer said.“After one session I have been so encouraged by the enthusiasm and curiosity [they] have shown. We can discover that bodies are quirky, interesting and fun.”