In case you didn’t realise, being YogaDad is not my full-time job. I work for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the U.K. civil service. I’m leading the team responsible for ensuring that the Government delivers on its promise to improve the environment within a generation, and this keeps me very busy indeed.
It’s a huge challenge, but that’s what I love about my job. Defra has a brilliant health & wellbeing team, who have been incredibly supportive of me teaching yoga for colleagues. Over the past two years, I’ve ran a few chair yoga sessions, including live by webinar, audio and video conference. The feedback I’ve received has been very positive.
As civil servants, we have a yearly allocation of volunteering days that we can use for community projects. In December, I used a day to work with the fantastic Here For You, For Them team at its Om Pop family yoga event in Fulham. It was incredible to work with Hammersmith & Fulham’s Council’s Family Support unit to bring yoga to families that otherwise would not have the opportunity to prioritise their wellbeing in this way.
This week, I volunteered at a Civil Service Local event at the University of the.West of England in Bristol. It was at the Cabot Learning Federation’s hugely impressive Raising Aspiration’s careers event. Aimed at 13 & 14 year old pupils from schools across Bristol, the 2-day event provides pupils with ideas on career pathways from local employers. It’s the kind of event that I wish was around when I was at school. Hats off to all involved.
In the Civil Service’s ’employability zone’, we worked in pairs of volunteers with groups of 10 pupils at a time. Keith from the Ministry of Defence was my wing man in more ways than one. He is responsible for procurement of fighter jets no less, and keen to encourage more boys and girls into engineering, including through its apprenticeships.
To help prepare the pupils for the world of work, we looked at how to make and how long it takes to make a good first face-to-face impression. Pupils were amazed to hear that it takes only 7 seconds, especially those pupils that that thought it took days. Body language was also key to making a good first impression, so the pupils learnt a lot about the difference that eye contact, posture and openness can make to clinch that dream job.
We talked about children’s mental health, a topic that I care passionately about. Reassuringly, many of the pupils had taken ‘health & social’ as an option for their GCSE’s. They talked openly about mental health and the growing importance this has in schools. As this event coincided with Children’s Mental Health Week, I took the opportunity to run chair yoga sessions for each group of 250 pupils. There was so much emphasis during the day on the future, so I used the yoga to bring this back to the present, encouraging the pupils to recognise that their future aspirations begin in each moment.
The theme for Children’s Mental Health Week was ‘Find Your Brave’. Considering the ways in with young people can find their brave by, for example, opening up to emotions, anxiety or trying something new. A show of hands demonstrated that many of the pupils had never done yoga before, and some were brave enough to give it a go. The bravest pupil, however, was the one that was invited up onto the stage by the motivational speaker. Standing in front of over 1,000 pupils must have been a nerve-racking experience, but the pupil introduced themselves and their school to the cheering crowd.