The light in me honors the light in you
March 6, 2017
Every Thursday afternoon in a dark classroom at North Kirkwood Middle School (NKMS), Dr. David Holley, former KHS principal, begins class by playing “The Song of Your Heart” which first caught his eye during a drive back from Colorado after Christmas. In a fairly quiet setting, Holley stands in front of the classroom and breathes heavily in and out as he attempts to alleviate stress from a group of seventh grade girls.
“At North, I have the same kids every week,” Holley said. “I’ve had these kids since September, and honestly, I think they can’t imagine not doing yoga.”
After 35 years of working in KSD, Holley decided it was time to take a step back from education and hand over the responsibility to someone else. He spent five years away from the community, spending his summers at his home in Colorado where he enjoyed walking his dogs, playing golf and volunteering for a school in Denver once a week.
After taking some yoga classes, Holley received a call from his yoga instructor who said he should go through the training to become a yoga teacher due to the lack of male teachers in the area. At first Holley was opposed to the idea, but he had a discussion with Gina Woodard, KHS health teacher, which changed his perspective.
“I had come from a yoga class that I was taking in Oakville, and I went to a cross country meet at Jefferson Barracks Park,” Holley said. “Gina Woodard was there, and she started telling me about the stress level of the girls on her team. It made me think about yoga and how it would help them physically and [mentally].”
Holley had to complete 200 hours of certification before becoming a licensed teacher. One weekend a month for nine months he learned about the body, the poses and what the poses do for your body. But after this introduction to yoga, Holley said he still felt like he knew nothing.
“The longer I stayed in teacher training and the longer I did tutoring at NKMS, the more I began to see there is a place for [yoga] for kids,” Holley said. “So many kids lives are so stressful.”
Along with teaching at NKMS, he also leads students in the KHS ATLAS program. But Holley said he noticed more of an impact in the middle school girls. ATLAS kids can come if they have finished their work and have time, but these middle schoolers choose to put yoga into their schedules, Holley said. Hannah Moore, seventh grader, has attended Holley’s class since the beginning and has begun to appreciate the importance of coming back week after week.
“I do sports, and this definitely helps relax the body and relieve a lot of tension and stress,” Moore said. “It’s nice to know this is a safe place where we don’t have to worry about anything else. Everything that is said here stays here.”
Holley’s teaching does not just have an effect on the six or seven girls at NKMS. Every Tuesday after school, he leads a yoga class for the staff at KHS. Regular attendees include Gina Woodard, Randy Kriewall, math teacher, and Dr. June Bourque, science teacher.
“As teachers, we are a stressed-out group of people, and it’s nice to have a 45-minute chunk of time that we are not really doing anything,” Woodard said. “It’s also nice to be in a room full of colleagues you don’t typically see during the day.”
Even though they have only had the class for a few months, the room seems to get more crowded each time, Woodard said. But no one notices, as the teachers are grateful to have quiet time after sometimes long and stressful days.
“A lot of us have a relationship with him, so it’s like getting to see a friend once a week, and one of his many strengths is [being] a relationship-builder,” Woodard said. “He has positive relationships with so many people that it just feels nice to walk into the room.”
As a principal, Holley was seen as an effective leader by Woodard and nothing seems to have changed since he retired in 2011. At the start of every class, he first asks about everyone’s well-being and mental health.
“He gives people permission to be pretty authentic and to be able to say, ‘I’m exhausted, I’m a mess’ or ‘I’m really excited to be here, this is going to be great,’” Woodard said. “He does this for free, and he’s very generous in his time and talents.”
Even though Holley has been teaching for less than a year, his yoga instruction has already made an impact on the KHS community. He has also noticed an improvement in his own health because he found yoga that was fit for a 67-year-old man.
“I couldn’t walk down stairs when I started yoga and my back hurt all the time,” Holley said. “It helps me physically and calms me mentally. So if it does it for me, I figured it can do that for the other people too.”