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posted: 3/13/2017 5:00 AM

Yoga teacher helps students find physical, mental balance

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  • Video: Stress relieving yoga

  • Wade Heisler said he's always been interested in yoga, but sees it taking a greater role in the future of physical education.

      Wade Heisler said he's always been interested in yoga, but sees it taking a greater role in the future of physical education.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wade Heisler, a physical education teacher and the boys basketball coach at Schaumburg High School, teaches yoga.

      Wade Heisler, a physical education teacher and the boys basketball coach at Schaumburg High School, teaches yoga.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Amelia Berg, right, in Wade Heisler's yoga class. Students' time with Heisler helps provide a personal focus in the midst of very busy days.

      Amelia Berg, right, in Wade Heisler's yoga class. Students' time with Heisler helps provide a personal focus in the midst of very busy days.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wade Heisler, a physical education teacher at Schaumburg High School, watches Amelia Berg, right, do a pose.

      Wade Heisler, a physical education teacher at Schaumburg High School, watches Amelia Berg, right, do a pose.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wade Heisler tells students in his yoga class, "Your focus is not about avoiding stress; it's about learning to deal with it."

      Wade Heisler tells students in his yoga class, "Your focus is not about avoiding stress; it's about learning to deal with it."
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wade Heisler, a physical education teacher and the boys basketball coach at Schaumburg High School, is the Daily Herald's Top Teacher for March.

      Wade Heisler, a physical education teacher and the boys basketball coach at Schaumburg High School, is the Daily Herald's Top Teacher for March.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

Like most great teachers, Schaumburg High School's Wade Heisler challenges his students to do their best and improve themselves.

But probably few accomplish this while simultaneously helping their pupils better cope with the pressures of their academic and overall lives.

Heisler is a physical education teacher who introduced a yoga class four years ago that has grown in popularity to the point that its various sessions, and even an advanced version, now fill his entire day.

Then, after school, his own intensity gets a workout as head coach of the boys varsity basketball team.

But for his yoga students, their time with Heisler helps provide a personal focus in the midst of very busy days.

"Try to turn off that inner chatter," he advises his morning students as they stretch and build up their strength and balance through various yoga exercises.

"Calm your thoughts. Calm your mind," he adds. "Your focus is not about avoiding stress; it's about learning to deal with it."

Heisler said he's always been interested in yoga, but sees it taking a greater role in the future of physical education as the focus on young people's overall health increases.

The now traditional model of physical education was developed against the backdrop of two world wars and featured a more exclusive focus on calisthenics, Heisler said.

But the students he sees today have a wider range of options, from dance classes to Schaumburg High School's rock-climbing wall.

As the cumulative pressures on today's young people increase, however, he sees yoga taking on a special role.

"We try to make it as free from technology and outside noise as we can," Heisler said.

And his students say the benefits they've experienced have exceeded even their original goals.

"When I first came here, I had really bad anxiety," junior Melissa Van says. "My anxiety is already much better. And I feel like I'm much more in shape."

And Heisler's guidance is at least as important as the class itself, she adds.

"He genuinely cares about every student in the class," she said. "He's really the only teacher I'm comfortable talking to about stuff."

Junior Andrea Lee said the morning class energizes her for the rest of her day.

"I like to do yoga!" she said. "This is my favorite period of the day. He makes it really fun. He just makes us all feel very welcome."

Senior Amelia Berg said Heisler was originally just a teacher she used to talk with while passing in the hallway, and she has been surprised to find herself capable of learning the more advanced yoga moves while in the introductory class.

"I did not know I could do what I can do now," she said."

And Heisler's personality stands out among all the teachers who've made up her four years at the school.

"He's very helpful," she said. "If you're having a hard day, he'll talk to you about it."

"There isn't a kid who has a bad thing to say about Mr. Heisler and his class," Schaumburg High School Assistant Principal Enrico Matarazzo said.

"I think you can say the same thing about the staff. He has a way about him. It's about how he carries himself."

When asked to analyze it, Matarazzo said it comes down to Heisler's high energy level, his compassion for students and his passion for teaching.

More and more, education is recognizing the importance of the social-emotional component of learning, and Heisler is a teacher who really gets it, Matarazzo said.

Furthermore, Heisler selflessly shares his knowledge of yoga with other staff at the school and throughout Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.

"It's not really about him. That's what makes it great," Matarazzo said.

Heisler has coached boys basketball at Schaumburg High School for five years, and been head coach for the past two.

The mental intensity he hopes his students get a break from during yoga classes is an asset on the basketball court, he said. And while he feels and exhibits that intensity no less during games and practices, he believes yoga has helped him turn it off more quickly afterward.

Heisler said his wife's dance background makes her better at yoga than he is, but their working out together helps Heisler build his classroom program.

About the most important lesson he hopes to pass on to his students is that they shouldn't dissipate all their personal energy on others' pursuits or such distractions as social media.

"It's hard to take care of others if you can't take care of yourself," Heisler said. "My students probably hear me say that 200 times a day."

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