For most yoga teachers, what Jason Battung does every single day – teach 5 classes of beginner’s yoga, each class packed with nearly 40 high school students – probably seems exhausting, if not impossible. But at Santa Monica High School, a public school of over 3,000 students, Jason has found his niche. Teaching these students how to navigate the ebbs, flows, and demands of their busy lives through yoga has given Jason the opportunity to couple his own background and passion with the unique needs of Gen Z teens. The result? A profoundly refreshing approach to high school physical education that prepares students not only to lead healthy, active lives, but to thrive in and out of the classroom.
As evidenced by his college experience, playing Ivy League football at the University of Pennsylvania, athletics and academics have always been a part of the equation for Jason.
So after graduation, he needed a way to continue challenging himself both physically and mentally. He found his solution in yoga, and over the course of the past 15 years, Jason’s yoga practice has allowed him to deepen his knowledge while also moving and understanding the limits of his body in new ways. Sharing his knowledge with others was just a natural part of the journey. “At first.” Jason reflects, “I wanted to teach yoga for high school athletes to help them maximize their physical potential, understand their mental patterns, and minimize frequency of injury.” Yet as his own practice and interests evolved, he began to see his role in a new light.
Yoga can support the healthy physical, mental, and emotional development of all students, not just athletes. Yoga can offer naturally occurring cross-curricular connections and social-emotional lessons to teenagers. This is the heart of what I do, and something I believe is the future of high school physical education.
Through his classes, students gain concrete skills to support academic success, healthy relationships, stress management, and resilience in and out of school. And beyond the benefits the students receive, whether they’re in need of a break from incessant competition and comparison, or need some practice in mindfulness or self-regulation, Jason’s class also provides teens with an escape, a unique environment in school community. “PE classes aren’t tracked, so I have students from all walks of life in my class – from kids who take AP classes to students with severe special needs, and everything in between.” According to Jason, “this dynamic gives them the opportunity to connect in ways not possible in other academic disciplines, which I believe increase possibility for empathy and kindness.”
As for Jason, approaching each day in his classroom with curiosity and an open mind has allowed him to keep on learning from his students. “I hope to flip the student-teacher dynamic and dissolve the concept of ‘expert’ in my classroom.” he says. “Every student, every period, everyday, every year is unique:’ With a beginner’s mind, Jason has started to shed his own assumptions and preconceived notions, and is working on staying present to his students each and every moment.
Through patience, trial and error, feedback, and compassion, I’ve come to understand the importance of making space for endless possibilities. Exhausting, yes. But also well worth it.Jason Battung, PE Teacher