As a nurse and educator, Dr. Valerie Wright is a caregiver and teacher by training. She’s also a certified yoga instructor who is combining her passions to help children and families during the ongoing pandemic.

Dr. Valerie Wright

Now an instructional assistant professor in Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN), Wright spent 14 years as a nurse in a neonatal ICU at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana before moving into academia in 2008. She’s one of three instructors teaching MCN’s capstone leadership course, a requirement for all senior nursing students. She’s also the simulation and interprofessional coordinator within the CAUSE grant, and the faculty Nursing Christian Fellowship advisor.

These days, Wright is equally known by school children in her hometown of Loda in Iroquois County for yoga classes. With most of the world homebound because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), Wright worried about families and the challenges of all that togetherness. She decided to create an online yoga class for families and kids.

“I figured with everybody home, people are going a little crazy, so I did a Kids and Family Yoga class as a Facebook live session that ended up having more than 300 views,” Wright said. The first session followed a zoo theme with zoo animal poses. She saved it to her YouTube channel.

“We are going to take a trip to an imaginary zoo,” Wright said as she introduced herself. She then demonstrated animal poses, including a cow, cat, puppy, and a dolphin—all complete with accompanying sounds for each.

Feedback was so positive that she recorded a second one, this time with an ocean theme.

She demonstrated a surfer pose, a seahorse, an octopus, and a crab, among others. Both classes are 25-30 minutes, tailored for children ages 2 to 10, and include lessons of comfort too. Wright shares the message, for example, that it’s within everyone’s control to determine how they react to situations, even a pandemic.

“There’s so much scary going on in the world right now, and everything’s changed,” Wright told her audience. “We’re not getting to go to school or getting to see our friends, and that could make us really sad or angry. For these next 30 minutes or so we’re going to choose our mood. We’re going to choose to be happy. We’re going to choose to have fun.”

To further emphasize the message, she pointed out the words on her T-shirt: “Choose Your Mood.” Wright asked everyone to think of what their “very favorite thing” is about the person they’re doing yoga with, and then whisper it to them as if it were a secret.

“Rarely will kids tell their sibling or parent their favorite thing about them,” Wright said of the idea. “But I’ve been messaged by one parent who said her daughter whispered that ‘Her favorite thing is I kiss her goodnight.’ What a special moment for that family and many others in a time filled with such fear and chaos.”

Wright’s final instructions may be her most important. She asked everyone to take deep breaths while remembering that ‘You’re safe, that you’re OK, that you’re loved, and that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.”