Bringing yoga to the classroom offers a new kind of education for teachers and students alike. Yoga in the school setting has grown at a fast pace over the past decade. According to Karma Carpenter, founder and director of the Association of School Yoga and Mindfulness, this is largely due to the collaborative efforts of child-yoga and mindfulness training organizations. These organizations are proving through research that yoga leads to academic achievement, positive behavior, and physical and mental well being of students. These groups form the International Association of School Yoga and Mindfulness, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing mindful education into the classroom for the benefit of PreK-12 students of all abilities, economic backgrounds, and cultures.
The purpose of yoga in the classroom is to focus the mind of the student to be better able to receive or retain information. Benefits of yoga in the classroom include:
- A positive environment, linking learning to movement
- Builds self-esteem by honoring students’ individual learning styles
- Reduces test anxiety through simple relaxation techniques and improves concentration before testing
- Relaxes and de-stresses students for improved learning
How to Begin
- Choose the purpose—Yoga may be used for relaxation before a test, to start off a class with improved focus, or as a time of physical activity, depending on your students’ needs.
- Begin with breathing exercises—Bringing the focus to the breath is necessary to calm the mind. Essentially, yoga is the science of linking breath and movement to bring you to the present moment. If your students can begin to understand this basis of yoga, yoga can be done anywhere, at any time. For the purposes of this blog, sitting and standing will be the focus for incorporating yoga into the classroom. Yoga can also be adapted for children with disabilities, simply linking movement to breath.
- Begin sitting in a chair—The students should close their eyes for this exercise and listen to your direction. Simply closing the eyes offers the students the ability to listen to the sound of your voice for verbal direction without the use of sight.
- Take a deep breath in as the arms move overhead, reaching towards the sky.
- Exhale and bring the arms back down to the lap.
- Inhale a longer, slower breath and reach the arms back to the sky at a slower pace, coordinating the movement of the arms with the breath.
- Hold the breath at the top of the inhale for a count of three.
- Exhale and bring the arms back to the lap at a slow pace with a slow breath.
- Hold for a count of three.
- Repeat several times, fully linking breath with movement.
- Move to standing with feet apart—The students will begin holding their hands together over their heads.
- Have students inhale deeply, count to three, and swing their arms down in front of them, bending forward at the waist until their hands are between their knees.
- Encourage the students to breathe out of their mouth to exhale as they fold forward, making an “Ahhh!” sound or a grunting noise. The goal is to release tension and stimulate the nervous system.
- This is called “the breath of joy” and can be repeated several times.
- Finish seated at a desk—The students should close their eyes again with their hands on their knees or lap.
- Focus on the breath; begin to relax the eyes, the eye socket and the jaw.
- Allow the lips to part slightly and the tongue to rest at the base of the mouth.
- Have the students inhale and say to themselves the word “peace.”
- Have the students exhale and say to themselves the word “joy.”
Feel free to measure the effects or improvements in the classroom from these exercises and share with other teachers. There are a large number of resources out there to support your success with yoga in the classroom.
Another organization that is making a difference in the classroom through yoga is Headstand, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that works to combat toxic stress in disadvantaged K–12 students through mindfulness, yoga, and character education in the classroom. Headstand offers K–12 school programming, teacher training, and consulting on how to integrate social and emotional wellness strategies through mindfulness and yoga in school.
Having a healthy body and mind is important for the development of children. At all grade levels, students have shown improved academic and behavioral performance when yoga has been introduced in the school. Do your homework and see what you can come up with for your own curriculum. Most importantly, enjoy the exploration and the effects of a tangible stress-relief tool through yoga.
Leslie Edsall loves to work with people to simplify the noise and develop healthier habits through nutrition, yoga and self care. She is a Certified Health Coach, Health Education Specialist and Registered Yoga Teacher. Leslie offers a variety of online and in-person health coaching programs, teaches yoga, runs workshops in the DC area and leads wellness retreats. To learn more about Leslie visit: www.TrifectaWellness.com.