Recent controversy over teaching yoga in schools presents the inspiration to offer some words on the topic.
As a yoga teacher, practitioner and enthusiast, I am aware of the positive effects that yoga can have on our bodies and state of mind. Knowing that this not only applies to adults but children alike, I was thrilled to learn of the new trend towards offering yoga in schools. It did not surprise me that educators were quickly noticing the drastic change in students’ behaviour and performance when yoga was incorporated into their day.
The unfortunate reality is that not everyone is convinced by these ideal improvements. Many parents are protesting due to religious concerns. Although yoga is not a religion it’s philosophy is rooted in Hinduism and has many practices aimed to heighten spirituality. Stunted by these barriers parents may not realise that most popularised versions of yoga taught in schools are a form of mind-body exercise that focus on mental and physical benefits, not spiritual.
What needs to be leveraged is the benefits of yoga for students who spend many hours sitting each day. A CNN article states that when students do yoga they aren’t practicing religion,
they are training life-enhancing abilities that can positively impact every child, regardless of faith. According to a 2012 study published in The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, middle-school students taking yoga reported positive mood and attitude changes, increased energy and improved ability to relax, as well as improved posture.
To come away from the religious fundamentals of yoga many schools have started using terms like “yoga-based practices” to describe the exercises used to improve breathing, movement and mindfulness in every age group.
Several new types of yoga have been developed specifically for school-aged children in a classroom setting. According to Little Flower Yoga, simplifying the practice and adding a fun and playful element aims to not only engage children but offer:
- tools to help navigate physical, mental & emotional barriers to learning while improving focus and concentration
- skills to improve emotional regulation capacity, develop resilience & empower making healthy choices
- a space for exploration and idea-sharing
- a supportive and encouraging environment where children feel safe & respected to participate in a non-competitive physical activity
Postures, breathing exercises and meditation all incorporate visualisation and use of imagination to capture childrens’ attention and encourage them to be openly expressive.
Some examples given in a Harvard Health blog include:
Simple yoga breath exercise
- Take a deep breath in and hold it for a count of three.
- Breathe out forcefully, like you’re blowing out a candle.
- Repeat this for five cycles of breath.
- This game is a good warm-up exercise to increase focus.
- One person starts as the leader. The leader chooses a pose to do and shows it to the others.
- The other players copy the leader’s pose as if they are looking into a mirror.
- Change the leader with each round of poses, so that everyone has a turn at being the leader.
Mindful awareness meditation
- Find a comfortable seated position or lie down.
- Close your eyes.
- Try to listen to every single sound in the room.
The popularity of yoga in schools has prompted a great deal of recent research on the topic. Most studies reveal similar results. The following are the most commonly found conclusions on yoga and mindfulness in schools:
1. Develops Mind-Body Awareness
Yoga builds a deeper mind-body connection and sense of confidence. Training students to pay attention to the relationship between their mind & body can lead them to recognise tendencies and thus make better, healthier choices.
2. Improves Self Regulation
Yoga increases time on task, decreases behavioural referrals, improves feelings of community and auditory comprehension as well as creates smoother transitions and improved reflection in writing. It also helps children manage their emotions and improves self control.
3. Cultivates Physical Fitness
Yoga increases energy, improves balance, posture, strength, endurance and aerobic capacity. It is also linked to improved physical functioning, gross motor development and reduced pain intensity. It has also shown to reduce blood pressure and enhance sleep quality by improving ability to relax.
4. Enhances Student Behaviour, Mental State, Health & Performance
Yoga can improve memory, focus, self esteem, academic performance, classroom behaviour & even reduce stress, anxiety and depression while helping to improve symptoms of ADHD.
5. Supports Teacher Resilience & A Positive Classroom Climate
Yoga and mindfulness improve overall well being through social competence and positive mood. By enhancing social emotional skills and reducing anti-social behaviour, yoga can enhance pro social behaviours such as empathy and getting along with others. Teachers have reported major improvements.
Yoga in my classroom creates a sense of community. They are more of a unified group. Something about yoga brings the students together, almost like team building.
Outside the Classroom
Yoga movements, breathing and meditations give children tools that will benefit them throughout their lives. Stress management aids in all areas of life, self-awareness can develop healthy choices, improving focus can increase learning, and self confidence and resilience can increase independence and self worth.
Through yoga, kids start to realise that they are strong and then are able to take that strength, confidence, acceptance, and compassion out into the world