A few years ago, I spent my Tuesday afternoons schlepping to an elementary school with my bag full of yoga mats. I would enter the school cafeteria/gymnasium/auditorium full of chattering children and wait while the group dispersed, leaving only ten or twelve of the Kindergarten through fifth graders. These children were selected by three of the school staff members as those who “needed” stress relief the most. The kids were a mixed bag, boys and girls from five to ten of all colors and backgrounds. , I cannot begin to imagine what life was like for most of the children that gathered with me on those Tuesday afternoons, but for the 45 minutes they spent with me on those afternoons, they were joyous, playful, and insightful. And they loved yoga.
I was “hired” to teach in a Title I school, though when the funding was cut, I kept going back for as long as I could. My time teaching yoga to these children taught me so much. Patience, breath, laughter. I learned more about how to let things go in those 45 minutes, then in the other ten thousand minutes of my week. I could see how yoga was providing these kids with techniques to cope with life, and teachers commented constantly on the efficacy of these lessons in the classroom.
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Teaching yoga in schools has always been a source of debate, but as the West begins to understand the physical and mental advantages of yoga asana and breathing techniques, it is becoming more and more prevalent in educational settings across the country. Several weeks ago my studio owner walked in after one of my classes holding the New York Times with a picture of several children lying in Savasana in the middle of a school gymnasium. Less Homework, More Yoga focused on a Boston area high school that has worked yoga into the required curriculum for seniors as a way to cope with growing stress and pressure. The innovative program was developed in response to how students were coping with the pressure of achievement in the high stress environment of high school.
From the pressures to achieve in high school to the growing academic weight in elementary school, yoga is proving to be a valuable tool in dealing with stress and fatigue. "It makes me feel calm, relaxed and it gets all the stress out of me," said a fourth grader in Decatur, GA whose teacher is using yoga techniques to increase focus and reduce anxiety. Most of the techniques are accessible and relatable to young people. Many of the asanas are based on animals or things found in nature, and creative educators are even working them into the academic lessons themselves.
Yoga is proving to be a tool in all aspects of learning today. Students of all ages immediately begin to see how something as simple as breathing and body awareness can alter their approach to their classroom responsibilities and help them cope with stressful situations both at school and at home. Teachers also see the benefits in the classroom, as students’ focus increases, their coping abilities are more evident, and their overall interest in learning increases. I have taught yoga in elementary, middle, and high schools, and though most students (and teachers) begin with trepidation, the results are considerable with teachers often seeking techniques to apply in the classroom. If you are interested in bringing yoga into a classroom in your area, there are many organizations that provide training and assistance. Check out www.yogaed.com and www.yogakids.com for more information, or look for yoga teachers in your area.