The first session I attended at the VCA conference this year was on yoga. Yoga is something that I have been interested in using with students for many years. I recently attended my first “adult” yoga class this past week, but before this I had the opportunity to work at a Harvard University affiliated preschool that offered yoga to our students once a week. Imagine an adult yoga class and then picture yoga with three year-old children. The two classes appear to be very different but I think the results were similar. Relaxation, self-awareness, and mindfulness occur for children just as it does for adults.
A few of the academic benefits students gain when practicing yoga include a decrease in anxiety, improved concentration, decrease in the number of fights between students, and an increase in decision-making skills.
Here are a couple of the actual techniques they shared with us:
Yoga Breath (Belly Breath): This is exactly what it sounds – taking slow deep belly breaths. One of my professors suggested using a small beanie baby type animal with students. Have the student put the animal on his/her belly and rock the animal with their breath slowly.
Dangling Vines: This is a calming pose that allows the muscles to relax. To do this pose you allow your arms to dangle like a weeping willow, bending at the waist. To add movement you can ask students to let their vines (arms) move in a soft breeze. As a preschool teacher I also would ask students to stretch their arms up high into the sky like tree branches and then dangle like vines to add an additional movement to the pose.
Seated poses are also a great option, especially around testing season.
Many yoga poses can be modified to be kid friendly. For example the cat, cow, and cobra poses are fairly well known. When doing these moves with children you can have them make the animal noises during the pose. Not only does it make it a little silly, it helps students control their breath allowing them to deepen their relaxation.
I attached a lot of links above. You can find many other poses and relaxation techniques on those sites, as well. Remember they aren’t just for the students – yoga can be a great self-care activity for you, as well as the parents and staff that you work with on a daily basis.
Of course it should be stated that the term yoga (as well as meditation and guided imagery) can be attached to religious practices so I would try not to use those terms in public schools. During the session we had a big discussion about what to call these yoga poses in schools. After I moved back to VA I incorporated many of the yoga techniques I learned in the classes in Boston, but I did not call it yoga. Instead I simply called it “stretching” which is exactly what it is. A participant in the session shared that she had a time in her classroom lessons called “brain breaks” and during those few minutes she would have students stretch into yoga poses or practice relaxation techniques. Another counselor suggested calling it a “stretch & breath” and explained to students how they both helped to calm the mind and body. As counselors we are focused on the mental well-being of our students and I have found for myself and my students that yoga really does help relax and de-stress.
It should also be noted that students should never be told to close their eyes. Instead you can give students an option of either closing his/her eyes or directing her/his eyes down to the floor so they can focus on themselves during that time.
Parental and staff buy-in was also discussed during the session. It was suggested to cite the research (and there is a lot out there). Emphasize the impact these practices can have on stress and anxiety reduction, as well as academic performance, when talking with administrators, staff, and families.
Have you used yoga with your students?
Do you think this is something you would try?
Thanks for stopping by!