Yoga benefits the whole student

Yoga benefits the whole student

Calif.) A group of students crouch and balance on their toes with their hands on the floor in front of them. They look up, take a deep breath then exhale, straightening their legs while lowering their heads.

What many children’s yoga instructors call the “frog pose” tones young legs, increases hamstring flexibility and improves heart health. It’s also just one of a number of poses a student may learn during yoga sessions springing up in classrooms across the country.

Officials at Encinitas Union School District have gone as far as to publish a policy brief based on the observable life skill improvements in classrooms attributable to yoga.

“Students’ use of breathing techniques arose in multiple contexts including: as they prepare for tests, handle stress, and deal with bad situations,” authors of the report said. “Many teachers shared that yoga was helping students to listen better, focus more, engage in learning, challenge themselves, and have better self-esteem.”

Getting children healthy and engaged in school has been a national priority in the last few years. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign – which aims to fight childhood obesity by encouraging kids to be more active both at school and at home –and a statewide shift toward improving student performance both look toward improving whole-child wellness. And yoga, it would seem, fits right in to those goals.

The Encinitas district partnered with the Sonima Foundation, a California-based nonprofit that works to bring best practices in health and wellness to kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms through grants, and trains local educators in its curriculum. This includes two 30- to 40-minute, age-appropriate yoga sessions, in-the-kitchen activities and school-based garden science instruction to promote healthy nutrition.

According to the foundation, the 17 schools that have piloted its program saw an average 42 percent decrease in bullying, a 30 percent improvement in memory scores and a 35 percent decrease in ADHD symptoms in students.

Yoga has been shown to have many benefits for younger children, such as:

  • Strengthening growing bones, which leads to fewer and less serious injury for active kids;
  • Enhancing concentration;
  • Allowing students to improve focus and awareness and learn self-control;
  • Providing tools to manage stress by blending physical exercise that produces endorphins with breathing exercises which slow the heart rate; and
  • Increasing self-esteem when children increase strength, focus and flexibility.

The foundation has worked with schools in California, New York, Florida and Texas, but schools throughout the country have implemented yoga into their school days as well.

In Connecticut, some teachers incorporate yoga in transitioning from one lesson to the next. Certain stretches will help energetic children calm down, while others with help tired students feel energized.

“The breathing exercises were very helpful in testing,” Patricia Lavey, a retired teacher turned yoga instructor told the Hartford Courant, noting that yoga exercises have helped her students in and out of the classroom. "It can be incorporated into the academics,” she said.